July 18, 2003--A SET of national guidelines
to govern management of large predators such as lion was recently
published by the environmental affairs and tourism department. Previously,
rules, especially regarding hunting, have been left to individual
provinces to decide.
This is the first time there has been
an attempt at a national policy and, once it has been properly debated,
it should be included in the coming Biodiversity Bill.
The guidelines forbid night hunting;
hunting from vehicles and hunting with dogs, which all seem eminently
reasonable. But what is likely to cause some consternation among
the 40 or so lion-breeders in SA is the definition of canned hunting,
which is to be universally banned.
This "is considered to be any form
of hunting where a large predator is tranquillised, artificially
lured by sound, scent, visual stimuli, feeding, bait, other animals
of its own species, or another species". It also forbids the
hunting of " captive-bred large predators unless they have
been certified as rehabilitated to wild status."
Most lion breeding is for the hunt.
Lion are being bred like cattle in parts of the country and when
they reach a certain size, they are sold to trophy hunters. Usually
Until now, provinces have had different
policies on canned hunting. Those which allow it have made up their
own rules to regulate it. After a year's grace, these will be superseded
by the new guidelines. The size of the property on which a hunt
can take place has, for example, been disregarded as a criterion
in the interests of national uniformity.
This is on the grounds that a 500ha
plot with high vegetation density in Limpopo, for example, could
not be equated with a bare 500ha plot in the Karoo in terms of giving
the animal a fair chance of hiding from the hunter.
In the worst-case scenario, canned hunting
currently involves the release of an animal long habituated to humans
into a small, unfamiliar fenced area in which it has no chance of
escape, and allowing someone to shoot it and take it home as a trophy.
In some cases, the animals are drugged.
Professional hunters hate canned hunting;
in fact, many refuse to grace it with the term hunting, preferring
to call it shooting. Safari Club International, one of the two biggest
hunting organisations, refuses to accept entries for its trophy
record books from SA and Namibia because of the prevalence of canned
hunting in the region. They say the bigger skulls of captive- bred
lion make it an unfair contest.
By contrast, a wild lion will have had
many lean periods, especially during droughts, which is likely to
have inhibited its growth. And, unlike his captive-bred cousin,
his hide is likely to carry the scars of skirmishes with rivals.
Some trophy hunters like smooth skin and big hair. Although, taxidermists
can apparently assist with hair extensions when a lion's natural
mane is less than magnificent.
Animal right activists and, in fact,
mainstream opinion deplore canned hunting because of its cruelty.
But is this rational? After all, we
breed cows, goats and sheep for slaughter, and few people object.
Yet when lion are treated in the same way, there is an outcry.
One theory has it that our particular
attachment to wild animals is rooted in atavistic memories of when
we evolved with them in the fertile Rift Valley. Food and water
were plentiful; it was a veritable Garden of Eden. After climate
changes depleted resources, early versions of ourselves discovered
tools and used them to kill and steal food from other scavengers.
We became the dominant species.
In JM Coetzee's The Lives of Animals,
the character Elisabeth Costello maintains that so barbaric are
we as a species that, not content with defeating our former enemy,
we have to ingest his or her flesh; reproducing them in industrial
proportions to meet our insatiable needs.
As things stand, animals are here at
our pleasure. And in a developing nation such as this, with so many
human needs still unmet, animals must pay their way if they are
to stay. And they are doing so, handsomely. Wouter van Hoven, wildlife
management professor at Pretoria University, points out wild animals
are big business. The hunting industry is worth R2bn a year, bringing
in foreign currency and creating jobs. He estimates there are almost
9000 private game ranches, containing 75% of SA's wildlife.
Almost all are breeding game for sale.
There is now more game in SA than there has been for 200 years.
But hunting is vital, he says. It is far more lucrative than the
alternative, photographic safaris: foreign hunters pay thousands
of dollars for each shoot.
And if these farmers were not making
this kind of money, they would switch to a different business. Perhaps
sheep or cattle. And no one would make a fuss if they were bred
to be killed for human consumption.
A fascinating doctoral thesis on hunting
safaris in Africa by Karyl Whitman, a student at the University
of Minnesota, makes the point that not only do they bring in huge
revenues for governments, more of it reaches impoverished local
communities and it generates more jobs than do photographic safaris.
The latter require more skills such
as driving licences, proficiency in English and hospitality training
while jobs in hunting are more suited to rural skills: skinning,
tracking, antipoaching and gunbearing.
Community hunting schemes such as Campfire,
in Zimbabwe (if they are still operating), Tanzania, Namibia and
Zambia require by law that a percentage of hunting revenue goes
to the local community.
The more money communities get from
a particular land use, the more likely they are to support it. Wildlife
reserves where there is hunting are thus more likely to be safe
from human encroachment which erodes animals' habitats and thereby
threatens their survival.
It is quite possible that Elisabeth
Costello was right, and more sophisticated generations than ours
will be appalled at our treatment of animals. In the meantime, we
can only do the best we can.
Whitman commented on the rapid rise
in demand for lion hunts and fears that, in some countries, official
monitoring may be inadequate to offset the demand for profit against
longterm sustainability of wild lion populations. She points out
lion are a socially complex species and the consequences need to
be taken into account when setting hunting quotas.
For example, infanticide often follows
the hunting of a dominant lion because his successor will kill offspring
that are not his.
Guidelines such as those set out by
the department are an excellent starting point but few African countries,
including ours, have the resources to police them adequately. Canned
lion hunting might take some of the hunting pressure off wild populations
and, unpalatable as it might be, it still brings in revenue and
The hunting industry has the most to
lose from canned hunting because of the damage done to the image
of hunting, and because it makes a travesty of the elaborate rules
which elevate the killing of animals beyond mere slaughter for the
sake of it.
Ethical hunting demands that the animal
has a fair chance of escape; that there is a semblance of equality
of opportunity between hunter and the hunted (but one must ask:
when last did a lion kill a hunter?) So it is up to the hunting
industry to help ensure that the new guidelines are enforced.
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