Editor’s Note: Although this is a longer version of Michael Green’s letter published in The Village NEWS on April 24, 2019, it has still been edited.  Letters may be edited for clarity, legal ramifications, length or general taste at the editor’s discretion.

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The emotionalism of the headline “Lamloch – sanctuary or environmental disaster?” of the opinion piece by Rob Fryer of Whale Coast Conservation is misleading (TVN 10 April ’19).

Craig Saunders and his Kleinmond Wildlife Sanctuary (KWS) team have already invested approximately R5 million on alien vegetation clearing and fynbos restoration, while Working for Water has invested R3 million. It is common sense that this money has not been invested by KWS to create an environmental disaster. The same applies to Working for Water, who must have been consistently convinced of the merits of its efforts over a few years.

Perhaps Fryer, as General Manager of Whale Coast Conservation (WCC), should instead inspect the adjoining properties which are essentially abandoned and see the parlous state of rampant infestation of pine, eucalyptus, Port Jackson willow and myrtle in the same area. Why has WCC never expressed concern about the shocking state of these properties? Why the group-thinking mentality to pillory the one person who has been doing good and putting his capital on the line to create an environment that is sustainable and will create some 40 new permanent jobs?

Fryer must realise that Lamloch Farm, now called Kleinmond Wildlife Sanctuary, is privately owned and ultimately controlled by a private person who is entitled, subject to regulations, to utilise his land for any number of purposes. Saunders has chosen to stock his 465-hectare farm with wildlife instead of domestic animals, or attempt to farm with crops, for which the soil is unsuitable.

Mr. Saunders is probably also fully within his rights to erect Tunnel Greenhouses to produce fresh cash crops for consumers from Hermanus to Pringle Bay, Somerset West and beyond. Judging from similar crop farming amongst the fynbos in the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, Mr. Saunders would probably do well from Tunnel Greenhouses.

It should be clear that fences are necessary to keep feral or wild horses out of his property and keep his wildlife inside. On the one occasion that horses did move onto the property, Saunders was falsely accused of attempting to “steal” them. He was derided by a gang of faceless people via a vicious social media campaign, which was laced with blunt emotional lies and innuendo. From the outset it should be obvious, except perhaps to the most mischievous, that no wildlife sanctuary, game park or even game farm desires horses among the wildlife any more than cows or pigs.

Whether there had been “an old fence” and the new fence was erected to replace an older one, is irrelevant. Common Law allows fencing of one’s property without permission being required. The fact that Fryer indicates that the owner fenced his property “On the false assumption that the new fence simply replaces former fences…” is misleading.

Unless an owner of wildlife erects a Certified Game or Wildlife Fence and registers the fence with CapeNature, any wild animals that wander onto adjacent properties entitle adjacent property owners to claim them as their animals. It would be illogical for KWS to stock the property with wildlife and not fence it, whether the owner wished to farm with game, simply enjoy his own game or have the public enjoy looking at his game and enjoying a wildlife experience, or not. That the fence is electrified is so much the better; it provides more security for the animals, prevents larger animals from escaping and keeps horses out.

The semantics of “Wildlife Sanctuary” versus “Game Farm” is neither here nor there. If KWS is able to breed a surplus of “Game”, it would be foolish not to sell the surplus to generate revenue from yet another purchaser of “Game” who wishes to propagate wildlife and contribute to the development of wildlife tourism in South Africa with the many jobs that this natural fit generates to create employment in an economy.

Unemployment in RSA seems stuck at above 25% (currently over 27%, but this figure excludes those who have given up looking for work), is probably far higher in Overstrand and is certainly far higher than 27% in Kleinmond. The Game Industry is large in South Africa, is responsible for higher employment in rural areas, promotes conservation and is sustainable.

Fryer’s choice of the word “developer” rather than “owner” seems designed to create emotionalism around the notion that “developers” are bad for the environment. This is odd because without “developers” most readers would not live in homes and no wildlife reserves or sanctuaries would exist. Even the Kruger National Park has required substantial development.

In addition, the 100 jobs that will be created to build the wildlife sanctuary, followed by around 40 full-time jobs, are substantial for a single venture. KWS will probably be the largest private sector employer in Kleinmond.

Apart from the economic benefit, employees will be trained, gain valuable conservation experience and create nature conservation awareness among the community. With luck and tenacity, more wildlife ventures will leverage off the entrepreneurial spirit of KWS and establish Kleinmond as a beacon of hope in sustainable conservation, as opposed to abandoned alien-infested badlands.

KWS is not funded with handouts. It is financed by free market capital, which requires a return. Unless the world begins to realise that the wildlife environment desperately needs to fund itself, wildlife is doomed to the voraciousness of the most destructive species on earth viz. homo sapiens.

Eons ago, highly successful organizations such as Wilderness Safaris realized this and came up with capital-intensive solutions that optimize the Benefit/Cost Ratio with an essential modern conservation model, instead of an ideologically-driven approach, which is impractical, inward-looking and outdated.

The tourism revenue spin-off from people who have visited what will be Kleinmond’s top tourist attraction, and those who then visit Kleinmond Harbour and restaurants afterwards, will also be welcome. It is well known that tourism has a high employment multiplier effect per added visitor and is one of the highest employment generators worldwide.

About elephants in general and these eight elephants in particular, Fryer seems extraordinarily ignorant. Elephants are “eating machines” as Saunders put it in his address to the 2018 Annual General Meeting of the Kogelberg Biosphere Reserve Company. He added that they love eating Port Jackson willow. In this respect, the elephants will, on balance, be great for the environment.

That the elephants already exist and are ‘rescues’ seems to have been missed by Fryer. Some were orphaned babies. They were highly fortunate not to have been culled with the rest of the herd and to have found such a good home many years ago with Saunders. Others are from similar cruel backgrounds and are also highly fortunate to have been provided with an infinitely improved future on a decent footprint of 465 hectares.

The elephants are already habituated; this is clear in the details of the proposal. Why does Fryer omit this context? Surely it is also obvious that wildlife sanctuaries are ambassadors for wildlife and perform an invaluable educational and attitude-shifting role to positively alter the destructive mindset of humans, which is currently killing one elephant every 45 minutes in Africa – a horrendous carnage of almost 12 000 elephants per year.

The fact is that these eight elephants have already contributed enormously to wildlife education and shall no doubt do the same in Kleinmond. KWS has trained Elephant Handlers/Managers and, in the writer’s opinion, the elephants shall hopefully be put to good use grazing aliens such as Port Jackson willow on the adjacent properties and more than pay their way to rid the Bot/Kleinmond Estuary of the alien scourge. Well-managed elephants may be the ideal solution to the “War on Aliens” in the Western Cape.

With respect to the comments that elephants trample plants. Horses trample wide areas. Elephants do not trample wide areas; they walk the same paths repeatedly, which is partially illustrated by the name “Elephant Path” in Fernkloof Nature Reserve.

Lodges built on stilts are sensitive to the environment. This is general practice among lodges built for valuable conservation tourism in the Okavango Delta. It is a proven success, generates valuable income for the locally-employed people and the community, and has been an outstanding model in changing the mindset of the local communities from hunting wildlife to the greater financial benefit derived from conserving wildlife.

It is disturbing that Fryer either chooses to ignore this or is ignorant of these facts. Glenn Murcutt, a famous Australian architect, was awarded the Pritzker Prize, essentially the Nobel Prize-equivalent for architecture, for popularising sustainable abodes that lightly touch the earth. Fryer should perhaps inspect the newly-constructed lodges within Kogelberg Nature Reserve and other reserves.

Fryer seems to go into orbit with his statement that “Environmental specialists have investigated the potential environmental impacts of the proposed game farm”. Why are these “environmental specialists” also anonymous, how many are there and what are their credentials? That Fryer then shifts gear to state categorically that the “overwhelming majority of the environmental aspects considered will result in negative impacts…” seems postulated so that the choice of words and language structure may be interpreted as many environmental specialists’ conclusions being negative.

This is nonsense. Without disclosing who these specialists are, what their qualifications are and what studies they performed, and disclosing the benefits and drawbacks, it will not convince most thinking people that the drawbacks of the wilderness safaris model developed in the Okavango outweigh the benefits. This is the basic model being applied by KWS. The obvious benefits vastly outweigh the drawbacks.

The “Botanical Specialist” referred to by Mr. Fryer also requires far more credibility than being yet another nameless mystery person. Surely the mystery specialist takes cognizance of the fact that around R5 million of private capital (i.e. non-charity and non-taxpayer-funded grants) has been invested in restoring the vegetation alone by Kleinmond Wildlife Sanctuary, and another R3 million has been invested by Working For Water.

Fryer specifically mentions that the proposed elephants are not “endemic” to the area. This is ridiculous. The African Elephant is endemic to a vast area of Africa and were indigenous in the area, as were lions and white rhinoceros. It appears that Fryer is unaware of the difference in meaning of “endemic” and “indigenous”.

Where does Mr. Fryer think that the name “Elephant Path” in the Fernkloof Nature Reserve, located around the corner from the Whale Coast Conservation offices, comes from? This is apart from the fact that even if African Elephants were not originally indigenous to the area, if elephants are considered by experts to do well in the area, are ‘Rescues’ to be well-looked after and shall contribute to the local economy in terms of jobs, generate local revenue and increase the general economic money multiplier, and educate a large number of people, this benefit alone contributes towards a sustainable natural environment. The alternative is to ring-fence the private property of others, do nothing, allow prodigious infestations of alien plants to take over and decimate the environment as has occurred on both adjacent properties.

Most readers are unaware of the irresponsible, ignorant and potentially illegal attempt by a number of signatories of Ward 9 (Kleinmond) to artificially breach the Kleinmond Lagoon from 23 November 2018, in defiance of the Bot/Kleinmond Estuary Management Plan developed by CSIR scientists in conjunction with CapeNature.

This was at the beginning of the previous dry fire season. It would have drained 40% of the volume of the entire Bot River Estuary Complex of almost 16 square kilometres of water surface area all the way to the Bot River Bridge on the R43 and, because the edges are shallow, caused far greater surface area loss than the 40% water volume loss suggests. There would have been massive environmental damage to the sea fish nursery and bird breeding areas in this Ramsar Site. The consequences would have been of the league of the decimation caused by the Betty’s Bay fire.

CapeNature was involved in stopping the illegal breach of Kleinmond Lagoon. As experts in Estuary Management, it is unfair to take a swipe at CapeNature with its extensive, albeit unsung, experience in Estuary Management.

Kleinmond Wildlife Sanctuary provides the entire area with a major in-situ custodian of the health of the Bot River/Kleinmond Estuary System. The potential for ignorant attempts to artificially drain the Kleinmond Lagoon after the wet season and just before the fire season shall therefore diminish.

KWS is conservation-oriented and shall contribute to the BIGGER picture of professional estuarine management as per the Bot/Kleinmond Estuary Management Plan – a legal document endorsed by experts such as CapeNature.    

Of course, CapeNature has refused to provide public access to the application to keep eight elephants on private property. It is a private application direct to the relevant authority. To allow access by the public would be irresponsible and illegal for CapeNature. Somehow WCC appears to think that it should have carte blanche to other people’s private business to the extent that Fryer condemns their correct refusal as “alarming” and continues to condemn CapeNature’s responsible refusal as “arrogance of the highest order”.

I and many others look forward to KWS opening its gates and welcome Craig Saunders and his team, including elephants, to Overstrand. Congratulations Mr Saunders on the approval of Kleinmond Wildlife Sanctuary. May there be many more like you sir.

 

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peter hodgskin
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peter hodgskin

Michael Green seems to be very upset. All of this garbage (he uses the word nonsense to describe some of Rob Fryer’s issues so garbage is my choice for most of his writing) is smoke and mirrors. First question: what, pray tell, dear Mr Green, is your relationship with Mr. Saunders? Do tell… to me and most people that take a step back and actually think, the issue is very clear: Saunders is all about captive elephants. He tells us that some of these captive elephants have been with him for 20 years. He also tells us that Lamloch will… Read more »

Alda du Plooy
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Alda du Plooy

Thank you Peter for your comments above ! I agree and Mr Green’s letter feels like a harsh push towards this development. I am no expert, but the following questions (to Mr Green and Mr Saunders) stand out for me are: • These elephants were saved from a cull – when and where? Please address the elephant in the room called Thuli. • How are their best interests served when NSPCA / EMS Foundation / BAN Animal Trading and other organisations have repeatedly expressed their grave concern and have sited elephant experts in their doing so? • Surely elephants with… Read more »

Rob
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Rob

This is a well written and comprehensive letter. I do not see what one person does on his land, has to do with other people, Especially if they do not live next to him. His applications, was for UP TO * ele[jamts. That does not mean he is going to put 8 in there immediately. With all due respect, I do not see what an elephant management plan, of one person and his private land, has to do with anyone else. Its his land – allow him to do what he wants to do with it. Here is a person… Read more »

peter hodgskin
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peter hodgskin

Hi Rob I will respond only to one issue you refer to as you mention my name. Do you know what a captive elephant with handler has gone through as regards training? A captive elephant with a handler has been broken – let me repeat that: a captive elephant that has a handler has been BROKEN! It does not have free will. It has ZERO life of its own. It is NOT a free animal that can do as it wishes. It is a performing animal for pure financial gain for its owner. Most if not all CAPTIVE elephants with… Read more »