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SOS Rhino : In the News : KZN department gives approval for rhino hunt

KZN department gives approval for rhino hunt

  Tony Carnie
April 11 2005 at 01:06PM

Hunters are getting ready to shoot five black rhinos in South Africa - the first time this critically endangered species will have been hunted legally in more than three decades.

The trophy bulls are likely to fetch at least R1,2-million each, a price which excludes hunting fee mark-ups and accommodation costs.

Conservation officials in KwaZulu-Natal say at least two old black rhino bulls could be hunted in this province every year, but are holding fire pending a final decision by board members of Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife.

It emerged at a public meeting in Pietermaritzburg on Saturday that the national department of environmental affairs and tourism had given preliminary approval for five hunts countrywide in 2005 - though it is not known when final permits will be issued.

'This is a very real biological problem'

A department spokesperson, Pieter Botha, said the department was considering applications for two animals in Mpumalanga and one animal each in the Free State, Limpopo and North West Province.

With the exception of North West province, all would be shot on privately-owned land.

Botha did not identify the private owners, but it is believed that most of the animals originated from previous KZN game auctions and translocation programmes.

The meeting follows an international agreement to allow the hunting of five animals in South Africa and five animals in Namibia every year.

The decision was taken by members of the Cites convention, which regulates international trade in endangered animals and plants, last November.

Although the population of black rhino in Africa has dropped from 65 000 animals in the 1970s to a little more than 3 500 today, the convention members agreed to hunting a limited number of old bulls which were no longer reproducing.

The decision, which will be subjected to strict permit conditions, reversed a blanket ban on hunting the animal that came into effect in the mid 1970s.

The hotly-debated decision followed evidence that the conservation status of the black rhino in South Africa and Namibia was more secure than in the rest of the continent.

KwaZulu-Natal was the first province to sanction the hunting of the formerly endangered white rhino species in 1968, but it has hung back in applying for black rhino permits.

Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife chief Khulani Mkhize said his organisation supported sustainable use of wildlife resources, including hunting, but wanted a meeting on the issue before final decisions.

There are about 470 black rhino in KZN game reserves.

KZN Wildlife senior scientist Peter Goodman said proposals had not been finalised, but he believed at least two older bulls could be hunted in KZN every year. The decision was founded on conservation rather than financial incentives, Goodman said.

He said there was a need to increase the provincial herd to 1 000 animals immediately.

Too many bulls, he said, had depressed the overall reproduction rates. Rhino researcher Karyn Adcock also said that too many males had led to increased fighting and lower birth rates. Apart from killing each other, aggressive rhino bulls also killed females.

"This is a very real biological problem," Adcock said.

However, the proposal was strongly opposed by animal rights campaigner Steve Smit, who said the animals were being turned into consumables by "blood-thirsty hunters".

Several rhino experts and conservationists, including Dr Ian Player, Paul Dutton, Peter Hitchins, Gordon Bailey, Wayne Elliot and Drummond Densham, all urged caution.

Player said that although white rhino had been hunted in South Africa since the late 1960s, he questioned whether the future of the black species was secure.

Dutton said that money was driving the hunting plan, while Hitchins said the proposal would damage the image of KZN Wildlife.

Bailey said that he detected the influence of "corporate hardliners" driving the proposal, while Elliot questioned the public relations implications of allowing black rhino hunting in a reserve such as Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park.

Tim Snow, of the Endangered Wildlife Trust, said preconditions about carefully selected old bulls would inevitably lead to a "canned" hunting scenario.

Rob Little, of the wildlife conservation group WWF South Africa, congratulated KZN Wildlife for not moving hastily, but said the Cites decision was a cause for celebration rather than despair.

Ian Goss of the Natal Game Ranchers Association and Professional Hunters' Association of South Africa said that in 20 year's time, the decision to allow black rhino hunting would be recognised as a major milestone which had boosted rather than harmed the survival of the species.

This article was originally published on page 4 ofThe Mercury on April 11, 2005

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