Time to revisit wildlife laws

2014-03-18 00:00

THE thrill of hunting animals has always been lost on me.

As an ardent lover of Africa’s wildlife, I have spent many hours exploring our game parks over the years with my family, armed with nothing more than a camera.

What a pleasure it is to “shoot” that perfect photograph of a lion, leopard, elephant, rhino or a host of other prolific game and bird species, and to horde those memories to revisit later.

What pleasure can be derived from just being in the bush observing, admiring and learning about the primitive beauty and complex behaviour of our wild animals and birds.

They can teach the human race a lot.

For one thing, they do not kill each other for “fun”. They do so only in order to survive.

I cannot fathom the blood lust that drives human beings to maim or kill any of these gorgeous and fascinating creatures other than for humane reasons, such as putting a severely wounded animal out of its misery.

Or to kill for food.

What thrill can possibly be derived from shooting one of our magnificent predators, especially in a “canned” hunting scenario where the hunter takes aim with a rifle at a previously hand-reared lion or lioness from the back of a vehicle?

You might as well take your domestic cat out into the garden to be shot.

I find photographs of smirking hunters posing with their rifles over the bloodied bodies of their dead “prey” abhorrent.

A once-proud life reduced to ashes, and for what? A stuffed head on a wall.

Clearly, the hunting fraternity will disagree. After all, those “trophies” are adorned with rand or dollar signs.

Professional hunting outfits are at great pains to persuade the public that their business is not driven by a desire to “make a quick buck” , but out of the purest of motives, which is to contribute to conservation.

They claim that without the economic spin-offs realised by the hunting industry, our game reserves would be lost.

I doubt it.

Eco-tourism is a growing industry and, I would venture to suggest, potentially just as lucrative as the hunting industry.

Several unscrupulous hunting outfits want the best of both worlds. They offer tourists luxury accommodation on their game farms and as an added draw card advertise the opportunity to “pet” their lion cubs.

What they don’t tell the visitors is that these same cubs — torn from their mothers almost at birth so that the lioness will breed again quickly — will end up as trophies on a wall after being shot in canned lion hunts.

On March 15, wildlife activists worldwide held a global march to raise awareness of this cruel practice described as “hunting captive bred predators without a fair chase”.

In 2009, South Africa’s Minister of Environment was taken to court by the SA Predators Association, which challenged legislation that determined that captive lions had to fend for themselves in an extensive wildlife system for at least 24 months before they could be hunted.

The breeders initially lost the case, but in 2010 the Supreme Court of Appeals ruled in their favour, finding that the minister had not acted rationally in taking his decision, and effectively giving the green light for canned hunting to continue.

All the experts involved in the matter agreed there is almost no chance of captive lions ever becoming “rehabilitated” or “wild”. The human imprint on them is too strong.

If that is the case, the only possible reason for anyone to breed and rear lions in captivity is ultimately for canned hunting purposes, or possibly to perform in circuses.

Bearing this in mind, as well as the lessons learnt from the outcome of the case, perhaps South Africa should once again revisit the laws around keeping such animals in captivity.

Currently, it’s said there are around 8 000 captive lions in South Africa, which is about three times the number of wild lions.

It is to be hoped that the South African government, and indeed the Convention on International Trade in Wildlife (Cites) will pay heed to ongoing protests and online petitions by concerned citizens calling for the protection for our wildlife and tourism industry.

Let South Africa focus on attracting tourists to this country who will boost our economy with their dollars and euros, while also cherishing our wildlife.

Let’s end the slaughter.

• Ingrid Oellermann is the court reporter at The Witness.

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