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SOS Rhino : In the News : Canned Hunting is Threat to Thriving Wildlife Industry
 

Canned Hunting is Threat to Thriving Wildlife Industry

 

Business Day (Johannesburg)

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 foreign ones.

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 After a year's grace, these will be superseded by the new guidelines.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 creates jobs.

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.

Copyright © 2003 Business Day. All rights reserved. Distributed by AllAfrica Global Media (allAfrica.com).


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