CAPE TOWN—Humane Society International has learned about a male elephant who was killed in a deeply distressing and tragic trophy hunt at a local game reserve on September 3, 2023, in the Limpopo Province of South Africa. The elephant suffered through eight gunshots over an extended period of time before finally succumbing to his injuries.
This tragic episode contradicts the prevailing South Africa High Court interim interdict, a court order issued after a successful legal challenge brought by Humane Society International/Africa in 2022 against the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment and others. The court order explicitly prohibits the allocation of permits for trophy hunting of African elephants, leopard and black rhino in South Africa.
The elephant was killed at the Maseke Game Reserve, situated within the Balule Nature Reserve, by a hunting party consisting of a client, a hunting guide, a reserve representative and a backup rifleman. According to a publicly released letter issued by Balule Nature Reserve, the client discharged the initial gunshot, wounding the elephant. The reserve representative and the hunting guide fired subsequent shots to bring the elephant down, however these efforts also proved ineffective. The injured elephant sought to escape into the neighbouring Grietjie Game Reserve, an ecotourism reserve, where trophy hunting is prohibited. The injured animal was followed on foot and a helicopter was called to the scene. The elephant was eventually located and was chased back into Maseke Game Reserve by the helicopter where he was finally killed by more gunfire. It is reported that approximately eight shots were discharged into the elephant before the harrowing ordeal was over.
Tony Gerrans, executive director for Humane Society International/Africa said, “We are horrified by this unnecessary tragedy. Given the High Court’s interdict prohibiting the permitting of elephant hunts, the letter’s conclusion that this hunt was lawful is incorrect. Furthermore, no animal should ever experience the pain and suffering that this elephant endured. The practice of trophy hunting is not only profoundly inhumane, but also poses a grave threat to our biodiversity and tarnishes South Africa’s global reputation as a sustainable and responsible tourist destination. To injure, chase and kill any animal in this way, is unacceptable.”
Balule Nature Reserve is a member of the Associated Private Nature Reserves, a group of privately owned nature reserves bordering Kruger National Park. Animals can move freely across the borders of neighbouring reserves. Within the APNR there are some reserves that allow trophy hunting and others that do not, which means that protected animals from one reserve, or even the Kruger National Park, could possibly be killed by trophy hunters within another reserve.
Sarah Veatch, director of wildlife policy for Humane Society International, said, “This incident is a serious cause for concern beyond South Africa: it calls attention to the rampant mismanagement, lack of oversight, and cruel nature in the global trophy hunting industry. This is a harsh reminder of Cecil the lion’s tragedy in Zimbabwe who suffered from arrow wounds for over 10 hours before he was killed by a trophy hunter, and it happens far more often than these two instances. Permit violations and documented instances of suffering like for this elephant and Cecil, are manifestations of the industry’s much larger, dangerous culture of wilful disregard for animals and the law.”
“This incident once again demonstrates the inhumanity of hunting sentient animals merely for bragging rights and to display parts of their bodies as trophies on a wall. Too many endangered and threatened animals continue to suffer and die within so called ‘nature conservation reserves’ in what is best described as a blood sport, Gerrans continued. “HSI/Africa has challenged the way this horrifying activity is permitted by the government, and we call on all South African wildlife administrators to abide by the High Court order which prohibits the permitting of elephant, leopard and black rhino hunts until such time as the court can rule on the merits of the permitting process.”
Editor’s note: These photos of elephants for download are at another South Africa location called the Makalali Game Reserve. These images are not at the Maseke Game Reserve or at the Balule Reserve and not the elephant who was shot.