Balule Game Reserve, Transnet meet to discuss animals killed by trains after death of elephant bull

The Balule Private Game Reserve in Limpopo and Transnet Freight Rail have resolved to meet to find a way to reduce the number of animals killed by a Transnet train which passes through the reserve.

Netwerk24 reported on Monday that an elephant bull was killed by one of the trains passing through the reserve last Friday. According to the report, more animals are being killed by passing trains at the park than by poachers.

Nine elephants are reportedly killed by the train every year, while over 90 lions have reportedly fallen victim to it.

No fence

The train reportedly transports ore from mines in Limpopo, and the tracks have never been fenced off. But this is not an oversight - fencing off the tracks would apparently have serious environmental consequences for the reserve park.

In the wake of the report, both parties told News24 that they agreed to meet. 

Sharon Haussmann, chairperson of the Greater Balule Reserve, told News24 that this was not a problem unique to Balule, or even South Africa. She said the difficulty was how to balance the ecological and environmental impact of erecting a fence alongside the train tracks, and the danger to the animals from having no fence at all.

"It will be a far greater disaster to fence the railway line off than to manage the situation as it is (without a fence)," she said.

She said the meeting would likely be held in January, and the reserve would look for creative ways to reduce the number of animal deaths.

Track predates reserve

Transnet Freight Rail spokesperson Mike Asefovitz said that the train track had a long history and that, in the wake of the Netwerk24 story, Transnet Freight Rail is trying to establish what the original agreement was between Transnet and the original owners of the land.

Both Asefovitz and Haussmann said the track pre-dated the existence of the reserve in its current form. The reserve formerly consisted of various game farms which decided to drop their fences and merge to form the reserve as it currently stands.

Asefovitz explained that there was an understanding that Transnet Freight trains would reduce speed while travelling through the reserve, and that all "incidents", including animal deaths, were reported to the reserve via a centralised communications system.

However, while efforts were made to reduce the number of incidents, he said it was impossible to eliminate the possibility of animals being killed by the trains entirely.

Asefovitz said it was important for both parties to sit around the table to ensure that the "economic side and the environmental side can live in harmony together".

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