October 28, 2005

South Africa Takes Aim at ‘Canned Hunting’

By Ed Stoddard

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - South Africa plans to stamp out operators who allow the "canned hunting" of lions and other game raised by humans and shot in small spaces, part of an effort to clean up the multimillion-dollar hunting industry.

"We have recommended a total ban on canned hunting," said Crispian Olver, who chaired a panel of experts on the industry which submitted a report and recommendations to Environment Minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk earlier this week.

"South Africa doesn't want to continue to hide and be embarrassed about its hunting industry. It is the one underregulated and dark side of the conservation sector," he told Reuters in an interview.

Hunting is big business in South Africa, bringing in around $160 million a year in foreign exchange earnings from overseas hunters. It is also a way of life for many in the countryside.

If you have serious money you can hunt the so-called Big 5 -- elephant, rhino, buffalo, lion and leopard.

But the industry's reputation has been sullied by media reports about game breeders who rear lions in captivity before releasing them into small enclosures where they are shot as "trophies" by foreign hunters.

Professional hunters say such operators are a small minority but they have cast a cloud over the industry.

Olver said the panel was also concerned about game farmers who rear other species, including various types of antelope, on small properties for hunting.

"We have concerns about taking intensively raised animals and mixing them with free ranging wildlife. These are agriculture systems where animals are dependent on humans for survival," he said.

"Once they are fed and imprinted by humans in a confined space, then in our view, you cannot reconcile that with the principle of fair chase. We want to stop such practices to protect the integrity of the hunting industry," he said.

Almost all hunting in South Africa is done on private land, making it difficult to regulate -- especially when the landowner is heavily armed and suspicious of intruders.

Olver said recommended range sizes for "fair play" hunting would vary from animal to animal.

Many South African farmers have switched from beef and other livestock to game because it is more lucrative. It is also more labor intensive than beef farming, a welcome development in a country with an unemployment rate of over 26 percent.

Not all are involved in hunting. Many also cater to tourists who want to view wildlife.

"Many people have converted to game farming because it is more economically lucrative so it is a more efficient use of land in many ways," said Olver.

He said the panel, which considered input from professional hunters as well as animal welfare organisations, was not planning a Kenyan-style ban on all sport hunting. It simply wanted to regulate the industry and clean up its sordid image.

A draft from the panel's recommendations will be published early in 2006 for public comment. Legislation and regulations will then be crafted.