THORMÄHLEN & COCHRAN SAFARIS
Peter Thormählen, a South African of German descent, earned an MBA and a degree in organic chemistry in the 1990s at the University of the Free State in Bloemfontein. He started out farming near Kimberley, but in 1996 decided to give that all up for a life in the bush. He moved to Nelspruit, Mpumalanga, and started a hunting safari company.
After three years he got into financial trouble, and in 1999 his company was declared insolvent by the Bloemfontein High Court. On his website he states that in 2002, a client of his, Charlie Cochran, approached him with a partnership offer. He accepted the proposal, and the new company, Thormählen & Cochran Safaris, was created. This however seems to contradict information that was published in the Mail & Guardian newspaper in 2012. According to the newspaper, Thormählen & Cochran Safaris was only re-registered in 2006, and in the name of one of his employees, a young Namibian professional hunter named Phillip Fourie. This was done because of two reasons, firstly, due to Thormählen not being allowed to start a company in his own name for ten years due to him being declared insolvent, and secondly, to circumvent the Namibian hunting law that prohibits non-Namibian citizens from getting hunting permits in Namibia.
The Mail & Guardian also stated that the Namibian deputy trade and industry minister, Tjekero Tweya, had, since July 2008, owned a 40% share in Thormāhlen & Cochran Safaris through a company called Wedhapo Investments, previously known as Starting Right Investments Ninety Nine. Wedhapo Investments also owns a 40% share in a hunting farm in north-western Namibia, close to communal areas frequented by rhinos breaking out of the Etosha Pans in search of water and pasture.
Thormählen & Cochran Safaris, over the next few years, would negotiate to get hunting rights in numerous concessions and on private farms. The company now offers specialized hunts in Namibia, Zimbabwe, South Africa and Cameroon. In Namibia he has eight different concessions in which he has hunting rights. In the north-west he has Ehirovipuka, Opuwu, Anabeb and Sesfontein, in the north-east he has Mangetti, Western Kavango and Mahango, and in the south-east an unnamed private concession. In these areas he specializes in many hard to obtain desert adapted species, such as elephants, lion, leopard, cheetah and black rhino.
In South Africa, he mostly hunts on government reserves, but also on some private farms. One of these farms being Mauricedale, a privately owned farm (John Hume) that has the biggest rhino population in South Africa in private hands. Many of the rhino hunts organized by the company take place at Mauricedale. Another one of his concessions borders the Kruger National Park, giving his clients access to hunt animals crossing over from the Kruger National Park. Many of the lions he arranges for his clients to shoot are from the Kalahari, and some are captive bred lions he buys from canned breeding farms.
The fact that he specializes in rare or endangered species has attracted many of the wealthiest hunters on the planet. To gain access to these hard to obtain species requires a lot of negotiating, and he has, on a few occasions, been involved in brushes with the law and conservation authorities, but despite this he seems to be well connected enough to still get the right permits to shoot animals that are out of reach to most hunting companies.
'BIG BOY' - THORMÄLEN'S CECIL
On 6th of October 2006, a well known lion, Xpl-20 or 'Old Boy', was shot in the Ehirovipuka Conservancy, north of the Hobatere Lodge. The collared lion, born in August 2000, was part of a research study and had been monitored for a few years by Dr. Flip Stander of the Desert Lion Conservation project. 'Old Boy' had been wearing a collar since December 2001. The trophy hunter responsible for shooting 'Old Boy' was a client of Thormählen & Cochran Safaris. The company did have two permits to shoot lions in the area, but the fact that they shot a collared-lion caused an outcry. The hunter claimed that he did not see the collar on the lion, and when asked about the incident, Peter Thormählen said that a radio-collar on a lion does not make him a holy animal. Dr. Flip Stander said in a statement that it was a major blow to the lion population in the region and for tourism to Namibia. A study was done that estimated that 'Old Boy' was observed and photographed by 8,369 tourists. He had become so used to people due to his popularity that he lost his fear of humans.
The chairperson of Ehirovipuka conservancy, Asser Ujah, said that the lion was lured to the hunters while they were waiting to shoot a leopard. He claimed that the hunters “put out meat for the leopard” but instead lured the collared lion.
GIN-TRAPS AND LAUGHTER, A LEOPARD'S DEMISE
The lack of ethics Thormählen has when it comes to hunting was clearly demonstrated in a YouTube video that was posted in 2006. The video shows Thormählen and his client from Minnesota, Dave Hebeisen, shooting five shots at a leopard that was trapped in a gin-trap. The video also shows a pack of hunting dogs, most likely used to track down the leopard, The video shows the leopard running towards them, the trap still attached to the leopard's back legs as it runs. The leopard stood no chance given these odds, but what is truly disturbing is the laughter of the hunters once they had managed to kill the leopard.
The hunt took place on a farm owned by Japie Coetzee, the location was in Omitara, Namibia. The farm known for being involved in unethical canned hunting, and after this video was seen by the hunting association of Namibia and other authorities, they shut the farm down.
The YouTube Video, not for sensitive viewers:
JOHN HUME AND THORMÄHLEN
In June 1996, John Hume, who now owns the biggest privately owned rhino breeding farm in South Africa, bought six black rhinos from the KwaZulu-Natal wildlife department. Among them was a male that was given the name “Number 65". He soon proved to be a rather domineering male, and kept most of the rhino cows to himself, fighting off any other males trying to step on his turf. 'Number 65' however had a major flaw, he was sterile, and therefore unable to breed. For a man like Hume, he was seen as troublesome rhino, especially when, in November 2000, he injured a young male in a territorial dispute, this eventually resulted in the rhino dying from its injuries.
In 2004 CITES lifted the ban on the hunting of black rhinos, and the fate of 'Number 65' was sealed. John Hume decided to choose Thormählen to arrange the hunt, and in an article published by Bloomberg in Dec 2008, he stated that 'Professional hunters are not the most honest guys in the world,' and that 'Peter has been by far the best we’ve dealt with.'
In October 2004, Thormählen went to the US, where he found an American hunter willing to pay for the black rhino hunt. On July 21 2005, the hunter arrived in South Africa. At dawn on July 23 they spotted Number 65 taking a dust bath. Thormählen and his client got out their vehicle, and just after 'Number 65' noticed the two hunters, the client shot his first round piercing 'Number 65’s' skull. The first bullet however did not kill him, it took a second bullet to take him down.
According to the 2010 Bloomberg article on Hume, 80 percent of his income at the time came from selling rhinos to other farmers and exporters and 20 percent from hunting. The article also stated that Thormählen has led hunts for one or two black rhinos each year at Hume's Mauricedale farm and on other government game reserves in KwaZulu-Natal. In 2015 John Hume and another rhino breeder from Limpopo, Johan Kruger, opened a legal case against the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism in an effort to lift the moratorium that bans domestic trade in rhino horn. Hume and Kruger won their case and on the 26th of November, 2015, the judge presiding over the case lifted the ban.
The website of Thormählen & Cochran Safaris about us page lists John Hume’s farm, Mauricedale, as on of its hunting concessions. The relationship between Hume and Thormählen is one that makes one question if John Hume is really breeding rhinos for conservation, and if it is not simply a way to make money.
THORMÄHLEN AND VIETNAMESE PSEUDO-HUNTERS
In 2006, Peter Thormählen was fined when his Vietnamese hunter told an official monitoring the hunt that he did not know how to shoot. The incident occurred at the Loskop Dam Nature Reserve. The Vietnamese had started to use trophy hunting as a way to bypass the law to legally export rhino horns to Vietnam, and Thormählen was aware of this fact, but he did not see it as a problem until the authorities started clamping down on these pseudo-hunts.
In 2008 another Vietnamese client of Thormählen admitted to not knowing how to shoot and he was given his second fine, he refused to pay it this time, and went to court. The judge dismissed the case, calling it a technicality because the Vietnamese trophy Hunter never fired the fatal bullet. The rhino was instead shot by Thormählen's teenage son.
BLACK RHINO HUNTING, THORMÄHLEN'S SPECIALITY
Thormählen's involvement in pseudo-hunting was soon forgotten by the conservation authorities, and in 2009 he acquired a permit for a black rhino hunt for his client David K. Reinke, the president and CEO of Liberty Parts Team.
The hunt made news headlines when the U.S Fish & Wildlife department gave Reinke permission to import his black rhino trophy into the U.S. He became the first American in more than 30 years allowed to import a black rhino trophy. Reinke justified the hunt by saying he had contributed about $200,000 to Namibia’s Game Products Trust Fund, a government initiative that used funds generated from hunting to fund conservation initiatives. The rhino was selected because it was sterile, adding further justification to Reinke's argument.
The World Wildlife Fund also supported the federal government’s decision to allow Reinke to import the trophy. The fact that Thormählen had been involved in pseudo-hunting was not questioned by the WWF.
BLACK RHINO HUNTING PERMIT INVALID
Thormählen made the news again when he arranged the hunt of a black rhino for a Russian client in June 2012, the permit had been issued in 2011, and had therefore expired. Permits to hunt black rhino are controlled by CITES, and only 5 are issued each year for Namibia and another 5 for South Africa, but despite these strict controls Thormählen managed to get his permit extended. The Namibian ministry of environment and tourism objected to the permit being extended, and said it should be auctioned off again because it was no longer valid.
When the decision was challenged, Thormählen’s legal representative said that a settlement had been reached with the ministry because of an earlier dispute over a black rhino hunt that had gone wrong in the Waterberg Plateau Park. Thormählen’s client had sued him because he had not met the client's requirements. Thormählen had sued the ministry because of the incident, and the matter was settled out of court. Thormählen was given a second permit to shoot a black rhino as compensation, and the second black rhino was hunted in the Mangetti Reserve in May 2013.
JIMMY JOHN'S BLACK RHINO HUNT
In July 2013, Thormälen bought a permit to shoot a male black rhino from the Namibian Ministry of Environment and Tourism, the permit was bought for about $1,3 million Namibian dollars. Thormälen then used this permit to sell the black rhino hunt to American sandwich take-away chain owner Jimmy John Liautaud. The hunt was sold for $3,2 million Namibian dollars.
The hunt took that took place in the Mangetti National Park on 28th September 2013. The hunt did not go according to plan, and Liautaud ended up shooting a pregnant black rhino cow, the only female black rhino in the park. Liautaud later claimed that he had shot the rhino cow because she had charged him and the hunting party, and therefore it was done simply out of self defense.
Liautaud, in spite of this tragic shooting of the pregnant female, was not satisfied with his female, and as a result he sued Thormälen for the costs of his hunting trip, wanting to recuperate the $3,2 million dollars he had paid for the trip. Thormälen in reaction to Liautaud's legal action decided to sue the Namibian minister of environment and tourism, so that he could refund Liautaud. The case was eventually settled out of court in October 2014, Liautaud, as compensation was given a permit to shoot his second black rhino, this he did, shooting a male in the same park in May 2014.
After the controversy, caused by this incident, the Namibia Professional Hunting Association made a statement in the press saying they were distancing themselves from any association with Thormählen due to the negative attention it generated towards the hunting community in Namibia.
In the statement they said Thormählen was not a member of the organization, and that he had resigned from NAPHA in 2011 after a disciplinary investigation had put Thormählen under the spotlight.
The chief executive officer of NAPHA, Dietlinde Mueller, said that their disciplinary committee had received numerous complaints about Thormählen, but because he was no longer a member of NAPHA they could not do anything about these complaints.
She also said that the organization "deplores the fact that time and again the image of trophy hunting is marred by reckless, irresponsible or immoral actions of a small minority of professional hunters".
ELEPHANT KILLS THORMÄHLEN'S GUIDE
On the 23rd of April, 2013, Erwin Kotze, a PH for Peter Thormählen, was killed by a desert elephant in Thormählen's Kaokoland concession, the Orupupa Conservancy, which shares a 40 kilometer border with the north-western side of Etosha National Park. Kotze, and a second guide, Carel Alberts, and their hunting client had tracked the bull earlier in the day, but had taken a break for lunch. Later in the day Kotze set out to locate the elephant again, and found the bull sleeping in the shade. He tried to approached him downwind, but the wind changed direction, and the bull suddenly charged. "He had no chance to react," Thormählen said.
Kotze was then found by Alberts, he was conscious and lying under a tree. Alberts carried Kotze back to their vehicle and drove him to meet a plane that was waiting at the nearest airstrip, but he died in the vehicle on the way there.
On 3rd May, the Ministry of Environment and Tourism dispatched game scouts to kill the bull. He was shot close to where Kotze had been killed.
KILLING AN EXTINCT LION SPECIES?
One of the more bizarre stories I have seen on Thormählen's website was posted on 28th Febuary 2015. The story suggests that their client, Alexander Smuzikov, a wealthy Russian businessman, hunted two 'Super Rare Barbary Lions'. The species is meant to be extinct, the last one being killed in Tunisia in 1891, but despite this fact, Thormählen posts this on the company's website. Either they sold the lions as fake 'Barbary Lions', or they have somehow resurrected this extinct species from the dead. The wording on the post is carefully written, so either they are trying to cover their false claims, or they are trying not to link their company to such a unlikely story.
A BAD HAIRDO, A REASON TO SUE?
On 18 March 2016, Thormählen appeared in court once again, but this time it was he who laid the charges. He sued Werner van der Walt, another professional hunter and owner of Cheetau Safaris, a lion breeding operation in Bethlehem, Free State, because he claimed the lion he had purchased was not the one he had ordered. Thormählen complained that the lion, named Tyson, had a curly, lighter coloured mane, and not a darker coloured, straight haired mane like he had seen in the photos advertising the particular lion. Thormählen was suing van der Walt for R500,000 to cover his losses, a rather large sum for a lion. The lion Thormählen bought was transported to a farm in Windburg, owned by Marnus Steyl who is well known for his alleged ties to a large rhino poaching syndicate. The lion was most likely going to be shot on this farm in a canned hunt. Thormählen would not have paid so much for a lion if this were not the case.
The judge in charge of the case told Thormählen that he had no real proof to back up his argument, and said that 'a lion is not a cat that you can just take to a hairdresser to change it's hairstyle'.
WHY THE LONG STORY?
The motivation to write this story is not to single out Peter Thormählen, but to raise questions about the trophy hunting industry and those that are affiliated with it. The lack of control when it comes to what is shot, how permits are arranged, and the way the hunts are carried out, needs to be a lot more tightly controlled. If the companies that arrange the hunts are able to break the rules, manipulate the system, and get away with almost any transgression, then how is this in any way a sustainable industry? The targeting of the rare and often endangered species by trophy hunters is big business, and in order to obtain these specimens for their clients, the hunting companies and game farm owners are bending the rules and ignoring the impact that their industry is having on the animals they are destroying. Thormählen & Cochran is one of many hunting companies in Africa, there are loads more like his. Many of those involved in the industry claim they are doing it to benefit conservation, but if this is the case then why are there so many lawyers being hired to fight their frequent court battles? The industry is out of control, it is badly monitored, rules are bent and broken, and when it comes to killing the animals there seems a lot of unethical behaviour going on behind the scenes.
Alexander Smuzikov Barbary Lions:
Alexander Smuzikov Black Rhino:
Alexander Smuzikov - SCI Record Breaking White Rhino:
Alexander Smuzikov Leopard:
Alexander Smuzikov Two White Lions:
Alexander Smuzikov Two Savannah Lions:
Black Rhino Another Client:
White Rhino, Elephant and Lion One Client:
Brown Hyena Nestor Shufrych:
Three Black Rhino Species Nestor Shufrych: