At long last South Africa has an updated set of regulations in place that should begin to shape a clampdown on canned hunting and the captive breeding of large predators.

Effective from 1 June 2007, the regulations came after three years of consultation between the government and various private-sector wildlife management bodies and animal welfare groups.

The process culminated in February this year with the publication of the National Environmental Management: Biodiversity Act, 2004 (Act 10 of 2004): Threatened or Protected Species Regulations (www.environment.gov.za).

The Minister of Environmental Affairs and Tourism, Marthinus van Schalkwyk, and all involved, including the panel of experts appointed by him to provide the crucial recommendations, must be congratulated for this work. But it is shameful that it came more than a decade after the airing of the Cooke Report, which was the nation’s introduction to the horrors being carried out by a sector of the hunting industry.

The responsibility for the time lag between exposure and action lies with previous Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism administrations, various constituencies within the wildlife management community and the hunting industry (including international bodies), and is indicative of their strong resistance. Their efforts to protect their interests continue and we should not fool ourselves that we have managed to rid the country of anything as yet. Minister van Schalkwyk’s work is only the first small step in what will be a long process, requiring much vigilance.

I would have liked the government to publish a blueprint for the implementation of these regulations, but now that they are in place, what comes next?

Firstly, it is highly likely that those affected, particularly the breeders, will instigate some sort of legal challenge.

It is ironic that after seven years of unsuccessful attempts to get an industry representative to comment on their practices and give information on member numbers (there were always denials at every turn about the existence of any representative grouping at any level), suddenly there is a very well-organised body, known as the South African Predator Breeders Association.

Now the predator breeders’ fears of scorn and detection have been replaced by panicky cries trumpeting their cause, a case based predominantly on the alleged contributions the industry makes to the economy. I wonder whether the Receiver of Revenue has shown any interest in this sudden desire for recognition and transparency, and whether its attention will extend to the past tax contributions of the association’s new-found membership.

I cannot comment on the merits or otherwise of any legal case that may arise, but I hope that the constitution does not defend the right to make a living without regard for the circumstances.

Secondly, and assuming the minister’s regulations remain law, it is highly likely that wildlife agencies will have to deal with the plight of thousands of unwanted predators (possibly as many as 3 000 or more). I have no doubt that some operators are shooting lions for whatever price they can get, while breeders are probably trying to flog their prime breeding stock or will simply stop feeding their animals, and photographic game farms will get hold of as many white lions as they can. This will still leave the majority of the caged animals to be dealt with. Government has made little or no provision for this eventuality, so the principal responsibility will have to lie with the private sector – conservation agencies, vets, animal welfare groups, donors and private landowners.

Solutions range from euthanasia to animals being placed in the care of donor-funded sanctuaries.

And lastly, if regional cross-border cooperation to eradicate these practices is not on the agenda, then our neighbours will step in to fill the cages emptied in South Africa. Captive breeding and canned hunting are already taking place in Namibia, Zimbabwe and Botswana, and it is highly likely that they will start in Zambia and Mozambique in the near future.

It is also worth asking the minister to consider at what stage and by what definition his department considers lion hunting in South Africa to be unsustainable.

In my book, and using the principles and definitions so fondly quoted by the hunting fraternity to support their fun, lion hunting is already unsustainable and should be banned outright. But then I don’t have any vested financial interests.