• Lawtons Africa

Court grants Riff Raff stay of execution

Updated: Sep 8

POLOKWANE: Wildlife campaigners at the Humane Society International (HSI/Africa) are celebrating a high court ruling last week that grants extended protection for Riff Raff, an elephant declared a “problem” animal for trampling fences in his range in Limpopo.


As elephants and people increasingly compete for land across South Africa, landowners often resort to eliminating them. That is unjustified, says HST/Africa, particularly when a reserve more than 400km away is offering Riff Raff a new home.


HSI/Africa and its partner, Global Supplies, have been working for two years to save the at least 40-year-old, dominant male elephant after a landowner applied to have him shot. Riff Raff was declared a damage-causing animal by the provincial 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 in Riff Raff’s reserve in 2016, directly excluding him from this 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, HSl/Africa and Global Supplies relocated him to another reserve last year, but it was too close to his historical range and he walked the 64km back home.


When a new destruction permit was applied for, and the campaigners’ request to relocate Riff Raff to a new reserve 400km away was rejected by the Limpopo provincial government, they asked the high court to intervene and review the decision.


Judge President Ephraim 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 new terrain and with new females, where Riff Raff would be the most dominant bull, mimics bulls’ natural dispersal to areas outside of their natal range, and therefore has greater chances of success.


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 the result of 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. 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 thankful to its attorneys, Lawtons Africa, and to advocate Mpho Sethaba and Lebogang Phaladi for their pro-bono services in 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.


For more information and updates on Riff Raff’s story, follow HSI/Africa on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/HSIAfrica/, Twitter https://twitter.com/HSIAfrica and Instagram https://www.instagram.com/hsiafrica/ | Supplied

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