CAPE TOWN: South Africa announced yesterday that it will ban ‘canned’ hunting, a practice in which predators and rhinos are gunned down in small enclosures that offer them no means of escape.
Dismissing threats of legal action from the nation’s lucrative hunting industry, environment minister Marthinus Van Schalkwyk declared he was sickened by wealthy tourists shooting tame lions from the back of a truck and felling rhinos with a bow and arrow.
From June 1, when the law comes into force, captive lions would have to be released into the open for at least two years before hunting. A previously proposed six-month delay would not give lions enough time to develop self-defence instincts, said Van Schalkwyk.
The regulations mark the start of a clean-up of the hunting industry and may in due course be extended to other animals like antelope species.
Hunting is an integral part of South African life because of its cultural traditions and importance to the economy. It generates around US$100 million (A$126 million) annually in South Africa and some conservationists have argued that up to 90 per cent of lions killed there are canned, rather than wild.
“Hunting should be about fair chase … testing the wits of a hunter against that of the animal,” said Van Schalkwyk. “Over the years that got eroded and now we are trying to re-establish that principle.”
South Africa is famous as home to the ‘Big Five’ animals: lion, leopard, rhinoceros, elephant and buffalo. Its flagship Kruger National Park attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors annually. Some 9,000 privately-owned game farms and other government-run reserves also offer visitors a taste of the wild.
But it has also become a choice destination for gun-toting tourists willing to pay more than US$20,000 (A$25,300) to take home a ‘trophy’ lion or rhino’s head.
The new law bans the hunting of animals that have been tranquillised. It outlaws bows and arrows for big predators and thick-skinned animals like rhinos. It also bans the use of vehicles to chase animals until they are too traumatised to flee.
But some conservationists said the law would be difficult to enforce and did not go far enough, because it stopped short of an outright ban on intensive breeding of lions, leopards and other predators.
“The big thing for South Africa would be to stand up and say ‘we are conservation leaders and this [entire] industry is immoral and unethical and we are not going to allow it,’” said Louise Joubert of the San Wildlife Trust in Letsitele, South Africa, which campaigned for tougher regulations.
She said it made little difference whether a lion was freed for six months or two years before being hunted because once it had got used to being reared and fed by people, it was hard to break that trust.
The South African Predator Breeders’ Association, which was set up last year to lobby against the regulations, has warned that breeders may be forced to euthanise the estimated 3-5,000 lions they have reared if they are unable to offer them to foreign hunters and can no longer afford to feed them.
“We have asked for an outright ban,” said Joubert. “If it means that four to five thousand lions have to be euthanised, it would be a tragic day – but if it is the only way for this country to get a grip, so be it.”
The Professional Hunters’ Association of South Africa, based in Centurion, said it welcomed the new regulations as a chance to clean up the image of the South African hunting industry by clamping down on a small percentage of lion breeders.
Up to 7,000 foreign tourists visit South Africa each year on hunting safaris, each spending roughly US$18,000 (A$22,800). About 55 per cent of hunters are from North America and the rest are from Europe and other countries.
Trophy Hunting has generated renewed interest from other conservationists recently, some of which argue that it can be used as a tool to conserve species. A study in the January edition of the journal Biological Conservation cites evidence that managed hunting can sometimes be a force for good, as it provides a commercial incentive for preserving habitats.