KAMPALA — Should the president of South Africa be trading in protected species and pocketing huge sums of money from their deaths? PETA released an undercover investigation exposing Cyril Ramaphosa’s carefully concealed – but extensive – trophy hunting interests.
At his Phala Phala game-breeding operation, Ramaphosa breeds and sells animals to be gunned down by tourists who have more money than morals. Phala Phala supposedly “contribute[s] to … South Africa’s conservation efforts, particularly the preservation of South Africa’s wildlife heritage”; however, of the 10 species listed as its breeding focus, six are mutation colours bred purely for the trophy hunting market and three originate in other countries. Hunting operations use sports terminology to market these mutant animals in “grand slams”, touting the opportunity to shoot four different colours of impala or wildebeest.
Ramaphosa also owns a 50% stake in Tsala Hunting Safaris, an outfit that boasts that it can help people kill 42 kinds of animals, including antelopes, buffaloes, giraffes, hippos, crocodiles, civet cats, caracals, warthogs, baboons, lions, elephants, leopards, and zebras. The company carries out its bloody hunts primarily on Ramaphosa’s Diepdrift property as well as on partner sites in South Africa.
Although the president has actively attempted to keep his involvement hidden from the public, PETA released covert recordings in which Ramaphosa’s business partners detail his financial holdings in these trophy hunting companies. Tsala co-owner Rouan Nel noted, “[Ramaphosa] bought 50% in our company so we [are] 50%, or full partners in it, yes.” Hendrik von Wielligh, who manages Phala Phala and Diepdrift, told PETA’s investigator, “We try to keep the president’s name actually out of the hunting thing because … he wanna spare himself this, how can I say, bad publicity and all of that.”
While hunting is illegal within Kruger National Park in South Africa, Tsala arranges elephant hunts just outside it, in private reserves. Elephants who were protected inside Kruger can unknowingly walk across the unfenced, invisible boundaries and be gunned down. Ian Brown of Wayne Wagner Safaris, which Ramaphosa’s company contracts for elephant hunts, told the PETA US investigator that they will even hunt elephants in family groups, which has legal ramifications. Brown admitted that “if there’s a bull in there, you will definitely go after them, after him, if there’s one that you really want”.
Lions who are hunted through a partner company are bred and reared in captivity. They’re released onto fenced properties just four days before a hunt in order to meet the province’s minimum requirement to be considered “wild”. However, with no chance of escape and no fear of humans, who have fed them their entire lives, it’s like shooting lions at a zoo.
While not against the law, hunting rhinoceroses is widely opposed because of the high number killed by poachers, and Tsala doesn’t list rhinos as available on its website. But Nel revealed to the investigator, “It is a very sensitive subject, rhinos, to hunt, but obviously we will be very discreet and everything. But yes it is not that difficult. … If you say, yes, let’s go, let’s book it, I can probably get a nice big rhino.”
And since Ramaphosa’s business partners say that South African environmental authorities won’t issue a permit to kill a leopard, Tsala guides simply ferry their wealthy clients to Namibia or Mozambique to conduct the hunts there, and the company still profits.
So what of trophy hunters’ claims that these animals’ deaths – and thus their suffering, which can last for hours – are somehow justified by the money they bring in?
An in-depth study of hunting activities in several African nations, including South Africa, by the independent group Economists at Large found that “[n]ature based tourism does play a significant role in national development, but trophy hunting is insignificant. Across the investigated countries, trophy hunting revenue was only 1.8% of tourism revenues”.
The research also found that very little of that money goes into the local economy. It mainly stays with hunting outfits like Tsala.
As one resident living near a spot frequently used for hunting lamented, “We’re more closely allied with the photographic operators than the hunters. They are finishing off the wildlife before we’ve had a chance to realize a profit from it. Hunters don’t recognize us; they only recognize the government. … We’re supposed to get 5 percent: we don’t even see that.”
Hunters are certainly finishing off the wildlife. Experts estimate that there are less than 28,300 individuals representing five different species of rhinoceros left in South Africa, which is especially concerning considering that the nation is home to nearly 80% of the world’s total rhino population. Only about 17,000 free-roaming elephants remain in the country, along with only about 2,300 wild lions.
Ramaphosa tried publicly to deny profiteering from trophy hunting, but at the same time, he was instructing his aides to give “notice to Tsala Hunting Safaris to terminate the hunting arrangement with them”.
The president must fully divest himself of all trophy hunting interests. If he doesn’t, given that the future prosperity of South African wildlife tourism depends upon healthy herds of animals and ethical, lucrative photo safaris, one has to wonder where Ramaphosa’s interests truly lie.
Jason Baker is the senior vice president of international campaigns for PETA.