Killer dogs' carnage

2014-04-10 00:00

THE blood sport of dog hunting has outgrown the countryside in KwaZulu-Natal, and is edging into the suburbs.

The illegal gambling hunts — where dozens of hunters on foot use trained dogs to bet on small antelope kills — have grown so fast in the past year that the community safety network SA CAN this week launched a campaign to buy a helicopter specifically to track the syndicates.

The hotspots identified by the KZN Endangered Wildlife Trust include Howick, Cato Ridge, Estcourt, and Bulwer, which, on its own, now hosts half-a-dozen hunts every week.

But in Shongweni alone last week, hunts were reported in the cane fields near Hillcrest, along a main artery to Assagay, and even affected the elite Summerveld Equestrian Centre. One wildlife field officer, Samson Phakati — a former hunter himself — said the sport was moving closer to the N3 highway because small game had been decimated in the countryside, and organised hunters “have no fear of law enforcement”.

Meanwhile, SA CAN — which has been asked to serve as the emergency control centre for dog hunting by the Trust — is now gearing up for an “illegal hunting festival” over the Easter weekend, which “we know” will include at least one co-ordinated event of up to 150 hunters and 70 dogs. Two helicopters will be placed on stand-by for the long weekend, and a co-ordination project has been launched with SAPS clusters.

SA CAN co-founder Brian Jones said there were indications that the early morning blood sport was the “sport of choice” for hijackers and other organised criminals — and allegedly even for some law enforcement officials as well.

Ian Little, manager of the Trust’s Grassland Species Programme, said reedbuck and duiker were still the primary targets, but that the small Oribi antelope population had dipped below 2 000 in KwaZulu-Natal, and was directly threatened by the phenomenon.

He said packs included various breeds to “flush out” small game and highly trained greyhounds to chase them down — and then rip them apart.

Little said, “The hunters are approaching the suburban areas now, so what can be said is that they are happening everywhere now.”

He said hunters gathered at private farms either when farmers had left for church, or when they’d been tipped off that land owners were away.

Engineer Dave Leslie — who owns a smallholding in Shongweni — said hunting dogs had killed 11 of his 12 ostriches in separate incidents, and that the remaining bird was attacked this month.

“I watched a group moving their dogs into the cane fields this week — they’re totally brazen, and a menace,” said Leslie.

“You often see bakkies packed full of dogs at gas stations. You used to see small antelope, porcupines, all sorts all over the place in this area; now there’s nothing — these hunters are a big part of the reason.”

Cheri Cooke, inspectorate manager of the Kloof SPCA, said dog hunting “has become a major problem — its happening every day”.

She said pointers and beagles were also being bred for hunts, and were typically mistreated.

“The other day, I saw a duiker race out of the bush over the road, with eight dogs and a group of guys after it. I screamed at them, but they didn’t care,” she said.

In a yet-to-be aired TV documentary, film-maker Phillip Lennon found that one pack of hunting dogs had accessed a sheep enclosure on a KZN Midlands farm and killed 123 sheep in a single blood frenzy.

One dog hunter candidly admitted that the raids were done “for leisure” and to combat “boredom”. “I am not a thief — instead of stealing into people’s homes, I go up the hill and hunt.”

H.T. Zuma, a councillor at Impendle, openly told Lennon that, “We wake up in the mornings at 4 am and go to the farms while the land owner is sleeping, and then there is hunting.”

But Zuma said he disapproved of “taxi hunts”, in which some taxi owners transport dozens of people for massed pursuits — “that is not sport”.

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