In Africa, Hunters Pay to Tranquilize Game for Research

Leon Marshall in Johannesburg
for National Geographic News
June 16, 2003

They stalk their prey, fix their sights, squeeze the trigger and even experience the peculiar delight which hunters take in seeing 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.

These 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. The 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.

Scott 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.

Aimed mainly 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.

Continued on Next Page >>


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