Hippo evades conservation bullet

A young hippo bull was saved this week, allegedly after the department of Nature Conservation initially planned on destroying it. This emerged after Theo Retief, the owner of Dando Achar, in Tarentaalrand outside Tzaneen, became concerned over a hippo who had started destroying his young mango trees planted near the dam on the property.

“The hippo has been living peacefully here with us for quite a while and in fact, we actually had a very good understanding between us,” explained Retief. “In the mornings I would drive up to the dam with my motorbike and rev the engine. The hippo would return my call by spewing large mouthfuls of water into the air. We carried on like this until it became our regular morning game.”

All that changed a few weeks ago when one of his workers told him that a number of their young trees in the orchids had been destroyed by the animal. He investigated. “When I noticed the amount of damage that had been done, I decided that it would be best to either relocate or shoot the animal as it was now becoming a danger to my workers. I contacted Nature Conservation to get the necessary permits. Nature Conservation came to my property to do their inspections and said that they would destroy the animal themselves as they do not issue permits for that purpose anymore. Now, if shooting the hippo was my only resort, I would rather have done that myself, but I actually just want to move him to a safer area where he won’t place my workers in danger or destroy my livelihood.”

Louise Joubert, the founder of SanWild, a game reservation near Gravelotte, contacted Retief and offered to have the animal relocated. “There is absolutely no reason for this animal to be destroyed. We have had this type of problem a few times in the past where the easiest solution is sought, rather than try and solve the problem humanely.” Joubert could not take the hippo to her personal reserve as she already houses a pair and the introduction of another bull would only cause a problem.

Joubert contacted renowned game capturers, Anita and Andre Pienaar of Parawild Game Capture, for assistance. The Pienaars submitted an application to relocate the animal at the department of Nature Conservation. “A permit takes roughly 14 days to approve. Once the approval is given, we erect electric fencing around the dam to enclose the animal. A steel boma is erected and molasses is left in the boma every day over the course of a few weeks. The animal becomes at ease feeding in the boma and we then eventually lock the gate behind it – like a cage basically. The animal is then transported to a sanctuary willing to accept it.”

In this instance a hippo breeding farm outside Polokwane has confirmed that they would accept the hippo at their facility. For now, the hippo remains at Dando Achar until the permits have been granted.
Bulletin has tried to get official comment from the department of Nature Conservation on the reason for their decision to destroy the animal, but our enquiries turned up empty. We also sought clarity on rumours that rangers at the department were being offered bribes for the meat of the animals (specifically hippos) and that this is the reason why permits were being refused. We have not been able to prove these allegations, but have contacted the department’s spokesperson, Burkels Napo, for comment. We will follow up on this matter in our next edition.