After reports of animal abuse for which the Knysna Elephant Park (KEP) has yet to be charged for, the organisation is undoubtedly facing many challenges. Two of these include Greg Vogt, their former manager, and the Knysna Tourism Board (KTB) who will appoint Vogt as their controversial CEO today, July 1 2014.
KEP is a member of KTB. Lisette Withers, the owner of the park, is outraged at the manner in which Vogt has been appointed. If there’s validity to her claims, you should be too.
Withers has demanded answers as to why a Vogt is being appointed without due process and consideration of circumstances:
- Why did the Knysna Tourism Board (KTB) not contact Greg Vogt’s previous employers for reference? How could 8 years of his work history be deliberately ignored?It is common knowledge that his departure from KEP was under poor circumstances and that Lisette Withers has been quoted in the media as calling him a “disgruntled employee”.
After seven years at KEP, he worked with Conservation Global for one year. He was paid by the husband and wife team, Belet. They were also not consulted by KTB. Withers claims that the Belets were also extremely disappointed with Vogt and would have expressed such if they’d been queried.
- Why did Stephen de Vries, KTB Board Director, in a press statement and at the press conference announcing Vogt’s appointment, lie that reference checks into the candidates had been carried out?
Did Vogt fully disclose his involvement at KEP and Elephants of Eden (EoE) to KTB?
- He willfully and intentionally breached the KTB’s rules and regulations regarding financial gain by Board members when he prepared a false invoice for services allegedly rendered to KTB by Conservation Global whereas the monies, on receipt, were immediately paid across to him (Withers claims to have witnesses to this).
She also says that his appointment makes no sense in light of Vogt’s predicament:
- According to the NSPCA, Vogt as the manager of KEP will be embroiled in two major criminal cases.
- Vogt is involved in a three-year study (with two years to go) involving the elephants of Van Rooyen (the other person involved in the elephant abuse scandal) at Mossel Bay with funding from Padua University in Italy.
- He has a pending divorce from his wife.
How can a CEO have his time occupied away from the job he is being paid very well to do?
She claims that she is in possession of correspondence in which he attacks the NSPCA for their lack of knowledge in the handling of elephants. She considers his alleged move to being state witness an act of self preservation rather than morality.
Whereas Vogt has claimed to have had no dealings with Elephants of Eden (EoE), Withers considers that ridiculous, stating that as their manager for KEP, his responsibility included all their interests of which EoE was one. She said that this included the period when the elephant abuse took place as well as all the Wild Vet and Africademy programmes which were run from EoE. She says that it was all under his control and that he reported directly to her and her husband.
She questions Vogt’s sincerity regards elephant welfare. Her self-justification aside (as this blog focuses on Vogt), she points out that Vogt knew about the torture of the two EoE elephants in 2008 but did not report it to the SAPS or the NSPCA. However, once his employment and consultation for KEP and EoE has ended, he ignored his previous role as elephant trainer and basically presented himself as an elephant caregiver and rights advocate.
Withers accuses Vogt of breeching confidentiality with his previous employers when he disclosed financial information relating to KEP to Conservation Global. Further more, she states that he is not qualified to carry out the research for Padua University and that much of the research could only have come off the computer of Dr. Debbie Young at KEP (who was carrying out the same type of research under a different project name). Withers said that the suspected plagiarism has been reported to Padua University.
Withers expressed Vogt’s conflict of interest and inappropriate CEO behaviour with the issue of the biased press release that was issued by Knysna Tourism. Without asking a single question of KEP, Knysna Tourism’s Marketing Manager, Johan Van Schalkwyk, said that “he was personally shocked and saddened at the allegations [against KEP] and together with the Knysna Tourism Board of Directors” is consulting with NSPCA and other relevant bodies. Van Schalkwyk further stated that it was “…. horrible to see images and video footage of such extreme animal cruelty. As the marketing agency for Knysna, we simply will not tolerate unlawful members and will act swiftly within our rules of conduct and membership rules”. Withers believes that it is unlikely that that press release would have been issued without Vogt’s review (or was possibly instructed by him).
Additionally, she alleges that Vogt instructed the staff of Knysna Tourism not to send a film production crew to KEP but to rather send them to the elephant sanctuary in the Crags.
Withers, as an owner of Knysna Elephant Park and a long-standing member of Knysna Tourism had her legal advisers seek a meeting with the Knysna Tourism Board. The Knysna Tourism Board allegedly said that they would not meet her if her lawyer was present. Furthermore, the full board would not meet her, only Lauren Waring (Knysna’s Municipal Manager), Nan Raturat (Chairperson of KTB) and Stephen de Vries (KTB Director and ANC Chief Whip).
[this author considers the Board being politically controlled and that it’s no coincidence that the same three people who hired Greg Vogt are the same meeting Withers and denying her membership rights to meet the whole board]
Withers wants the lack of transparency and standard procedure in the selection of Greg Vogt to be examined and Johan Van Schalkwyk’s defamatory press release investigated. She wants Vogt’s appointment suspended and that his alleged transgressions be investigated. She says that she’s prepared to go to take matters to national media as well as take Knysna Tourism and individuals involved to court.