Balule trophy hunt — how not to shoot an elephant
Don Pinnock, Daily Maverick
September 12, 2023
This is a story about an apparently illegal kill licence, a botched trophy
hunt, the gratuitous pain and suffering of an elephant and the right to
shoot iconic wild animals.
Hunting does not provide the precision kill of an abattoir, but what
happened in Maseke Game Reserve on 3 September was beyond acceptable, even
in hunting circles. Apart from a botched hunt, it may also have been
Maseke is within the Balule Nature Reserve, which, in turn, is in the
Associated Private Nature Reserves (APNR), an area to the west of Kruger
National Park. There are no fences between Kruger and the APNR, so animals
can and do move freely between the two.
A paying client took a shot at a bull elephant but merely wounded it. The
professional hunter accompanying him then pumped four more bullets into the
animal but also failed to bring it down.
The elephant took off towards the Grietjie section of the Balule reserve, a
non-hunting area, pursued by the hunting party. They couldn’t keep up, so a
helicopter was called in. By then the animal was in Grietjie and the
chopper drove the wounded animal back into Maseke where it was shot and
finally killed, its body by then carrying eight bullets.
This incident is not a hunting outlier. In 2018 in Maseke, a young elephant
was shot 13 times — screaming in pain within view of traumatised guests at
a lodge in Parsons Nature Reserve bordering Maseke. The professional hunter
in charge, Sean Nielsen, claimed the elephant had been “shot in
self-defence”. Nielsen is the hunting concessionaire for Maseke Game
Reserve which is owned by the Maseke tribe.
According to Balule chairperson Sharon Haussmann, that hunt had the correct
permits in place, but she said the incident “did not comply with the
sustainable utilisation model of ethical hunting in accordance with the
hunting protocol that governs all reserves within APNR and to which Balule
and hence Maseke are bound.” That would also go for the latest hunt.
Was it Legal?
There is a question regarding the legality of the permit for the Maseke
hunt. According to the Humane Society International-Africa (HSI/Africa),
the issuing of a hunting permit contradicts a high court interim interdict
which prohibits the allocation of permits for trophy hunting of African
elephants, leopards and black rhinos in South Africa.
It followed a successful legal challenge brought by HSI/Africa in 2022
against the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment (DFFE)
and others. Judge Patrick Gamble found that the Department of Environment
had failed to comply with the consultative process prescribed by the
National Environmental Management.
Pending a review, the minister was therefore not permitted to issue a quota
for trophy hunting and export of elephant, black rhino or leopard without
valid non-detriment findings. The review hearing is only scheduled for
January 2024 so has not been held. Therefore, according to HSI/Africa’s
executive director, Tony Gerrans, the prohibition on hunting of trophies
The hunt evidently sparked a “vigorous debate” on WhatsApp by Grietjie
landowners furious about the incident, including about the helicopter chase
on their land. In a letter to the landowners, Ian Nowak, the general
manager of Balule, apologised, but said Maseke Reserve “conducted the hunt
in accordance with the requirements and protocols”, that the hunt was legal
and that no protocol violations were committed. Balule provides the overall
administrative system for Maseke, with both situated within the APNR.
HSI/Africa rejected this assurance. Gerrans 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
Hunting in the APNR
The hunt, apart from its obvious cruelty, raises wider questions about
hunting in the APNR. These reserves are unarguably prime or even core
wildlife areas. And because there are no fences between the APNR and the
Kruger Park, by “supporting” APNR annual offtake quotas as it does, Kruger
is essentially giving permission to hunt animals which it’s obliged by law
to protect — with permits being granted by the provincial authority.
Within the APNR, some reserves, such as parts of Balule, Klaserie,
Timbavati and Umbabat, allow hunting and others do not. Animals can move
freely across the borders of neighbouring reserves, which means that
protected animals from one reserve or even the Kruger Park can be killed by
trophy hunters within another reserve.
Each year the APNR is allocated quotas for the hunting of a range of
animals. According to Nowak, it has permission to shoot 50 elephants
annually. Of these, Balule is allocated 22 and Maseke, in turn, has a
licence to hunt 12. He says the APNR quota “is to allow for better breeding
opportunities for the average and above average bulls.” Elephant experts we
contacted called that unscientific nonsense.
Questions have also been raised about general hunting offtakes in the APNR.
In reply to a parliamentary request for these numbers for 2022/23 and
2023/24, Environment Minister Barbara Creecy said that SANParks was not at
liberty to release them and that the request should be routed to the
relevant provincial authorities. It is unclear why the minister should not
wish to provide the information requested as it is certainly in the
possession of her department and comprehensive replies have been provided
to similar requests in previous years.
In 2021/22, SANParks supported the hunting of 4,449 animals (including 55
elephants, 64 buffaloes, 26 kudus, four warthogs, three hippos, nine
hyenas, six giraffes and 4,265 impalas) in the APNR.
In 2019 (the only year for which financial figures could be obtained)
hunting netted Balule estates alone R2.8-million, according to their
financial statements. However, a desktop calculation using the SA
Professional Hunters’ standard rates, estimates income attributable to the
hunting of animals allocated to Balule to be R10.9-million. So who received
the difference of R8-million?
On the same basis, hunting income for the entire APNR was estimated to be
R29-million, of which R17-million was disclosed by the APNR representatives
to the Parliamentary Environmental Affairs oversight committee as having
been received. Of this, only 9% was declared as having been used for
‘Trophy hunting’, specifically, is a form of hunting in which the hunter’s
explicit goal is to obtain the hunted animal’s carcass or body part, such
as the head or hide, as a trophy that represents the success of the hunt.
(Image: ifaw / Wikipedia)
The wider question is about the hunting of rare and protected animals.
According to Gerrans, the latest 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.
“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.”
With clients who can’t down an elephant and professional hunters who
seemingly can’t provide the coup de grâce when the clients miss, this means
that a miserable fate awaits another 11 elephants for which hunting permits
have been issued in Maseke.