Hunters red-faced over elephant shoot

Hunting’s ethical custodians caused unethical carnage in Mozambique, reports Dave Larsen

Top officials of Safari Club International (SCI), the United States-based international hunting organisation which sets ethical standards for the industry, are being investigated after they allegedly took part in an illegal elephant hunt in northern Mozambique.

The hunt took place in contravention of a ban on elephant hunting in Mozambique, instituted by the government in 1990 because of insufficient information about elephant populations that were severely reduced during more than a decade of civil war.

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites) also forbids hunting in Mozambique.

Local communities say the hunting party used a helicopter to drive the animals and to drop off the hunters – in contravention of the SCI’s own rules about what constitutes a “fair hunt”.

The hunters reportedly left a trail of destruction behind them: five elephants, three lions, five buffalo and 10 antelope were shot dead, and locals found a variety of injured animals left to die in a river bed.

The hunting expedition, which took place in Cabo Delgado province close to the border of the Niassa Reserve late last year, is being investigated by Interpol and the FBI in the US.

The South African Police Service’s endangered species protection unit has been called upon to assist with the investigation because some South African big-game hunters were apparently involved.

Other members of the party included a prominent member of the SCI, US multimillionaire Kenneth E Behring, as well as the organisation’s current and a past presidents. It has also been alleged one of the men is a senior director of Coca-Cola.

The incident is an embarassment to the Mozambican government as the authorisation for the hunt seems to have come from the governor of Cabo Delgado, says Maria da Luz Duarte, representative of the IUCN-World Conservation Union in Mozambique.

The party was granted permits to shoot “problem elephants” as well as a buffalo, a lion and a leopard. The permits were issued to the party after it donated $20 000 dollars to a local hospital and undertook to help with environmental management plans.

But the head of Mozambique’s National Directorate for Forestry and Wildlife, Arlito Cuco, says inquiries have shown the hunt did not target “problem elephants” and was therefore illegal.

Interpol is investigating what happened to two tusks which appear to have gone missing after the hunt.

Says Nigel Pollard, director of Madal, a company with a management concession in the Niassa Reserve that alerted the international law-enforcement agencies to the incident: “This incident has highlighted to the various authorities that this is not an insignificant backwater and incidents like this do not go unnoticed.”

The SCI and its legal representative had not responded to inquiries at the time of going to press.

This is not the first time Behring, a former owner of the Seattle Seahawks football team, has caused a stir in conservation circles.

In 1997 he pledged $20-million to the Smithsonian Institution, the US’s natural history museum – the largest donation it has received in its 151-year history. But another of his donations is proving tricky: it consists of the remains of four bighorn sheep he shot in central Asia. Bighorn sheep are on the endangered species list.

Behring says he shot the sheep after getting permits and there were Russian scientists in his hunting party.

Said a senior official in the US Fish and Wildlife Service, which is responsible for monitoring the importation of endangered species: “What seems to be going on is that somebody knows they’re not going to get an import permit one way, so they’ve gone to the Smithsonian to get it another way.”

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