Johannesburg- Reeling under a massive backlash from supporters of the captive lion hunting industry and a huge split within the ranks of its membership, the president of the Professional Hunting Association of South Africa [Phasa], Stan Burger, unexpectedly announced his resignation on Tuesday with immediate effect.
In a statement, Phasa said its President-Elect, Dries Van Coller, will now be at the helm.
Asked what had led to Burger's resignation, and why the executive was not supporting Burger against the backlash, spokesperson Retha van Reenen said, "let me put it into perspective. A lot of the members decided not to sign an affidavit sent out last year that they would not support or promote captive lion hunting or captive lion breeding activities."
As a body representing and promoting the interests of professional hunters, Phasa has faced an inordinate amount of challenges.
None more so than the fallout after the 2015 announcement that it had adopted a resolution at its annual general meeting to distance itself from the captive lion breeding and captive lion hunting industries.
In November 2016, a group of 13 Phasa members challenged the resolution and its constitutionality and took Phasa to the High Court in Pretoria where it argued Phasa had acted illegally when it took steps to suspend their memberships.
In its affidavit opposing their application‚, Phasa said some of the applicants were members of another hunting organisation, known as the South African Predators Association‚ which was in favour of captive-bred lion hunting.
Phasa said after receiving responses from the 13 members‚ it decided to lift the suspension of three members who had explained that they were not involved in the breeding and hunting of captive lions.
At the time, Burger said his organisation stood by its resolution to distance itself from captive-bred lion hunting and would defend its resolution in court.
Phasa said it gave the applicants seven days within which to provide reasons why their membership should not be terminated.
According to the judgment that was eventually handed down, Phasa lost the case.
In a statement, Burger said, "It has been a privilege to serve the association, but the time has come for others to now carry the torch". Van Coller said Phasa would continue with minimum disruption as the association continued to serve the members of the professional hunting fraternity of South Africa.
Andrew Venter, CEO of Wildlands Trust and executive producer of the documentary film Blood Lions, told News 24, “It would be tragic for the South African hunting and tourism industries if Phasa were to backtrack on its commitment to stop the hunting of captive bred lions in South Africa.
“Stan Burger has led the charge to clean up the hunting industry in this regard, something I can attest to that there is little doubt."
He said Phasa had, for the past 18 months, been under significant pressure from the "unethical hunting fraternity in South Africa".
"It's unfortunate that it appears that this faction may be prevailing. The fallout from the local and global outrage will further damage the industry and South Africa's conservation reputation," Venter said.