The arrest of a vet who assisted a snared lion last month highlights poaching problems plaguing the Manyeleti Game Reserve near Hoedspruit, a wildlife organisation alleges.
The wildlife non-profit organisation, the SanWild Wildlife Trust, formed to rescue and rehabilitate wild animals, slammed the conservation authorities for their behaviour towards a wildlife vet and two tourists who assisted him.
SanWild says the incident is a result of abuse of tenders in three major game reserves—Manyeleti, Andover and Letaba Ranch.
The incident occurred on August 17 when Chris du Plessis, a tourist, reported to SanWild that he had spotted an ensnared young male lion feeding on a giraffe kill.
“As a result of poor management in our provincial reserves a decision was made to send our wildlife vet to dart the lion and remove the snare,” says Louise Joubert, founder trustee of SanWild.
The next morning Rogers set off and found three male lions feeding on the giraffe carcass, including the injured young male, who the vet said seemed bewildered.
“The wire snare could be clearly seen around the animal’s neck and swelling indicated a festering wound under the snare. The infection, which had already set in, would definitely have killed the lion if the snare had not been removed,” says Joubert.
Rogers managed to dart the lion in the presence of the conservation officials who arrived on the scene. Once the lion started going down the other lions were chased off and the immobilised lion was loaded on the back of the vet’s vehicle with the help of the tourists. The steel wire was removed and the festering wound was cleaned and stitched up.
While Rogers was administering antibiotics and a painkiller the conservation officials left the scene
Joubert says to protect the lion from possible attack by the other lions while it was recovering from the immobilising drugs, it was moved about 2km away and put in the veld to recover. When the lion started to awaken Rogers and the two tourists moved away and the lion was left to return to his pride.
On their return, the group was confronted by heavily armed conservation officials who, they say, were openly aggressive and abusive.
“The reserve manager told them that he was placing them under arrest. I had to make several telephone calls in order to get the group and their vehicles released from Manyeleti officials,” says Joubert.
She says the police were called and charges of poaching were laid.
Tsotso Sehoole, communications officer for the Department of Finance and Economic Development in Limpopo says: “The reserve manager should be informed of any unusual incidents in the reserve. This was not the case with these people.”
But Joubert says: “Tourists regularly see snared animals and although such incidents are always reported to the conservation authorities very little is ever done to help such animals. No attempt has ever been made to remove snares from injured animals, but nature conservation officials have shot and killed snared animals in the past that could probably have been darted and rescued.”
Joubert says the Animal Protection Act states that if individuals witness an animal’s suffering to nothing to help the animal they may be charged with cruelty to animals.
But instead the group was threatened and accused of trying to poach the lion. Sehoole says that the incident could be regarded as trespassing because the group did not get a permit to enter.
“If they were trying to help, then why did they hide it? Their actions were suspicious and hence the arrest.”
Joubert says a similar incident occurred six months ago when another ensnared lion was reported to the conservation officials. “Instead of calling us to assist, they just shot the lion.”
She says the lion was healthy and could have been saved if the officials changed their attitude to the intrinsic value of these animals.
Sehoole says conservation officials are there to protect animals. “If this [the shooting] is true, then drastic action will be taken against such people.”
The Wildlife Action Group (WAG) came out in support of the SanWild actions, saying: “It is our opinion that both the provincial and national game reserves, together with the animals in them, belong to all the people of South Africa and that the conservation authorities have been given a mandate to protect and conserve our wildlife heritage. The state of management of these reserves is becoming a serious concern.”
Liezel Mortimor of WAG says it is alleged that commercial poaching is rife in most of the provincial game reserves. Rumours about poaching syndicates hunting illegally inside the reserves and on tribal lands continue.
“Reports about the luring of lions from both the reserves and the Kruger National Park by professional hunters and their clients have been reported in various newspapers without any action being taken by the authorities to arrest the perpetrators,” she says.
Joubert says another major problem is the fences around the reserves.
“We have checked the fences and they are in a deplorable state and look like they are deliberately damaged so that predators can escape,” says Joubert. She says that the wild animals that escape through the broken fences are then killed because of the implementation of the so-called “problem animal control tenders”. These tenders have been issued to hunt lion, buffalo and elephant escaping from the game reserves.
“Already you can see the animal population depleting.”
WAG says these tenders are being abused and allow for the illegal hunting of “problem” animals.
For SanWild the solution lies in fixing the fences and not killing the animals. “I believe that these fences are deliberately damaged because someone is making money when these animals escape,” says Joubert.
“The skins are sold and tourists have reported that they have seen venison being dried openly on wire lines in some of the reserves.”
But Sehoole says the practice of “problem animal tenders” is under investigation and has been stopped.
“Our investigations on the fences revealed that the luring of wild animals, especially lions, took place where poachers deliberately destroyed the fences. This is more a problem of poaching than the state of the fences,” Sehoole says.
She says there is evidence to suggest that it is poaching not the tenders that reduces the game, but the tenders are being reviewed and are unlikely to continue.
Referring to the arrest she says: “We do not understand why good deeds are done in secret.”
SanWild is not concerned about the consequences of helping wild animals in trouble. “As far as I am concerned I will assist animals in need of help wherever I can and under any circumstances,” says Rogers.