Death at game reserve overshadows Parliamentary resolution that could kill the wildlife breeding, viewing, & hunting industries
JOHANNESBURG, South Africa––The fatal mauling of a 22-year-old female visitor to “lion whisperer” Kevin Richardson’s tented camp in the Dinoken Big 5 Game Reserve stole headlines on February 27, 2018 from Parliamentary action promising to turn the South African wildlife breeding and viewing industry upside down––and, perhaps, to plunge the nation into the sort of economic chaos that has plagued neighboring Zimbabwe since 2000.
“Now is the time for justice”
Declaring that “The time for reconciliation is over. Now is the time for justice,” Marxist opposition leader Julius Malema challenged new South African president Cyril Ramaphosa––at almost the same hour that the lion killed the woman––with a motion to begin the process of amending the national constitution to allow the government to confiscate and redistribute white-owned land without compensation.
Currently farmers of European descent hold about 72% of South African agricultural property, including privately owned wildlife conservancies. About 85% of South African agricultural property was white-held when rule by the white minority (9% of the total population) ended with the election of the first African National Congress government in 1994, headed by Nelson Mandela (1918-2013).
African National Congress governments have led South Africa ever since.
“Criminals stole our land”
“We must ensure that we restore the dignity of our people without compensating the criminals who stole our land,” said Malema, echoing the words of former Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe.
Inaugurated on February 19, 2018, five days after predecessor Jacob Zuma resigned amid a corruption scandal, after just short of five years in office, Ramaphosa had already made land expropriation central to his political platform.
But the Malema motion, passed by a 241-83 margin, put Ramaphosa under pressure to move much more rapidly and aggressively than he otherwise might have.
“No need for war drums”
“I will shortly initiate a dialogue with key stakeholders,” Ramaphosa told the National Council of Provinces. “There is no need for any one of us to panic and start beating war drums. The original sin that was committed when our country was colonized must be resolved in a way that will take South Africa forward.”
Ramaphosa now must find a way to achieve wholesale land transfers without repeating the catastrophe––for wildlife as well as the national economy––that ensued in Zimbabwe when the Mugabe regime in February 2000 initiated six years of often violent land confiscations and redistribution of land to regime insiders.
The Mugabe program within five years cut the Zimbabwean gross national product by more than half, and within eight years cut food production by more than 75%, producing inflation exceeding 100,000%.
Many of the first properties seized in Zimbabwe had been converted by farmers of European descent into vast privately owned wildlife conservancies, stocked mostly with captive-bred animals bought at auction. Those conservancies catering to trophy hunters––the majority––had for much of Mugabe’s regime brought his supporters wealth through a U.S.-funded development program called CAMPFIRE. As CAMPFIRE subsidies dwindled, however, the conservancies came to to be seen by some Mugabe insiders, at least, as heavily armed enclaves of white influence.
Though hunting and other wildlife tourism had become the biggest source of Zimbabwean foreign exchange, the conservancies employed fewer indigenous Zimbabweans than farming did, were perceived as disproportionately enriching whites, and were accordingly easy targets for takeover.
Poaching most of the animals on the newly seized conservancies, while haphazardly planted crops failed, the land invaders soon pushed Zimbabwean wildlife-based tourism into a collapse from which it has yet to recover.
Three white-flanked impalas
South African wildlife tourism industry leaders so far have said little about the likelihood of forced land redistribution, perhaps encouraged that Ramaphosa is himself a wildlife breeder. In 2014 Ramaphosa reportedly sold three white-flanked impalas for $2.5 million, apparently to be used as breeding stock at a hunting ranch.
Attracting more immediate attention was the death of the 22-year-old at Dinoken, the closest wildlife viewing venue to Johannesburg, advertised as being just half an hour away.
Walking the lions
Explained “lion whisperer” Richardson‚ 43, via Facebook, “Myself and an experienced colleague took three lions walking in the reserve‚ as we do on a weekly basis‚ as part of their exercise and stimulation regiment. We assessed the landscape for other big five animals and as per procedure sent out a notification that we were walking in the reserve.”
The Dinoken reserve includes 13 enclosures for lions, leopards, and cheetahs, who share the use of a large central area on a rotating basis.
“One of the lionesses charged off after an impala and must have run two to 2.5 kilometers (about a mile to a mile and a half) where she encountered the 22-year-old,” Richardson said.
“Lost sight of the lioness”
Elaborated the Dinoken Big 5 Game Reserve, “Kevin and his colleague were with two lionesses and a male. They chased an impala‚ which they didn’t catch, and returned to resume their walk. This behavior was described as a normal occurrence and happens frequently on these walks.”
One of the lionesses then “ran after another impala. Kevin followed the lioness and the other lions in turn followed Kevin‚ when Kevin lost sight of the lioness.”
Soon thereafter, “Kevin received a call from the manager at the tented camp who informed him that a visitor to the reserve had been attacked by a lion. Kevin immediately called the Medivac and instructed his colleague to urgently proceed to the camp in the vehicle to provide assistance while Kevin attended to the other two lions.
“After making sure that all the lions were secured‚ he ran to the scene. He conducted CPR. However‚ medics found that she had succumbed to her injuries.
“The young woman was not a guest at the camp‚” the statement finished, “but had accompanied her friend to conduct an interview for an assignment with the camp’s manager. Before leaving the reserve‚ the two visitors were taking photographs outside the camp where the attack occurred.”
Photos taken at Dinoken in December 2017 for an advertising campaign appear to show supermodel Cara Delevingne both observing an African lion at close range from inside a protective cage and standing with her back to the same lion, apparently taking a “selfie” without protection.
Wildlife attacks at South African viewing venues are nothing new.
A captive cheetah on March 18, 2017, for example, fatally mauled the three-year-old son of Jacob Pieterse, an employee at tiger breeder and filmmaker John Varty’s Tiger Canyon wildlife farm and tourist attraction.
Four attacks at one reserve
Richardson in June 2015 “defended a decision by another reserve,” the Gauteng Lion Park, “to spare the life of a big cat that attacked and killed an American tourist,” reported www.timeslive.co.za. “The adult lioness had mauled the tourist,” Katherine Chappell, 29, “in the face and neck through an open window of the car in which she was a passenger.
Driver Pierre Potgieter, 66, suffered severe arm injuries and a heart attack while trying to fight the lion off of Chappell. A video effects editor for the television series Game of Thrones, Chappell had apparently rolled down her window, despite warnings, to try to get a better photo of the lion.
Earlier in 2015, recounted Agence France-Presse, “an Australian tourist was injured by a lion after driving through the park with his car windows open. Two days later, a 13-year-old from a nearby slum was attacked by a cheetah while riding a bicycle through the grounds. In December 2013, former South African franchise rugby player Brett Tucker and his family were attacked by a lion and his father reportedly suffered minor injuries.”
Workers vulnerable, too
Staff are also often killed or badly injured.
Ezemvelo KwaZulu-Natal Wildlife employee Vusi Kubeka, 49, was on February 16, 2016 killed by a lion at the Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Game Park.
American wildlife researcher Andrew Oberle, 26, a volunteer at the Jane Goodall Institute Chimpanzee Eden near Johannesburg, on June 28, 2012 lost both ears, his left arm and several toes to two chimps who pulled him under a fence and dragged him for about half a mile.
Krugersdorp Game Reserve owner Dirk Brink, 58, was fatally mauled by five of his own lions on April 20, 2007 while testing a newly purchased camera.
At least two alleged poachers have been killed by lions at wildlife viewing venues in the past 29 months, both in Limpopo state: Mozambiquan national David Baloyi, 50, earlier in February 2018, and Matome Mahlale, 24, in October 2015.
Twenty-two lions were poached at private lion breeding farms and sanctuaries in South Africa in 2017, according to Endangered Wildlife Trust senior trade officer Kelly Marnewick.
This is just a fraction of the level of poaching afflicting rhinos in recent years. While only 13 rhino were poached in 2007, more than 1,000 have been poached in each of the past three years, and more than 900 were poached the year before that.
But poaching is among the threats to lions that recently impelled Marnewick to join 26 other lion conservationists and scientists in urging U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to maintain the ban on the import of lion trophies that has been in effect since 2015. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service was on the verge of lifting the ban in October 2017 when U.S. President Donald Trump unexpectedly intervened.
The South African Predators Association, one of several organizations representing captive-bred wildlife hunting venues, has urged the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to proceed with lifting the ban.
Safari Club International
Safari Club International, on the other hand, on February 2, 2018 announced that, “In considering that the practice of the captive breeding of lions for the purpose of hunting has doubtful value to the conservation of lions in the wild, and considering that such hunting is not consistent with SCI’s criteria for estate hunting, the SCI Board has adopted the following policy:
- SCI opposes the hunting of African lions bred in captivity.
- This policy takes effect on February 4, 2018 and applies to hunts taking place after adoption of this policy and to any Record Book entry related to such hunts.
SCI will not accept advertising from any operator for any such hunts, nor will SCI allow operators to sell hunts for lions bred in captivity at the SCI Annual Hunters’ Convention.”
Pro Hunters of South Africa recognize hunting captive-bred lions as “legitimate”
The Safari Club International policy reinforced the decision of the Operators & Professional Hunting Associations of Africa to indefinitely suspend the membership of the Professional Hunters’ Association of South Africa, after PHASA voted on November 22, 2017 to recognize “the hunting of captive-bred lions as a legitimate form of hunting.”
According to the Austrian-based international animal charity Vier Pfoten, which operates the Lionsrock sanctuary in South Africa, about 200 South African breeders produce lions to be commercially hunted.
About 1,000 lions per year are shot by trophy hunters, almost all of them captive-bred and hand-raised before delivery to hunting ranches.
More lions in captivity than in the wild
The International Fund for Animal Welfare earlier reported that there are between 6,000 to 8,000 captive lions in South Africa, three to four times as many as live in protected wildlife habitat.
Breeding wildlife for trophy hunting, however, is no longer nearly as lucrative in South Africa as it was a few years ago, reported Kevin Crowley for Bloomberg News in February 2017.
The average auction price for a buffalo bull had fallen 71% since 2013, Crowley said, while the prices of golden wildebeest, black impala and kudu bulls dropped 60% to 80%.