for National Geographic News
June 16, 2003
They stalk their prey, fix their sights,
squeeze the trigger and even experience the peculiar delight which
the animal go down. But blood does not gush from a bullet wound,
and life does not fade terminally from the eyes.
This novel way of
bagging tusks and horns as trophies does not involve death—it
is supposed to help conserve precious lives. It is a new kind of
safari called "eco-hunting" or "green
hunting," and it is becoming an increasingly popular alternative
to the old blood sport of big-game hunting with a high-powered rifle.
Hunters, especially from the United
States, are paying big money for the thrill of this kind of hunting
and bagging two of Africa's
storied Big Five: elephant and rhino.
Instead of a bullet, however,
a dart is fired which tranquilizes the animal and makes it sleep,
long enough for veterinarians to draw
blood and other samples for their clinical work—and for the
hunter to have photographs or video to record a foot resting proudly
on the quarry, or standing beside the prone animal, rifle clutched
across the chest.
In the case of elephant and rhino,
the time the animal is asleep also allows for a mold to be taken
of the tusk or
horn from which
a replica is made for the hunter to put up in his trophy room.
extras all add to the price of the safari, but ideally the purpose
is not merely to put money into the pockets of reserve owners
and hunting operators.
Game rangers and conservationists insist
that the primary objective should be game management and research.
idea indeed comes from
the older practice of sports fishermen paying to catch marlin and
other game fish which are then tagged and returned to the sea.
Ronaldson, game warden at South Africa's Timbavati Nature Reserve,
one of several private sanctuaries that shares an unfenced border
with the public-owned, 5-million-acre (2.2-million-hectare) Kruger
National Park, says green-hunting of elephant and rhino has been
carried out on the property for the past two years.
at monitoring the population dynamics of elephant, it is part of
a five-year research project run in cooperation with the
Kruger Park by the Association of Private Nature Reserves, which
is constituted of Timbavati and other adjoining privately owned
sanctuaries, Klaserie and Umbabat.
Ronaldson explains that while the animal
is down and the hunter is about his business, the rangers and veterinarians
quickly get on
with their tasks.
Blood samples get taken, and, if an
elephant, a collar gets fitted for tracing the animal's movements.
A rhino would
be earmarked and
have a microchip implanted in the horn as an anti-poaching device
and a means of identification when reclaiming an animal that has
strayed onto another property.
The animals are selected carefully.
It could be an elephant matriarch, as her movements and habits
would reflect those of the herd; or it
could be a particularly impressive bull which is in musth, an aggressive
state associated with the rutting season, whose movements could
provide valuable information on breeding patterns.
A bull called Mac that
was fitted with a satellite tracer in May last year has produced
some surprising insights into the distance
it roams. It first moved south into Kruger and then over the months
it moved slowly north for about 200 kilometers (125 miles) before
turning back. It is now heading back to Timbavati along much the
same route it followed on the outward journey.
Ronaldson says green
hunting holds the further advantage of safeguarding big tuskers,
like those whose genes are important for maintaining
the strain. With real hunting, it is those with the big tusks that
normally get targeted, resulting in their gene line getting weaker
The response from conservation groups
so far has been positive, says Ronaldson. It is after all a case,
he says, of killing
with one stone: The hunter is happy and the research can be done. "With
real hunting there is always the mixed emotion. People say they want
to shoot an elephant, but when it is done and they see it lying dead,
there is the regret."
With green hunting, the animal goes down, the hunter completes his
part of the bargain while the collar is fitted, the antidote is administered,
and the animal gets up and walks away. Everybody is happy."
This would be true, of course, where
the motives are genuinely to bring down an animal—for research purposes
of proper control. But because there is money to be made, there is
potential for substantial abuse.
One who has concerns about this
is David Zeller, newly elected president of the International Rangers
Federation (IRF), a federation that
furthers the professional standards of rangers throughout the world.
He is stationed at Skukuza, administrative headquarters of the
Kruger National Park, which places him close to where the green
is taking place.
What," asks Zeller, "if someone decided to have the same
animal hunted over and over? It goes down, staggers back to its feet,
only to be brought down a month or so later by another dart. People
are capable of canned-lion hunting. What would stop them doing this?"
Canned lions" is the term used in South Africa for the practice
of using tame animals, bred in captivity or taken from zoos, for
hunters' quarry. They are released in enclosed areas where hunters "stalk" and
shoot them, often for a steep price. It has been drawing a growing
public outcry. The South African government's Department of Environmental
Affairs and Tourism has condemned the practice, but it has been under
much pressure to go further and outlaw it.
the IRF, has not taken a position yet on green hunting, but he
is personally concerned about proper control of the
It may be preferable to killing, and
it is not hard to recognize the great potential it holds for research
and game management,
with hunters paying for it. But what if it were to create just
another commercial bandwagon with the animals being used as unnecessary
There has to be strict conditions and controls, he says.
This is a new thing, and we need as quickly as possible to have a
national policy set that will help our provincial authorities to
apply the right criteria for issuing permits," he says.
darting, for instance, could see an animal run for ten minutes
before going down. This could be critical in tracing it in the
and in getting the antidote administered in time. It could even
cause the animal to turn on the hunting party, forcing the rangers
it. "So there has to be questions about the hunter. Is he a
good stalker and marksman, or clumsy and trigger-happy?"
the context of this particular form of hunting, says Zeller, one
of the key requirements is that there should always be a veterinary
surgeon present, not only to carry out the research aspects and
to resuscitate the animal, but also to assist in setting the conditions
for the hunt. This is particularly applicable in the case of rhinoceros,
which are prone to developing breathing problems under sedation.
Gerhard Verdoorn, director of the Endangered
Wildlife Trust, a Johannesburg-based group with a mission to conserve
the diversity of plant and animal
species in southern Africa, says there has actually been a case
of a rhino being darted five times in one year—"and that
is simply not on," he says.
As a conservation tool, he says,
green hunting has its merits. Unfortunately, he added, commercial
hunters are getting in on the act, and that
spells nothing good.
Verdoorn is working with the South
African Hunters and Game Conservation Association to put a stop
to the gruesome practice
hunting, and in the process will bring up the question of green
hunting and the need to make sure ethics are established.
shares the concerns about the potential for abuse and the need
for controls. He says the reserve's own green-hunt
program is strictly limited to animals that need to be darted for
research purposes or for fitting security devices.
The choice of
animal is done on well-considered, scientific grounds, he says.
The hunter is selected by tender. The hunting party has
to include veterinarians to ensure the darting dosage is correct,
to see to the animal's health while under sedation, to ensure that
the required operations are carried out speedily and efficiently,
and to duly administer the antidote.
Experienced rangers need to
be on hand to provide back-up in case an animal turns on the hunting
party, and there need to be trackers
both to find it and to follow it through the bush if it takes flight
after being darted. "By its very nature it is an intricate operation
and needs to be very carefully planned," says Ronaldson.