A Letter to All
Conservationists in South Africa
Sparked by the whole Melissa Bachman Debacle
by Maxine Gaines
conservationist myself and a trained scientist I had for years given
uneasy credence to the widely held belief that without hunting, huge
areas of Africa would become wasteland and cattle farms among other
always been against hunting for moral and ethical and ecological reasons
but had bought into the argument, albeit reluctantly that hunting kept
large tracts of land available for wildlife, which would otherwise be
used for other, worse (from a conservation viewpoint) endeavors.
for twelve years been fortunate enough to work in the ecotourism
industry as a game ranger and guide and have had the privilege of
getting to know individual wild animals and follow them over many years.
The territorial cats in the reserve (a private reserve in the Sabi
Sands) were particularly close to my heart as I watched them grow from
cubs into adults, fight their battles, make their kills, have cubs of
their own. I was truly privileged and blessed to have this opportunity
to gain such an intimate understanding of their ecology, behavior and
conservation. All this time my unease with the blind acceptance of
hunting grew and I had to ask myself some hard questions
asking myself why I had, for so many years, accepted the use of large
parts of our wild areas for what I considered to be an intrinsically
unethical and amoral pursuit I came to the conclusion that I had done so
out of fear! The fear of what would happen to that land and those
animals if hunting was banned. And I had to ask myself – Is fear a good
enough reason to support hunting in Africa and the answer was a
like to challenge all conservationists in Africa who have supported the
hunting industry (and there are many among you whose views on most
things ecological I admire greatly) to ask yourselves whether or not you
have given the same uneasy support to the hunting industry for the same
is never a good reason to do anything and there is a challenge here – as
conservationists – if we have supported the hunting industry out of fear
of the alternatives, we need to start work-shopping and brainstorming
and coming up with alternative ideas for how to use that land, that
benefits wildlife, in ways that hunting never will. Can we do
conservation in these areas better than big game hunting has until now?
going to digress here for a bit and look at some of the many problems
Michler mentioned in an article written for Africa Geographic, There are
a few recent studies that have been done that conclude that the trophy
hunting industry makes an insubstantial contribution to GDP, job
creation and local economies in African Countries. One report compiled
about two years ago by the IUCN and titled Big Game Hunting in Africa is
Economically Useless concludes that “hunting does not however play a
significant economic or social role and does not contribute at all to
good governance. This study goes on to state that of the eight main big
game hunting countries in Africa, 16,5% of the land is set aside for
hunting purposes but it only contributes to 0,0001% of jobs in those
we conserve this 16,5% of land better than hunting? Ecotourism is the
obvious alternative and in that same IUCN study quoted above, it was
stated that across all the investigated countries, the trophy hunting
revenue was only 1.8% of tourism revenues.
begs the question – Have we explored all the ways in which ecotourism
can operate and contribute to the economy and to conservation. I don’t
think we have, and I think that as conservationists, we need to start
thinking out the box here, to come up with new and innovative ideas to
there any viable alternatives other than ecotourism?
problem with the hunting industry is the corruption and illegal
shenanigans that often go hand in hand with it and the evidence is
your attention to the following damning extract again from an article in
an Africa Geographic Magazine hunting blog:
Africa’s trophy hunt industry has been at the center of rhino horn
trafficking for quite some time. The first Vietnamese “pseudo-hunt”
apparently took place in 2003, and in November 2009, the wildlife trade
monitoring network TRAFFIC warned in its report ahead of CITES CoP15
that these bogus hunts had already been taking place on “the same game
ranches repeatedly”. Meanwhile, several professional hunters were
arrested more than once between 2006 and 2010 for rhino crimes:
Professional hunter Peter Thormahlen was hit with a “token fine” in 2006
for illegally hunting a rhino (on behalf of a Vietnamese client), before
he was brought to court again two years later on identical charges. It
is worth noting that Thormahlen’s rhino hunts have frequently taken
place on Mauricedale Game Reserve.
Professional hunter Christaan van Wyk had already been twice convicted
of rhino horn offenses when he was found guilty of illegally hunting a
rhino (also on behalf of his Vietnamese client) in 2010.
the 2011 arrest of professional hunter and game farmer Hugo Ras for
unlawful possession of scheduled veterinary drugs and an unlicensed
firearm, he had thrice been fined for assault and “crimeninjuria”
convictions, as well as for contravening conservation and customs laws.
syndicate mastermind Dawie Groenewald’s criminal history is remarkably
extensive — including a long list of international complaints, lawsuits,
and criminal allegations and convictions — and far pre-dates his 2010
rhino-related arrest. Among other things, he was terminated from his job
as a police officer for involvement in an organized crime ring that was
smuggling stolen cars into Zimbabwe and also has a felony conviction in
the US for unlawfully importing a leopard trophy (a violation of the
forget to mention the “Boere Mafia” — an unsavory gang of safari
operators, hunters, game farm and lodge owners (allegedly) masterminded
by Saaiman Hunting Safaris owner, Gert Saaiman, and Sandhurst Safaris
owner, George Fletcher, along with Frans van Deventer. Despite
(allegedly) organizing the killing of at least 19 rhinos in national
parks and on private game reserves, and facing multiple charges
(including racketeering, money laundering, various counts of theft,
malicious damage to property and contraventions of the various
provincial Conservation Acts and the Aviation Act), they walked free in
2010, when their case was “struck from the roll”.
2012, TRAFFIC published its extensive report (The South Africa – Viet
Nam Rhino Horn Trade Nexus), which noted that South Africa’s
“high-profile private sector individuals” consistently evade justice.
these individuals has yet been convicted and punished, but the outcome
of these cases could be pivotal for the future of South Africa’s rhinos.
If convicted, and given prison sentences commensurate with what has
recently been imposed upon Asian nationals, others in the private sector
may be deterred from becoming embroiled in the illegal rhino horn trade
July 2013, an investigative report by Fiona MacLeod and Estacio Valoi
revealed that South African trophy hunters are operating a rhino horn
trafficking ring out of Mozambique. The kingpin is said to be “safari
outfitter with a hunting concession close to Corumana dam” who pays
bribes to the local police chief to have charges against his operatives
hunters fingered in the investigation since 2011 include a safari outfit
previously caught luring lions out of the Kruger for “canned” hunts, and
another outfit previously implicated in ivory smuggling in Namibia.
performance is any indication, it is highly unlikely that South Africa’s
recently-announced “new amendments to the National Environmental
Management Act” will have much effect on the situation. Why? Because
South Africa almost exclusively blames “foreigners” for its rhino woes,
while consistently refusing to convict and imprison its homegrown
criminals who use legal trophy hunts to launder rhino horns for the
illegal market.- Annamiticus
hunting Industry can also be pulled apart as far as lion hunts go.
numerous stories, some with accompanying evidence and some not, but
credible nevertheless, of professional hunters luring lions out of
protected areas and onto hunting concessions where they can then be
“legally hunted’. How are these hunters still operating and how can we
sit back and accept this kind of behavior from the hunting industry?
stories of drugged lions being shot, stories of completely tame lions
that had been hand reared and treated as pets by individuals in the
canned lion industry and then given over to be shot by some unsuspecting
or ethically challenged hunter.
canned lion operations often dupe innocent (and sometimes not so
innocent) tourists into paying money to get their photos taken with lion
cubs. The money from this goes towards feeding the lions that are used
in the hunting industry and this part is often not advertised to the
tourists, along with the fact that the little lion cub that they are
fondling and petting today will be the canned lion trophy on some rich
hunters’ wall in seven years’ time.
watching a debate on eNCA channel 403 0n DSTV on Tuesday night where the
chap arguing for hunting stated that canned lion hunting was acceptable
because it was better than the alternative of hunting wild lions, and
while I can’t dispute that the hunting of wild lions is horrific and
creates all kinds of well documented problems for lion populations in
the wild I have to ask myself – Just because canned lion hunting is the
lesser of two evils, does this make it acceptable. And the answer is a
resounding NO! For all the reasons stated above and many more. And I
challenge all conservationists reading this to ask themselves whether we
just sit down and accept canned lion hunting because it is the “lesser
of two evils”?
get me wrong, I am not some naïve bunny hugger. I understand that
shutting the hunting industry down in this country comes with all kinds
of baggage. It is not something that can just happen overnight and
everyone lives happily ever after, but again, is that a reason to then
say, Oh it can’t be done, it is too difficult - or should we be
challenging ourselves to look for ways of doing it and coming up with a
workable plan and process.
the issues related to the animals involved, especially in the canned
as their lions have no more monetary value, what is stopping these
“farmers” from letting all their lions starve to death in their cages,
or shooting them all in the head right then and there. This is a very
real possibility and any solution needs to bear this in mind and have a
plan in place to prevent this from happening. And this is just the tip
of the iceberg, but again I say to the conservationist’s among you, just
because it is going to be hard and there are going to be problems, is it
fair to say, rather let it continue. It is easier.
that as conservationists we have been burying our heads in the sand on
this, hoping the problem will go away, or pretending it doesn’t exist
and carrying on with our own conservation projects in the belief that we
are doing what we can in other areas of conservation so we can just let
the “hunting issue” be swept under the carpet.
that the time for sweeping under the carpet is finished and I challenge
all Conservationists in Africa, young and old, experienced and not so,
professors and students, to start shifting their paradigms, challenging
their beliefs and working together to come up with a workable and better
alternative to Trophy Hunting in our beautiful country.
Thank you for your open letter and also for having
the courage to expose the facts of hunting.
When I was advising the Zambian Government, I was
faced with a dilemma like you describe. A large area alongside a
national park could either be put across to hunting or it could be put
to agriculture. The area in question was not suitable for eco tourism.
It had too many tsetse fly, no infra structure and no camps.
If placed under agriculture, the habitat would have
been destroyed. Under hunting, the habitat remained intact.
I voted for a hunting concession. On the area in
question, a hunting outfitter was granted the concession for an annual
fee. The hunters lured lions and leopards out of the park with baits and
recordings. They overshot their quotas on rare species like sable.
South Africa has taken hunting to a new level of
cruelty with canned lion and tiger hunting in most of the provinces of
With Botswana and Zambia banning hunting of big cats,
canned leopard hunts will shortly become the norm, joining the lion and
tiger canned hunts.
I have watched the Melissa Bachman debate with
interest. It reminds me of a TV programme I saw which interviewed serial
killers. The serial killers admitted that one of the things they craved
most, was fame and recognition. Once they were arrested and could
tell their stories, they had the ability to shock the world. They became
instant household names across the globe.
It's the same with Melissa Bachman. Every picture
that is posted, every article written, every piece of hate mail she
gets, increases her notoriety. For Melissa Bachman, it's clever
marketing and good self promotion to fuel her giant ego.
There is a good chance that she took a canned tiger,
but cannot show the picture because it's illegal.
Where I stay in the province of the Free State, is
the centre of canned lion and tiger hunting in South Africa.
Therefore to all conservationists I say, deal with
what you can affect. Help Maxine run down what is possible, don't be
sidetracked by Melissa Bachman.
We want to know what has happened in the Thormahlen
case. Is Mauricedale Ranch still operating hunts? What has happened in
Christiaan van Wyk's case? What is the latest in Hugo Ras and Dawie
Groenewald's court case? Is corruption rife? Are officials being bribed
to get them off court appearances. Is there clever lawyering? Marnus
Steyl is another who's case has gone quiet. Investigate Gert Saaiman,
George Fletcher and Frans van Deventer.
Help Maxine probe these cases. We as South African
citizens have a right to know.
Send Maxine's letter to the Minister of Justice and
senior prosecutors. Send it to senior members in the opposition parties.
Keep probing, there is plenty of dirt. Keep feeding the media with facts
and figures. Don't let these cases die! Make the Government aware that
these cases are being watched and we want answers!
Chumlong Lemtongthai, the Vietnamese rhino horn trader has been
given a 40 year jail sentence, we want more heavy sentences!!
Please get off the fence and help Maxine and good
luck to you all.
Tread lightly of the Earth
My last newsletter, which was about communication
between two rival tigresses, has caused some indignation amongst the
animal communicators and I have been wondering why.
People who can converse with animals, are relatively
new. Hunters, photographers and scientists have been around for a long
Many layman are skeptical about whether some people
can talk to animals. Many visitors to Tiger Canyons ask me whether it is
true. Clearly animal communicators have a way to go before they can
convince the public.
I have been fortunate in that I spent 14 years with
the mother leopard. For 5 of those years, I slept on my jeep. When she
moved, I moved, when she slept, I slept.
The mother leopard's granddaughter Manana, died of
natural causes at 16 years old. At 4 years old, I saved Manana's life
and those of her cubs when I treated her and her cubs for sycoptic
mange. Twelve years later, she repaid the favor by taking me hunting
with her for 3 hours. Three of the most magical hours of my life.
I was with Shingalana the lioness, for 4 years and
when she died I was devastated. Her death was as severe as losing a
close family member.
I hand raised the leopards Jamu, Little Boy and
Little Girl and released them into the wilds with varying success.
I have returned 5 cheetah to the wilds and now have
the opportunity of returning another 4 back to freedom.
As I write this, Tigress Julie, 14 years old, is
fighting for her life. Every minute of every day, I am communicating
with her, urging her back to health.
You could say therefore that the opportunities I have
had to communicate with cats are immense, better than most!
Therefore, can I converse with the cats that I film
and photograph daily? No I can't! I remain a layman, but well satisfied
with the spiritual journey I have traveled with each and every cat I
have been touched by.
As humans we love to glorify. Elvis Presley and
Michael Jackson were gods of rock and roll. We become disappointed when
we discover that in fact the gods are human and are like us, deeply
Therefore it is always interesting to me that the
animal communicators request to talk to Corbett and Julie, the two best
known tigers at Tiger Canyons. Why not Seatao, Sunderban or Mahindra?
Is it the fame or notoriety of the tiger that they
seek? Is it in the tiger's interest or is it personal promotion, I
Over the years I have had to answer hundreds of
thousands of questions from guests. Some questions are challenging, some
are personal and some are stupid. There are many conversations that I
would prefer not to have. It is the same with tigers.
Therefore the question you should be asking is not
"can I speak to Corbett" but rather "does Corbett want to speak to me".
Tigers have great powers of deception, therefore if
it's a conversation the tiger does not want to have, how do you know you
will get the right answers?
Several animal communicators have spoken to Corbett.
All have given me different versions. All have glorified him. None have
picked up that I have saved his life on at least two occasions. Once
when Seatao was beating him up and another when Sunderban had him
cornered. No animal communicator has told me of the time when Dr
Charlotte Mouiex sewed Corbett's nose back onto his face after he was
stabbed by a blesbuck.
I have had my own communication with Corbett and it
is simple. "You turned your back, you didn't see me in the grass, I
hunted you and nearly killed you. If you do that again, I will kill you"
Likewise the animal communicators that talk to Julie,
the Princess Diana of all tigresses. The communicators all came back
with good things. The love, the joy, the ambassador tigress,
photographed, filmed and admired across the world. But Julie, like all
tigers and all human beings is also flawed. Twice she had broken out,
killing 17 and 14 sheep respectively. Julie abandoned her second set of
cubs and she is the prime suspect in killing Shadow's cubs. In short,
Julie has a dark shadow like we all have.
Therefore as a wildlife documentary film maker, I
believe it's my duty to tell the good, the bad and the ugly. I believe
animal communicators have the same responsibility!
Many different types of people visit Tiger Canyons.
Those who want to hunt tigers, those who want to buy tigers, those who
would to steal a tiger, those who film and photograph and those who
would like to talk to tigers. Some of these people are clearly in it for
personal gain and some are genuinely in it for tigers.
Every day I spend my life assessing the people that
visit. Like I do with tigers, I watch the body language, I look into
their eyes, I assess their energy and calculate their motives. Then I
take my decision.
My advice to all animal communicators is this: You
are at the forefront of cutting edge conservation, the new frontier.
However, with your skill to converse comes responsibility. If you cannot
read the animal, say so! If you are unsure, say so! If the news is bad,
If you are to assist laymen like myself who are
facing tough decisions every day, then your communication needs to be
accurate and honest. With bad information, I will take the bad
If you tell me "I went out and sang to the hippo and
all the hippo came and sang back to me" your credibility will be shot
and you will be placed in the "lunatic fringe" where you belong.
Good luck to you all.
Tread lightly on the Earth
JV and Julie
As I write this, it is 10 days since Julie had the
terrible fight with Shadow. Dr Ryan Niemand has done a fantastic job in
re-hydrating her intravenously and subcutaneously. Yesterday she took
food for the first time in 4 days and I am hopeful for a full recovery.
Thank you to all of you who sent good energy from
around the world.
It has been 45 days since I wrote to the Minister of
Defence requesting help from the Defence Force in the
rhino poaching crisis. To date I have had no reply.
Response to newsletter:
Thank you so much for sharing
your concern about our rhinos and big cats. I really
appreciated Maxine's thoughts on what is happening
in South Africa with "canned hunting" and the
criminal elements that seem to be able to bribe
their way out of jail.
I have never hunted myself,
except with a camera, so I do not know why anybody
would want to kill an animal, especially if it is
not for food.
I have also noticed that on
"hunting farms" in the Free State, game reserves
like Tussen-die-Riviere" or huge game ranches in
Zimbabwe (like Lonestar near Chiredzi) THOSE ANIMALS
ARE SCARED OUT OF THEIR MIND when you approach them
in a vehicle, especially when I had a white double
cab -- some kept running for at least 2-3 km, and I
watched them running flat out all the way.
So yes, I am 100% with you on
that score. CANNED HUNTING
= HORRIBLY WRONG!
But there still remains a
question in my mind, and I am not sure that most of
us want to hear it, or think about it. But I will
share it with you anyway.
I agree with you that a wild
animal has more AESTHETICAL value than a tame
sheep or cow,
and that we can't really
compare a male lion with a Rottweiier or pig…
100% ACCEPTABLE to raise a cute
little chick for slaughter or the eggs that it
and 100% ACCEPTABLE to raise a
cuddly lamb for slaughter or shear its wool for
and 100% ACCEPTABLE to raise an
intelligent pig for slaughter so we can have bacon
and 100% ACCEPTABLE to raise a
trusting calf for milk or for slaughter so we can
have Boerewors at our braai?
100% WRONG to raise a leopard for
slaughter so somebody can appreciate its beautiful
and 100% WRONG to raise a lion
for slaughter so a rich hunter can mount it in his
and 100% WRONG to raise a rhino
for horn production for some deluded Asian's joy…
Are we not perhaps victims of
our own "set of priorities"?
Who is to say that my meat
craving is any more important than an Oriental's
aphrodisiac/dagger handle needs?
Does a leopard have some
intrinsic value that elevates it above a pig or a
and does a rhino need any more
special treatment than a cow that produces milk..
Does a lion have more feelings of
fear and pain than a magnificent Brahman bull…
IS A CANNED LION HUNT ANY MORE
NAUSEATING THAN A CATTLE ABBATTOIR?
What is fit for the goose should
be fit for the... lion… otherwise we are no more
than bigoted hypocrites!
Thanks for doing so much for
nature conservation. I appreciate it.
God bless for the festive season,
hunting is wrong. period. fukk the fear of hunters.
arm yourselves with assault rifles and help the wild
animals shoot back at the hunters. that takes real
courage, but that's what it will take since only
wealthy elitists make up the majority of big game
hunters in africa.
Finally the right words coming from someone that
could use his knowledge and exposure to do what is
so desperately needed.
Well done JV I support your thoughts, we have a
country that is better than any other in the world
and i know that hunting has its place, the question
is where and how. As for the bragging when it comes
to hunts we all know that the old days of horse back
hunting and hiking are a bit of the past so any
boasting in this day and age is questionable.
We once met in the Sabi Sand
very long ago when I was still working for Tvl
Conservation Dept, doing game counts with Petri
and Nick Zimbatis.
Nevertheless, Maxines article
stunned me because I also realized I supported
Trophy hunting for the same reasons. I had the
privilege to be "in control" of the section
regulating Trophy Hunting in Limpopo for 7 years
which gave me first hand insight into the real
industry most people do not know. There are good
people with good intentions but in the end the
whole principle of hunting an animal purely for
the pleasure and to put a stuffed mount on your
wall to brag about is wrong and I don't believe
we need that kind of money anyway. I subscribe
to sustainable use principles and do not believe
hunting canned lions of leopards helps to lessen
the impact on our wild populations because in
any event if you don't have a sustainable
population of lion to hunt from in the wild you
should not be allowed to hunt a lion. Yet
authorities gave in and allowed people to breed
lions and can hunt them simply because the did
not have the guts to say no to a money driven
industry. Some provincial MEC's actually
condoned can hunting because of the money it
generates for the province despite all arguments
I was the person who
prosecuted Van Wyk in his last case for hunting
a white rhino and was also the person who
instigated prosecution and assisted the
authorities in the USA to nail Groenewald there.
I also charged Thormalen the last time he was in
court and walked free due to incredibly bad
Thankfully I am now not
involved with conservation anymore because its a
farce in my view. I cannot be proud of being a
conservationist while working for a government
If Maxine wants to make
contact with me I can talk to her and maybe fill
in a few gaps on the issues she raised in her
I recommend that both you
and Melissa take 10 minutes to watch Allan
Savory’s TED talk – download it, it is online,
One can hug as many trees
and bunnies, and save as many rhino’s as you
wish, but without stopping desertification we
all vrek. For her to advocate fewer cattle on
the land, in the name of conservation, eish..
Enjoy your family being
home for the holidays, best
As always, a straight shooting and
fascinating newsletter. Thanks for taking
the time to write.
I must agree, hunting should be banned.
I lived in Kenya and used to hunt as a
youngster and was encouraged to do so by
my father who said if you cant eat it,
don't shoot it. However things changed
when I was 18 I obtained an old 4x4 (a
decrepit DKW 2 stroke) we used it to go
hunting. two occasions did not work
well, the first was in the are of Lake
Baragoi, where on hillside I shot an
Eland. The problem arose as we could not
get the 4x4 near to it and anyway it was
far to big. The next thing that happened
on another occasion my brother shot up a
herd of Thompson's Gazelle, He had gone
out in my vehicle and he had put a pile
of dead animals on the back seat, drove
home and left them there. I was away for
few days when I returned there were dead
buck rotting in (on) my little truck. I
never went hunting again. About two
years later I came to South Africa where
I have lived ever since. 20 Years ago I
returned to Kenya where I learned that
the Government had banned hunting and
what I saw was amazing. More Game and
easier to see because the animals did
not have big cowboys with big guns
making big bangs all over the place.
(someone told me they lifted the ban
subsequently) for instance we saw
leopards on the Mara which I had never
seen before despite working there for a
year. I have two sons who are now
adults and I never encouraged them to
hunt and they never have and they do not
have dreams of being a big white hunter.
I recently took a holiday in Zanzibar,
obviously they cant hunt there but even
then meat is scarce and most fishing is
carried out by locals in wooden boats.
There is of course big game fishing but
it is so small that it hardly impacts
the economy. It would seem that hunting
has had its day..