Baixinha saved from the hangman

The Pretoria High Court has suspended the death sentence hanging over Baixinha, a highly endangered black rhino due to be killed in a “canned” hunt on a farm in North West province.


Judge Hekkie Daniels ruled last Friday that Baixinha must be moved to the SanWild Wildlife Sanctuary, safe from the “hunters” prepared to pay up to $60 000 to hang her head on a wall.

The ruling could have major implications for the “canned” lion-hunting industry, the culling of Table Mountain’s tahrs and other controversial wildlife management decisions. The Wildlife Sanctuary Group, a coalition of local animal welfare organisations, says the Baixinha judgement could see thousands of permits regulating South Africa’s wildlife industry declared unlawful.

Baixinha (“pretty one”) is one of less than 500 East African rhinos left in the world. Now 26 years old, she was imported to South Africa 13 years ago to become the star of a wildlife celebrity ranch near Brits. She is so tame that movie crews and tourists are able to stroke her.

A Mail & Guardian report in June last year about plans to “hunt” her caused a worldwide furore among conservationists and animal lovers. The SanWild Wildlife Trust in Limpopo negotiated with Baixinha’s financial backer, American businessman David Laylin, to raise the funds to buy her and move her to safety.

“I want to allow her to live out the rest of her life in a natural sanctuary,” says SanWild founder Louise Joubert.

“She will have a full-time human companion, but it is too early to say whether she will cope with introducing her to a rhino companion after all these years of being on her own.”

The SanWild Wildlife Trust launched an urgent court action after an application for a permit to move Baixinha was turned down four times by officials in the Limpopo Department of Finance, Economic Affairs and Tourism. Laylin’s frustration at the rejection of the permits led to him renegotiating with overseas “hunters” to have her turned into a trophy.

In his judgement Judge Daniels ruled that junior officials in provincial departments are not competent to deny permits unless they have explicit authority from the MEC to do so. He said the officials who rejected Baixinha’s permit had not applied their minds properly to the case, and he overruled their decision with costs.

While Baixinha gets to move to a place of safety later this month, the Wildlife Sanctuary Group says the judgement could mean thousands of permits authorised by junior provincial officials around the country since 1995 are effectively unlawful.

“We are taking legal advice on whether to use this judgement to challenge every permit which has been unlawfully issued to the detriment of animal welfare,” says Chris Mercer, a former advocate and member of the Wildlife Sanctuary Group.

This could include permits issued for an estimated 2 500 lions being kept in small enclosures by more than 40 lion breeders around the country, who charge between R50 000 and R500 000 to have them “hunted”.