National War of words over hunting Kruger game

Bantu Holomisa, the president of the United Democratic Movement, has fired arrows laced with poisonous words at the Timbavati Private Nature Reserve (TPNR). He has accused the reserve of killing the Kruger National Park’s wildlife.

But the TPNR’s management is convinced of the reserve’s innocence and is fighting back, even threatening legal action.

The privately owned, 66 000-hectare TPNR borders the Kruger National Park. The separating fence was brought down in 1994, mainly for conservation reasons.

In the TPNR, and in neighbouring privately owned nature reserves, wildlife is hunted—including commercial trophy hunting.
Hunting in the Kruger National Park, and all the other national parks in South Africa, is strictly forbidden.

South Africa National Parks (Sanparks) is aware of commercial hunting in Timbavati and states that it is “highly unlikely” that the Kruger animals are affected by these hunting practices.

Holomisa last week sent letters to Collins Chabane, the Limpopo minister of development, environment and tourism, and to Minister of Environmental Affairs and Tourism Marthinus van Schalkwyk.

In these letters, he demanded an investigation into the hunting practices undertaken in the TPNR. His main point of objection was that these hunts also target the protected game from the Kruger National Park, because there is no fence.

“Surely we cannot condone the destruction of a national asset for the commercial gain of a private institution, and the pleasure of a select group of rich hunters,” Holomisa wrote.

“I just want to know under which conditions this fence was brought down. Timbavati and Sanparks should disclose whether it was agreed that there would be commercial hunting when it was brought down,” Holomisa told the Mail & Guardian Online on Monday.

“And I want to know exactly what happened with the money that is made with these hunts. I want to see prove that it went to conservation.

“I am not attacking hunting, but I find it very strange that commercial hunting is allowed in a reserve that is bordering the Kruger and does not have a fence. Kruger wildlife can wander [freely] into the reserve. What is the use of protecting these animals in [the] Kruger if they are shot in a neighbouring reserve?” Holomisa said.

The management of the TPNR was highly offended by Holomisa’s letters and struck back with a press release.

“Mr Bantu Holomisa shows an ignorance of the common law and legislation governing sustainable utilisation of natural resources in South Africa,” wrote Tom Hancock, chairperson of the Timbavati Association, in the statement.

“The Timbavati is above reproach and complies with all provincial and national legislation and regulations regarding hunting.

“We get permits for all the commercial hunts that are undertaken in Timbavati,” Hancock told the M&G Online on Monday.

“For the hunting season of 2006, which starts on the first of April 2005, we have permission to shoot 22 buffalo. We have, in fact, already sold these permits,” he said.

According to Hancock, all the hunts are approved by a board on which the TPNR, the Kruger National Park and the Limpopo provincial legislature is represented.

“It would appear that Mr Holomisa has not read the agreement between the [Sanparks] board and the Timbavati. The agreement in no way prohibits commercial hunting within the Timbavati.

“If he [Holomisa] had simply asked us before publishing his defamatory allegations, we would gladly have forwarded him copies of these documents. However, no attempt was made by him to contact the Timbavati.”

Hancock also objected to the allegation made by Holomisa that the TPNR is shooting “national assets”.

“Mr Holomisa appears not to understand the prevailing legislation relating to hunting, and the common-law principal of res nullius [meaning ‘ownerless thing’]. The animals that cross the border between Kruger and the Timbavati are ownerless,” Hancock wrote in the press statement.

“It is like the fish in the sea; they belong to no one, but the state makes rules as to how many the fisherman can catch,” he said.

“We comply with the rules that the state lines out for hunting, but we are not hunting any state property.”

TPNR management said the money made from commercial hunting activities is used exclusively for conservation and management of the reserve.

“Commercial hunting contributes approximately a third of the reserve’s operating costs. The balance comes from tourism and the members themselves,” said Hancock.

The TPNR will consider if it is appropriate to take legal action against Holomisa.

“I will not apologise,” was Holomisa’s reply. “They can jump in the lake, but they will not receive my apology. It is my job to ask questions and when protected wildlife can be shot, I want to know why this is allowed.”

When asked why Holomisa is only now objecting to the hunting, when the fence was brought down more than a decade ago, he responded: “It was only brought to my attention recently that there is commercial hunting in Timbavati.

“This is not a direct attack on Timbavati. We want to know what the rules are on hunting in private areas that border national parks. If we would have received the same information on any other private reserve, we would have asked the same questions.”

Sanparks does not agree with Holomisa’s criticism.

“It is highly unlikely that the Kruger animals will be affected by this hunting. Wild animals are territorial and will probably not wander into Timbavati. I am not saying that it is impossible, but it is very unlikely,” Wanda Mkutshulwa, head of communications at Sanparks, told the M&G Online on Monday.

“And one must understand that commercial hunting in this country is not outlawed. It is considered as a form of sustainable development, just like ecotourism.

“It is not like the hunters take up their guns and go and shoot animals. After scientific assessment, it is determined how many animals can be shot and for these animals, permits are issued. The hunters do not shoot animals for which they do not have a permit,” Mkutshulwa said.

Sanparks told the M&G Online that when the fence between the Kruger and the TPNR was brought down, it was known that commercial hunting was taking place in the TPNR. It was agreed that the hunting could continue after the fence was brought down.

The minister of environmental affairs and tourism has requested Sanparks to look into the matter and present a report on the matter as soon as possible.

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