Illegal hunting with dogs is rife in parts of South Africa and this is having a serious impact on wildlife, including the Endangered Oribi Ourebia ourebi antelope.
The Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) calls on the public to report illegal dog hunting to them. "If we don't stop this practice, antelope like the Oribi could soon be extinct in South Africa," says Samson Phakathi, Field Officer with the EWT's Threatened Grassland Species Programme. "Oribi are already threatened by habitat loss and hunting with domestic dogs is causing a serious decline in the population. Hunting with dogs also affects livestock, which has financial implications for farmers."
While in the vast minority, some cases where this form of hunting is used are driven by a need for food, but the primary motivation and biggest threat to the Oribi is sport hunting. Although there are stringent laws against hunting with dogs, organised 'taxi hunts', as they are called, where people gather from across the country in order to gamble on a dogs' hunting success, can be financially very rewarding to dog owners. The winning dog could earn tens of thousands of rands in a single hunt, while successful dogs purportedly sell for between R10 000 and R24 000. There are reports of up to 40 people being involved in a single taxi hunt and because of the number of people and dogs involved, flushed animals stand little chance of escape. This form of hunting is therefore extremely destructive, not only to the Oribi but to all animals in the hunters' way.
Hunts usually take place on private property and are organised for a time when the land owner is away, indicating insider involvement. It is therefore difficult to catch the perpetrators and few are ever brought to justice. Hunters are furthermore said to be heavily armed and land owners report intimidation, which makes law enforcement even more difficult.
The legislation dealing with dog hunting is often difficult to interpret and is not community-friendly. To address this, the EWT has translated some of these laws into isiZulu and is disseminating this amongst the rural communities in KZN. The key messages are that hunting with dogs and trespassing on private property is illegal and perpetrators can be prosecuted.
The EWT furthermore arranged and hosted a dog hunting stakeholder meeting on 10 February 2011 at Midmar Dam in KwaZulu-Natal. It was well attended by stakeholders from across the province, including land owners, conservation officials, security companies, conservancy representatives, forestry companies and conservation NGOs. The need for the establishment of a database to record illegal dog hunting incidents was clear and the EWT's Threatened Grassland Species Programme is taking the lead on this. The information collected in this database will be used to determine where the primary target areas are for illegal dog hunts in South Africa so that an education and awareness and enforcement strategy can be developed targeting those areas.
The Oribi is a highly specialised antelope inhabiting African temperate grasslands. Oribi have a wide distribution on the African continent, however in South Africa (Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal and Mpumalanga), their numbers have declined sharply in recent years, primarily due to habitat destruction and continued poaching.
An estimated 2 500 animals remain in KZN, while less than 800 are left in the rest of the country. The Oribi is a useful flagship species for highlighting the value of, but also the threats to grasslands. Only 2.2 percent of South Africa's grasslands are formally conserved and over 60 percent have already been irreversibly transformed. Grasslands are the water and food production centers of the country and also the centre of urban development. For this reason it is crucial that we protect the remaining natural grasslands.
If you have any information on illegal hunts involving dogs, please contact the EWT's Samson Phakathi on 082 805 4806 or 033 330 6982. Information will be treated as confidential and anonymous tip-offs are welcome. Not only will this information help with investigations into illegal hunting but will also contribute to the conservation of one of our most threatened antelope, and a host of other threatened species in South Africa.