Decision made to put down Riff Raff, the ‘problem’ elephant


Nica Richards, The Citizen

Date Published
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Three years’ worth of efforts to save “problem” elephant, Riff Raff, have ended in tragedy.

Riff Raff was notorious for trampling fences erected through his range, but a decision was recently made to “humanely destroy him”.

One of the organisations instrumental to saving Riff Raff was Humane Society International (HSI) Africa. The news was a “devastating blow” for the team, said HSI-Africa wildlife director and elephant biologist, Audrey Delsink.

“Riff Raff should have been free to live his life undisturbed by human presser, but instead he has been the victim of South Africa’s wildlife management system that fails to protect animals from human conflict situations.”

For the past three years, HSI-Africa committed to protecting the 45-year-old elephant bull, who lived in Limpopo.

HSI-Africa said lethal solutions were resorted to too often to eliminate “problem” animals.

A landowner of Riff Raff’s reserve erected an exclusion fence in 2016, to prevent him from accessing land. However, Delsink pointed out that the land he was kept away from was land he was “genetically hard-wired to return to”.

After trampling the exclusion fences, HSI-Arica and Global Supplies kickstarted a number of court appeals to save Riff Raff from being shot. It was decided that the elephant be relocated.

After securing permits, he was moved into the North West, where the idea was for him to live out his remaining years in peace.

But once again, Riff Raff’s wild heart yearned to be outside the protected reserve, and he again made repeated efforts to escape.

This despite repeated efforts from staff on the ground and in the air trying to keep him from breaking out.

After consultation with authorities, the decision was made to “humanely” terminate his life.

Delsink told The Citizen that wildlife management policies needed to be made more relevant to the species that were being managed, taking into account the life history and biological requirements of that animal, “to avoid conflict from the start”.

She said that a wider tolerance of human-wildlife coexistence needed to be adopted, as well as a focus on effective, non-lethal alternatives, such as immuno-contraception, wildlife corridors, chilli and bee-hive fences.

“Lethal control is too easily resorted to and this must be the option of the last resort.”

Elephant bulls leave their natal ranges and go in search of females when they mature. But as humans continue to occupy protected areas, more human-animal conflicts arise.

In the future, Delsink envisioned that there would be “many more Riff Raffs with nowhere to go but into human territories”.

“Destroying these animals through damage-causing animal policies is a band aid to a haemorrhage. It will not solve the problem.”