Almost a decade has passed since the horrors of canned hunting were first exposed to the world. Brought to our attention with shocking images of caged lions being shot from close range by shameless hunters and their clients, few could have imagined back then that these scenes were in fact not an isolated incident, but rather the beginning of a dark and disgraceful period for South Africa’s wildlife industry. I for one expected these scenes to galvanize the wildlife community, hunting bodies and the authorities to act. Instead, an apparent lack of will (or was it tacit approval in some quarters?) during the ensuing years brought indecision and no clampdown of any sort. Yes, there were official statements of disapproval from DEAT and various hunting bodies, but nothing concrete and constructive to stop the industry flourishing into a multi million dollar one. Emboldened by this display of inertia, a second horror began unfolding. Those involved began establishing large breeding facilities and farms, predominately in the provinces of Free State, Limpopo, North West and Gauteng, to supply the trophy hunters and the animal traders with a sufficient number of captive bred predators.

I have been closely monitoring these industries over the last five years, much of which has been reported through this magazine. It has been an awful task, made all the worse by nagging doubts of whether it would ever be possible to have these practices stopped. Without fail, after leaving every property, my mind would swirl with images of caged predators pacing a maze of wire fencing, and the pack of lies I had just been fed by the owner or guide. The result would be wild swings of reason between absolute outrage and an attempt to understand a chosen livelihood based on an entrenched hunting culture justified by perverse borrowings from the language of conservation and sustainable utilization. Inevitably, I was always left with same conclusion; that of doubting the possibility of any change.

But I now find myself thinking and believing differently. For the first time, and based on the actions and words of Marthinus van Schalkwyk, the Minister of Environmental Affairs and Tourism, I firmly believe there is hope for a full ban on canned hunting and major restrictions to be placed on those wanting to breed large predators. These measures are also likely to be accompanied by stricter regulations governing the hunting industry and the wildlife management industries in general. Why my change in heart? Firstly, Van Schalkwyk has seemingly recognized these industries for what they are, secondly he has accepted that there are major structural, operational and regulatory deficiencies in the hunting industry in general and thirdly, he appointed a ‘Panel of Experts’ earlier this year to review all of the above.

The Minister must be applauded for taking such a proactive stance, but more importantly, he and the Panel of Experts should now be given full support during this period when the laws and regulations are being formulated. The Panel has completed their work and these findings have been delivered to the Minister for review. With regards to canned hunting and the captive breeding of wildlife, the main recommendations of the panel are as follows:

  • “In general, the practice of hunting captive bred animals should not be allowed”.
  • “The Panel recommends that the Minister place a ban on the import of all alien species for hunting purposes”.
  • “The Panel recommends the prohibition of the translocation of species outside their range zones”.
  • With regards to put-and-take hunting and canned hunting, “the Panel recommends that both these practices should be prohibited as they compromise the principle of fair chase and the humane treatment of animals”.

It needs to be stressed that at this stage these are merely recommendations, and any changes to the law are unlikely until mid year sometime at the earliest. In the interim, there is no doubt that the industry heavyweights will be lobbying government against any bans, and if their activities are heavily curtailed, one can expect a full array of legal threats to be introduced.

While the legal challenges are pressures the government should be able to deal with, there are more serious concerns to begin pondering if an outright ban is to be implemented. What do we do with approximately 3 000 human imprinted lions, 500 cheetah, 250 wild dog, 60 tigers and countless other predators that breeders will surely look to abandon?