"Canned Hunting" Ban Proposed in South Africa

Leon Marshall in Johannesburg
for National Geographic News
May 8, 2006
The South African government last week moved to ban the practice of
"canned hunting"—in which trophy hunters pay steep fees to shoot
tame or drugged predators released in small enclosures.

The ban is included in tough legislation announced by South Africa's minister of environmental affairs and tourism, Marthinus van Schalkwyk, during a news briefing at the De Wildt Cheetah Research Center in the Northwest Province (see a map of South Africa).

The newly proposed laws aim to rid the country's lucrative wildlife industry of unethical hunting and breeding practices. They also call for stiff fines and jail sentences of up to five years.

The draft regulations ban "intensive breeding of listed large predators—like cheetahs, lions, leopards, and wild dogs—for any purpose of hunting or sale for hunting," van Schalkwyk said at the briefing.

No hunting will be allowed on land that has been opened to national or provincial reserves unless formally agreed to by the landowner and the park authority. Hunting of big game with bow and arrow will be prohibited.

"Hunting will now be permitted only by humane methods, in accordance with strict fair-chase principles, by hunters registered with recognized hunting bodies and in terms of carefully monitored and reviewed limits," he said.

The proposed laws also call for "the registration of all captive-breeding and rehabilitation facilities, nurseries, scientific institutions, and sanctuaries," van Schalkwyk said.

"In effect, the days of captive breeding of listed species for any purpose except science and conservation are over."

"Conservation Successes"

The new provisions, recommended by a panel of experts, are part of a major revamp of conservation laws aimed at regulating South Africa's wildlife and ecotourism industries (see related South Africa tourism photos).

The country's conservation efforts have grown enormously since the change 12 years ago to an all-race democracy, which brought an end to foreign sanctions.

In 1994 the central parliament passed a national biodiversity law to better protect South Africa's natural heritage.

But different applications of those regulations by the country's nine provinces have created problems.

The new legislation will bring uniformity and stop what van Schalkwyk calls "province-hopping" to escape the law.

"These new regulations and norms and standards for hunting will ensure that we clear up the current confusion and close the loopholes that have allowed environmental thugs to get away with immoral activities like canned hunting, illegal trade, and unethical breeding," he said.

"No longer will there be any excuse for their abuse of our natural heritage."

He says lists will be issued of nationally threatened and protected species, and a permit system will be set up for all the provinces for the breeding, hunting, trade, and transport of listed species.

"We aim to permanently eliminate those aspects of [wildlife] utilization that in recent years have cast a shadow on our phenomenal conservation successes," van Schalkwyk said.

The legislation will be open for public comment for six weeks.

Proper Regulation

Rupert Lorimer, a former member of parliament and now a conservation consultant, has expressed doubts about the sweeping nature of the legislation, suggesting it could work against biodiversity.

He says there are about 3,000 lions bred in captivity in the country's northern region for hunting. These are healthy specimens that enhance the lion gene pool.

Also, the vast tracts of land on which the lions are kept and hunted are preserved in their natural state rather than being converted to agricultural use, he says.

And trophy hunting brings in vast sums of foreign currency, providing a good income for poverty-stricken rural communities, Lorimer says.

A whole industry has been built around the practice, including the transport and accommodation of hunters, the processing of animal products, and the breeding of stock to feed predators.

"The lion breeders have a case. They have invested vast sums of money, and they should be allowed to continue under properly regulated circumstances," he said.

But the suggested measures have the full support of the South African Hunters and Game Conservation Association, says Gerhard Verdoorn, the organization's vice-president for conservation.

"There are aspects we would like to tweak a bit," Verdoorn said.

"We would like to ensure that there is no hunting inside reserves, that the permit system is simple and uniform among the provinces, and that there will be proper law enforcement. But basically the draft legislation is in line with what we proposed," he said.

"Canned hunting is an abomination," he added. "It must go."

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