South African Elephant Riff Raff Dodges Death Row as Judge Intervenes to Halt Shooting

HOEDSPRUIT, South Africa – Riff Raff, the South African elephant who had faced a possible death sentence for knocking down fences and trampling on farmland, has secured a reprieve after activists intervened, arguing he’s a victim of a human-elephant conflict.

Riff Raff, a mature elephant bull that is to be relocated to the Olifants River Game Reserve is seen on Wednesday, March 21, 2018, at the Makalali Game Reserve, South Africa. (Waldo Swiegers/AP Images for Humane Society International)

Landowners in Hoedspruit near the Kruger National Park had sought a court ruling to have the six-tonne bull elephant destroyed after he damaged their property.

Activists, who had tried to protect the elephant from angry landowners in 2017 by moving him away from the area only to find he wandered back, blocked a ruling against Riff Raff by saying it was natural for the animals to roam.

Activists from Humane Society International/Africa (HSI/Africa) and Global Supplies said killing him would be a “quick fix” to a biological and environmental issue.

HSI/Africa told SAPeople that animal campaigners in South Africa were in court yesterday fighting to save the life of the “problem-elephant” bull who faced being shot for being considered a ‘nuisance’.

At the last minute, before Riff Raff’s destruction, Acting Deputy Judge President Mr Justice M.G. Phatudi intervened and granted Riff Raff a temporary stay of execution. The court will review the relocation plan Humane Society International/Africa and Global Supplies put forth.

HSI/Africa and its partners have been trying to save Riff Raff for two years.

“We very much hope that the review process will assess the exceptional circumstances of Riff Raff’s case, address the ill-judged historical decisions that have led to this conflict, and set an important precedent by overturning Limpopo’s refusal to let us relocate Riff Raff again,” said Audry Delsink, Wildlife Director for HSI/Africa.

Relocating South African Elephant Riff Raff. Source: HSI/Africa

Many communities across Africa living in areas where elephants roam complain about damage to their land by the world’s largest land mammals.

Fences surround many South African national parks but they rarely prove strong enough to put off a determined elephant.

HSI/Africa Director Audrey Delsink said any order to destroy Riff Raff would “be a tragedy not only for this amazing animal but for all so-called ‘problem’ elephants across South Africa who face a similar fate.”

As many as 50 destruction permits were issued against trespassing elephants between 2016 and 2017 in South Africa, according to the Elephant Specialist Advisory Group.

The World Wildlife Fund ranks elephants as a vulnerable species with the global population shrinking to 415,000 from 10 million in the last century due intense ivory poaching and a rapid loss of habitat due to human settlement.

HSI/Africa said it was extremely grateful to have been represented in court by Hogan Lovells.

For more information and updates on Riff Raff’s story, follow HSI/Africa on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

Sources: HSI/Africa and Reuters (Reporting by Naledi Mashishi and Sisipho Skweyiya; Editing by Edmund Blair/Reuters and Jennie Baxter/SAPeople)