Lions Released to Deal with Hamptons Deer Problems

Lions will eliminate the Hamptons deer problem
Lions will eliminate the Hamptons deer problem, Photo: Bigstock

A solution to the deer problem in the Hamptons will take place next week, courtesy of a wealthy South African industrialist who has recently bought a home here. It will be at no charge to the taxpayers, and it will preempt the need for federal sharpshooters in the Hamptons. They had been scheduled to arrive here, and also in the other East End towns in February to cull the herd on the East End.

The problem, as everyone knows, is there are too many deer roaming the woods of the East End and the deer eat everyone’s shrubbery, get hit by cars and leap over the fences that everybody builds to keep them off of private property. A survey done from the air recently estimated that there are 30,000 deer on the East End, 8,000 of which are in the Hamptons.


Local realtors were very pleased last year when Hans Van der Klerk bought the old oceanfront Kallen estate. It had been on the market for more than a year, but few wanted to put in bids. Since it is 28 acres, including a main house, guest cottage and private dock, the asking price was quite high.

Van der Klerk, of Cape Town, has parlayed several small silver and bauxite mines in the outback of South Africa into a conglomerate of more than 20 factories around the world, mining everything from boric acid to asphalt to gold to sand and gravel. Recently, in response to protests by environmentalists, he closed an asbestos mine in Tanzania, in spite of the fact it was quite profitable. He is retooling that mine to be able to separate out cobalt, which is in considerable abundance on the site and which is in great demand by the nuclear power industry. Fortune magazine has estimated Van der Klerk’s net worth at $1.2 billion.

Van der Klerk bought his Bridgehampton property sight unseen.

Upon arrival here, he expressed astonishment at the crowds of deer that had broken through the hedgerows to feast on his gardens and lawns. He was even more astonished to learn that the five eastern towns, including those in the Hamptons, had agreed to have federal sharpshooters out here, free to roam on private property with high-powered rifles in February to kill as many deer as they could. The shoot is expected to last 40 days.

“I will not allow anyone I don’t know on my property,” he said. “I can’t speak for the other East End towns, but I’m sure that those here in the Hamptons feel the same way as I do.”

Van der Klerk’s solution has been to bring 26 male African lions from South Africa to Bridgehampton. He plans to release them into the woods here in the Hamptons on Monday.

“They are the natural predators of deer in South Africa,” he told this reporter at a meeting at his house on Friday. “I have done the math. Based on the rate that these carnivores eat meat, the deer herd should be gone in 10 days. This is mother nature at work.”

Van der Klerk also had his attorneys do some research. There is an ordinance in the Hamptons prohibiting the harboring of “wild animals,” but in the list of such animals there is mention of coyotes and American mountain lions, but not the South African lion.

“It may have been an oversight,” Van der Klerk grinned. “But I have a problem here and I’m someone who solves problems.”

The lions, each 800 to 1,000 pounds, were caught in the Kalahari section of South Africa, using blowguns with darts dipped in a sleeping potion. They were caged while asleep, flown to Kennedy Airport, and then taken by boat to Van der Klerk’s private dock on Wednesday. They are being housed in the Van der Klerk garage, built by Kallen for his antique car collection. I could hear them roaring there in his library, several hundred yards from the garage.

“Why have you only brought male lions?” I asked.

“We wanted them to only have one thing on their minds.”

“What happens after 10 days?”

“The lions will be caught—they should be well fed and lazy by that time—and returned to South Africa.”

Van der Klerk is delaying the release of the lions until Monday so he can get the word out—Dan’s is not the only newspaper he has contacted.

After leaving Van der Klerk’s, I spoke to Emmett Greengrocer, the president of the East End Environmental Group (EEEG), based in Sag Harbor, who has often spoken out against desecrating the land and the wanton shooting of the wildlife by the local hunters.

“It sounds like this has been thought through,” Greengrocer said. “Prey and predator. Survival of the fittest. Lions are beautiful creatures. This is the stuff we have been talking about for a long, long time. Somebody has finally heard us.”

A spokesman for the Hamptons spoke on condition of anonymity and said that Hampton officials were in a great quandary because of these developments. “Van der Klerk is right. We checked the law. Local residents are not prohibited from harboring South African lions. South African lions are also not mentioned in the list of animals specifically prohibited from running wild. We have attorneys working on this 24 hours a day. But it seems the only thing we can do is stand aside while Van der Klerk’s lions eat, and then not let the sharpshooters in in February, and get our money refunded.”

A spokesman for Brookhaven Town, which borders the Hamptons, said they had heard about the plan when the lions were flown in on Wednesday. But they were ready. “African lions may be not be prohibited in the Hampton ordinances, but we have Ordinance 26, Section 7, which specifically prohibits South African lions in Brookhaven. We have plans to have police cars at the border with the Hamptons beginning on Monday morning at 1 a.m., and they will be armed with high-powered rifles and will shoot lions on sight.”

Half the force was trained in the use of high-powered rifles on Thursday and Friday, he said. The last group will be trained over the weekend.

A spokesman for the Town of Southold said he doubted any lions would sneak into his town, because they’d have to take the ferry. Nevertheless, he said that if any lions did do that and were there in February when the federal sharpshooters arrived, the sharpshooters would shoot them. “We’ve paid them to shoot deer. Surely they can shoot lions.”

A spokesperson for the Village of Greenport lamented Van de Klerk’s actions. “He could have gotten more lions—some we could use in our towns, too—but he didn’t,” he said. “And now it’s a no-win situation. The towns in the Hamptons, having paid for the federal sharpshooters, will now get refunds. So the rich just get richer and the poor get poorer. But not us. Also, the Hamptons can breathe easier in February, because they won’t have to put up with sharpshooters for 40 days in February. And March, too. Isn’t that the way it is with the snooty folks in the Hamptons. So we get the short end. It’s a quadruple whammy.”

In any case, residents of the Hamptons are urged to stay indoors from December 23 to January 8 while the lions are loose.

Read more Dan Rattiner stories here.

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