Report on game reserve hammers top sheik

A damning report on a Karoo reserve could lead to the owner, a prominent Arab businessman, facing possible criminal charges.

The Blaauwbosch Private Game Reserve between Uitenhage and Steytlerville is owned by Khalaf Ahmed Khalaf Al Otaiba, a prominent member of a powerful United Arab Emirates family that also owns the Thaba Manzi Game Farm near Humansdorp and Port Elizabeth’s Edward Hotel.

The sheik hit the headlines last month when the Eastern Cape Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism ordered the shooting of an elephant which was escaping repeatedly from Blaauwbosch and damaging neighbouring farm property.

The department issued Al Otaiba with a pre-compliance notice in November and a compliance notice in January referring to management concerns at Blaauwbosch.

In terms of South African environmental legislation, a compliance notice is the severest administrative step possible, laying down specific instructions that must be carried out within a set timeframe.

On Friday, senior compliance officer Div de Villiers said the provisions of the compliance notice had not yet been complied with.

“[The department] is now considering following criminal procedures as it appears that administrative action has not resulted in improved management of the game farm.”

Meanwhile, an independent heavyweight ecological compliance review of the 3 600ha Blaauwbosch has highlighted a range of serious issues.

These include insufficient water, little or no operational budget and poorly maintained fencing “that will facilitate further [elephant] breakouts”.

The report highlights the lack of the necessary documents required to stock dangerous and protected game, the imminent poaching threat facing Blaauwbosch’s rhinos because of no security, and the plight of the reserve’s single hippo, which is living in unacceptable conditions with inadequate water and grazing.

The report was authored by senior conservationists Dr John O’Brian, of Frontier Wildlife Consulting, and Brian Bailey, conservation director of ecotourism company Lion Roars.

Bailey, who also commissioned the report, sent it on May 12 to Al Otaiba and the department.

Questions about the problems raised in the report were sent on Friday to Al Otaiba’s representative, Ahmed Elgarib. However, he failed to respond, saying only that he objected to The Herald’s articles on the sheik’s reserves.

The report said besides the monthly payment of salaries, electricity and water, Blaauwbosch’s operating budger was just R2000 per month.

“This is not enough to keep one vehicle operational for the month, let alone equip the staff with the tools they require or maintain the basic necessities of the reserve such as water,” it said.

“A realistic budget with available cash flow to enable the staff to manage effectively must be prioritised.”

The number and size of permanent water points on Blaauwbosch was also not up to standard and irresponsible for the size of the property and the animals’ needs.

“Sufficient water points and supply will reduce the desperation of the elephant and therefore also reduce elephant damage to the infrastructure,” the report said.

It said the herd of 12 elephants was over the maximum of seven to 10 recommended for the size of the reserve and that they were consequently destroying habitat.

“There have already been several elephant breakouts more than likely due to insufficient suitable food and/or water in association with inadequate fencing,” the report said

The solution was to put all the female elephants on contraception.

It said the hippo should be caught immediately and relocated to a reserve with sufficient water vital for it to wallow in and protect its skin from cracking, especially during hot, dry weather.

A quarter of the fencing was in desperate need of repair and this needed to be addressed immediately, together with the formation of an anti-poaching team to protect, especially, the elephant and rhino which were presently highly vulnerable to poachers.

Bailey praised the efforts of Blaauwbosch manager Siphiwo Haas, who had battled on despite little assistance or budget. “He’s a hero,” he said. “The Al Otaiba group’s actions, on the other hand, remind me of a spoilt child with too many toys which he doesn’t take care of.

“But they are not dealing with toys. There are peoples’ jobs, livelihoods and reputations at stake.

“There are children to feed and school fees to be paid.

“There are animals to be fed and protected, and neighbours’ properties to be respected,” Bailey said.

“If a service is contracted and delivered, it must be paid for.

“The message from the Eastern Cape should be – don’t play with us.

“We take our community and our environment seriously, and we are very proud of who we are.”

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