This exportation comes while the Department of Wildlife and National Parks (DWNP) and De Graaff are disagreeing over the ownership of the lions.
De Graaff declared to Mmegi that all the lions belonged to him while the Minister of Wildlife and Tourism, Tshekedi Khama, maintained that they belonged to the state.
On the other hand, information reaching Mmegi reveals that last week Friday, 22 lions were exported to South Africa through the Ramatlabama Border Gate and the DWNP confirmed issuing De Graaff the export permit.
A reliable source (name withheld) at South Africa Customs and Revenue also disclosed to Mmegi that “the 22 lions were procedurally cleared through Ramatlabama Port of Entry; and their destination was Hartswater next to Taung in the North West Province.”
Another insider at the South African border also corroborated that the 22 lions were on “October 25 declared ‘exports’ from De Graaff’s Phologolo Safaris and the destination was a farm called Kareehoek in Hartswater. The importer is a certain H. J. Vorster of Hartswater.”
Wildlife Director Oduetse Koboto informed Mmegi that he received De Graaff’s request to export on May 5, 2013 whereas the permit to export was issued to him on September 25, 2013. This was 12 days after Mmegi exposed this controversial dispensation.
He said that 22 lions – seven young adults (male) and 15 adults (14 males and one female) – had been exported by De Graaff to South Africa.
“The destination in South Africa is known as a breeding centre, and the animals were primarily exported for breeding purposes. The exporter can shed more light on the reasons for exporting,” Koboto revealed.
In their previous response, the DWNP disclosed that Phologolo Safaris in Gantsi had 32 lions and Mmegi can confirm that now only three lions are left there – the cub named Venson-Moitoi and Ngakangaka and another female.
When quizzed if De Graaff had also, in his export consignment, included the two lions that the state donated to him and any of their offspring, the so-called “problem animals”, Koboto did not dismiss the possibility. “It is possible,” he said in a short response while avoiding the details of this transaction. Through interviews with ex-lion smugglers, Mmegi has learnt that in South Africa the market price for a live lion ranges from R120,000 to R400,000 while the lion hunts range from $18,000 to $75,000 (P640 000). However, Koboto said that this transaction was private and government only got to earn export levy from it.
Mmegi is informed that Phologolo Safaris is left with only four lions, the cubs and the adult male at Tautona Lodge. In 2005 DWNP captured and donated two Kalahari lions, a male and female, to De Graaff’s company, Phologolo Botswana Safaris (Pty) LTD, which is also famously known as Tautona Lodge.
According to the DWNP, the two lions were donated to De Graaff because they were deemed “problem animals” that allegedly attacked people’s livestock.
The lions were 18 months old at the time and have since sired 18 offspring. De Graaff bred the lions and has since accumulated 32, from which the 22 have just been sold.
While both parties agree that there was no open tender process, in his previous response, De Graaff had said that the DWNP contacted him with the offer rather than the other way round.
This is not the first export by De Graaff. The DWNP has confirmed issuing him the permits to export 26 lions in September 2011 to a farm called Smal Deel Unissen in the Free State. Sources have disclosed that the lions exported from Botswana always end up in the multi-million Rand canned hunting industry, which also caters for the international trophy hunting market.
They allege that captive lion breeding in Botswana would be nonexistent without sourcing the original breeding stock from South Africa or capturing lions from the wild.