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Africa Geographic Travel
Riff Raff, a mature elephant bull
Riff Raff, a mature bull elephant has been dubbed a ‘problem’ animal © Waldo Swiegers/AP Images for Humane Society International
NEWS DESK POST by Humane Society International/Africa (HSI/Africa)

Wildlife campaigners at Humane Society International/Africa are celebrating a South African High Court ruling that grants extended protection for Riff Raff, an elephant dubbed a “problem” animal for trampling fences erected through his range in Limpopo. As elephants and people increasingly compete for land across South Africa, landowners often resort to lethal solutions to eliminate the problem. That is unjustified, says HSI/Africa, particularly when a reserve more than 400 km away is offering Riff Raff a new home.

HSI/Africa and its partner Global Supplies have been working for more than two years to save the 40+ year-old, dominant male elephant from destruction after a landowner applied to have him shot. Riff Raff was declared a damage-causing animal by the provincial environmental government for trampling fences to gain access to land that has been his core bull zone for more than half his adult life. The fences were erected by a landowner on Riff Raff’s reserve in 2016, directly excluding him from this long-established area of land to which, as one of the oldest and most dominant bulls on the property, he was genetically hard-wired to return.

To save Riff Raff, HSI/Africa and Global Supplies relocated him to another reserve last year, but it was too close to his historical range and he walked the 64 km journey back home. When a new destruction permit was applied for, and the campaigners’ request to relocate Riff Raff to a new reserve 400 km away was rejected by the Limpopo government, they asked the High Court to intervene and review the decision. Judge President Makgoba has now granted Riff Raff extended protection at his current reserve, pending a full review next year. The new location, being much further away, in a new terrain and with new females, where Riff Raff would be the most dominant bull, mimics bull’s natural dispersal to areas outside of their natal range, and therefore has greater chances of success.

Africa Geographic Travel

Across Africa, elephants are under threat from poaching, trophy hunting, habitat encroachment and climate change, and should be protected wherever possible. HSI/Africa believes that Riff Raff’s ranging behaviour is nothing more than normal bull elephant instinct. As current legal definitions of so-called damage-causing animals fail to take this natural behaviour into account, it has become easy for landowners to exploit this behaviour to have elephants on their land destroyed.

Audrey Delsink, HSI/Africa’s wildlife director and an elephant behaviourist who has studied Riff Raff for more than 20 years, said: “We are deeply relieved at the High Court’s decision to grant Riff Raff an extended stay of execution and the chance of a new life. He has come to symbolise an ever-increasing human-elephant conflict in South Africa that all too often ends with elephants paying the price. People and elephants increasingly compete for the same space, with lethal solutions sadly seen as the easiest and quickest option. Lethal management interventions, particularly in the case of human-elephant conflict, should be the absolute last resort and never employed where any other humane alternative exists. We share this land with these magnificent giants, it should be utterly unthinkable to kill them simply because to do so is easier than managing the land in a way that considers their normal biological drivers.”

HSI/Africa is extremely thankful to its attorneys, Lawton’s Africa, and to Advocate Mpho Sethaba and Lebogang Phaladi for their pro-bono services on Riff Raff’s case. The elephant’s final fate will be determined next year, when the 2018 decision not to allow his relocation will be reviewed by the court.

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