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Hunters' bonanza

21 September 2015 - 02:02 By Graeme Hosken

Controversial government recommendations could soon lead to the legalisation of the hunting of some of South Africa's most endangered wildlife, including lion and leopard. Animal rights groups have slammed the Department of Environmental Affairs for suggesting that several species are not as threatened as previously thought. They are concerned that this could open the way for the large-scale hunting and smuggling of endangered animals.Ten days ago, the department published its findings on the endangered bontebok, Cape mountain zebra, lion and leopard in the Government Gazette.It called for the urgent co-ordination of strategies for the management of these species to ensure their survival, including the implementation of quotas so that hunting can be better controlled.The public has until September 30 to object.It was only a few months ago that the killing of Zimbabwe's iconic Cecil the lion by a US dentist sparked an international outcry.Last week four South Africans were arrested for trying to smuggle 29 endangered sable antelope from Zimbabwe to South Africa to be shot by hunters.The parliamentary portfolio committee on environmental affairs has called for stricter regulations to protect South Africa's endangered wildlife.Committee whip Zondi Makhubele said strict regulations were needed to ensure that adequate personnel and finances were allocated to curbing "attacks on the country's wildlife, especially through illegal hunting and smuggling".The recommendations by Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa will be presented to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species and form part of future environmental policy. The Department of Environmental Affairs' report on endangered wildlife has exposed damning information about the inadequacies of the government's preservation initiatives and the financial constraints limiting their effectiveness.The department reports that there is little faith in the government's commitment to protecting endangered wildlife.Among the document's most damning findings is that there is a lack of confidence in the department's monitoring and management ability. The illegal hunting of bontebok and mountain zebra for trophies is threatening the species' existence.The department wants to investigate the possibility of legalising the hunting of wild lion.The quota for leopard that may be hunted is being exceeded because of a lack of management at the department.The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites) allows South Africa to export 150 leopards as trophies. There is no Cites quota for South Africa's 2 700 wild lions.Richard Thomas, of wildlife crime monitoring organisation Traffic, said: "For a country to allow for the export of a Cites-listed species it has to make a non-detrimental finding."This is to show that it will not have a negative impact on the conservation status of the species."The country's scientific and management authority must then show what the safe quota would be, which must be reported to the Cites secretariat."Animal anti-crime specialist Michelle Pickover said the government was arguing against itself in the gazette."They say there are problems around the management of these species, yet they make non-detrimental findings about the animals."It's flabbergasting. We are a Cites member yet we say hunting permits can be issued for endangered animals. This gazette makes a case for these animals to be hunted because hunting them is non-detrimental to their survival."She said the findings published in the gazette were linked to the country's out-of-control hunting industry, on which no effective enforcement policies were imposed, and the government was unable to police the industry."Fifteen years ago, former environmental affairs minister Valli Moosa promised that a national and provincial hunting permit database would be established but none exists."The government is simply promoting the 'farming' of these wild animals instead of their protection."Suzanne Rudham, of Saving the Survivors, an endangered animal rights group, said the smuggling of endangered and unique animals was driven by hunting."What's happening has gone beyond the point of making sense. Golden wildebeest - a genetic anomaly - sell for R12-million at auctions, with black impala fetching R10-million. Money is the driver, with unique and endangered species the target. Hunting these and other endangered species is a huge business."Adri Kitshoff, CEO of the Professional Hunting Association of SA, said the association opposed all illegal practices and the abuse of the permit system.But she said that it was important that the public and the media ascertain the status of species."I have heard references made to many species as endangered when they are not."Makhubele said: "We cannot claim that enough is being done. We need to expand anti-poaching and protection campaigns, with education programmes around the severity of wildlife crimes needed for the judiciary."From the gazette, it's clear speed is needed in establishing databases and in partnership building with neighbouring states to stop smuggling, which is driven by hunting."Animals are not smuggled into government game parks but private facilities, which is where we need to work."At the time of going to press, the Environmental Affairs Department had failed to respond to questions...

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