Cape Town - Conservationists breathed a sigh of relief on Monday, 16 January when the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) confirmed that a zero quota for the hunting of leopard (Panthera pardus) has been extended to 2017.
But, the relief might be short-lived as the DEA says there is a "possibility of introducing a precautionary hunting quota in 2018".
For now, however, the 'zero quota' is a welcomed one.
The DEA says their decision to extend the zero quotas for leopard hunting in South Africa is "based on the review of available scientific information from SA's Scientific Authority on the status and recovery of leopard populations in South Africa".
Recovery or decline of leopard numbers?
But as the DEA sites a recovery in leopard numbers, other global wildlife authorities say leopard numbers are declining and legal hunting and trophy importing and exporting plays a major role in this decline.
A 2016 legal petition considered by the US Fish and Wildlife Service's Scientific Authority has asked for all leopards to be classified as “endangered” status under the Endangered Species Act.
The petition is being backed by The Humane Society of the United States, Humane Society International, International Fund for Animal Welfare, the Center for Biological Diversity and The Fund for Animals, and sights a loophole which has been in place since 1982, through which hundreds of leopard trophies per year are being imported into the United States without proper scrutiny by the federal government or scientific experts.
In 2014 alone, they say, hunters imported 311 leopard trophies into the United States.
In sub-Saharan Africa, the leopard population has declined by more than 30% in the past 25 years, and the species has lost 48 to 67% of its historic range in Africa.
Between 2005 and 2014, at least 10 191 individual leopards were traded internationally as hunting trophies, with the United States as the top importer (accounting for 45% of this trade).
The number of leopard trophy imports has remained over 300 per year since 1999, despite commitments from the Fish and Wildlife Service in 1982 to only allow “very few” leopard trophies into the country.
Nonetheless, the DEA, in their official release, says that SA's Scientific Authority recommended to Minister of Environmental Affairs Edna Molewa that, based on the information received and reviewed, "the possibility of introducing a precautionary hunting quota in 2018" can be reviewed in the next year.
The Scientific Authority took into account input from the Scientific Steering Committee for Leopard Monitoring comprising government institutions, NGOs, representatives of industry and academic institutions.
Also taken into account was the results of systematic camera trap surveys undertaken in KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo and Mpumalanga as well as relevant data from the industry obtained using Cat Spotter, which all pointed to the "recovery of leopard populations in South Africa".
What it means
The new quota means that all Parties with leopard export quotas must now review the leopard hunting quotas and provide the scientific basis for the quota allocated.
This CITES review process will continue in 2017 to ensure that an appropriate quota is allocated for the South African leopard population.
For future years' quotas, the Scientific Authority has recommended that along with the allowance of hunting of the specie, a number of interventions should be implemented to ensure the sustainable utilisation of leopard populations in future.
This included the development of norms and standards for the management and monitoring of leopard hunting as well as the extension of particularly systematic camera trap surveys to all provinces where leopard occur, the DEA says.
The Scientific Authority is an internationally recognised established working as a custodian and monitor to the legal and illegal trade in species listed as threatened or protected by the National Environmental Management: Biodiversity Act (NEMBA), as well as CITES.
The Authority is able to assist in regulating and restricting the trade in specimens of listed threatened or protected species and species to which an international agreement regulating international trade applies.
The Department of Environmental Affairs is implementing the recommendations made by the Scientific Authority.
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