Shady agriculture, hunter links exposed

The playgrounds of trigger-happy trophy hunters are far removed from the fertile fruit farms of the Western Cape and Eastern Cape. But a recent television expose of driven hunting has established a disturbing link between the agricultural and hunting sectors.

The link is Anton de Vries, a Dutch businessman and fruit exporter whose companies, Safe and Bono, are strategic partners in the government’s agrarian land reform policies.

 De Vries owns or manages more than 2O fruit, livestock and game farms in South Africa, including three in All- days, Limpopo, where the driven hunt took place.

 Unlike traditional hunting, in which target animals have a reasonable chance of escape, all the shooters had to do was take pot shots at the traumatised targets who were chased into their sights.

Like canned lion hunting, in which the animals are caged and drugged, driven hunting is not illegal in South Africa. Unlike canned hunting, however, this unethical sport has until now never been exposed in South Africa.

It comes in the wake of the recent killing of Cecil the lion in Zimbabwe and the release of Blood Lions, a documentary exposing the brutal underbelly of canned lion hunting.

The fact that De Vries has been implicated in this hunt adds further fuel to an ongoing investigation by the SABC into his activities in allegedly swindling farm workers and farming cooperatives out of their profits and thus depriving the rightful beneficiaries of the government’s land reform policies.

Through its BEE company, Bono, whose CEO is the politically connected Evans Nevondo, Safe is mandated to provide infrastructural and economic empowerment on the farms it manages.

On its website Bono advertises its certification by Fairtrade, an international body that sets standards for exports, based on adequate labour and living conditions for farming communities.

But Bono was decertified in July for noncompliance.

The driven hunt in Limpopo was justified on the grounds that it gives work and food to impoverished rural communities where unemployment is rife and job opportunities scarce.

 In this hunt more than 100 animals were gunned down in what the NSPCA has condemned as a “massacre”. That’s not taking into account the scores of animals that were wounded in the process. After De Vries was exposed on televi- sion for the driven hunt in Limpopo, the Safe and Bono website was shut down.

At the time, neither De Vries nor Nevondo were available for comment. But shortly after their activities were exposed on SABC News, their PR firm made contact, requesting their clients be given the right of reply to the serious allegations levelled against them.

Blood Lion not to be seen

Organisers halt screening of film due to controversy and the ‘truth’ of cub rearing

Travel conference organisers have decided not to screen a documentary that raises critical questions about key tourist attractions that their event promotes.

 Local delegates to the World Youth and Student Travel Conference (WYSTC) 2015 asked the hosts to include a screen- ing of the film Blood Lions in their programme. The documentary shows young, conservation-minded volunteers from around the world paying thousands of rands to work at South African facili- ties that offer tourists the opportunity to pet lion cubs and go for bush walks with juvenile lions.

What most of the volunteers don’t know is that the majority of the lions they help to raise are destined for the bullets of wealthy trophy hunters.

“Wildlife volunteering in Africa is huge. Kids from all over the world want to come here to help animals,” says Blood Lions director, Bruce Young. “The organisers of the conference are key players in this whole industry and, given its location, timing and content, you would have thought that sharing Blood Lions with delegates would be a valuable exercise. We want youngsters who end up at lion breeding facilities to ask themselves some crucial questions, where do these cubs come from and where do they end up?”

Wendy Morrill, a conference organiser, said, “several discussions were had regarding if and how to share relevant content from the film with WYSTO 2015 delegates. Unfortunately the involved parties were not able to come to terms of a mutual agreement.”

There will be a session on lion programmes and volunteer organisations for registered delegates hosted by Dr Jackie Abell of the African Lion Environmental and Research Trust (Alert), which claims to focus on lion conservation through research, education and responsible development. lt bases much of its work on the suggestion that captive-bred lions can be successfully re-introduced into the wild.

SA conservationist lan Michler, the central character in Blood Lions, has criticised Alert for attempting to “legitimise its lion captive-breeding programmes and money-spinning tourist operations… under the banner of conservation, science or education”, while a group of researchers who examined Alert’s assertions found that “the lion encounter industry relies on animals so habituated to human presence that they can never be released”.