Professional Hunting Can Help Protect Wildlife in South Africa

In the Sunday Independent of May 17, 2009, David Mabunda, chief executive officer of SANParks (South African National Parks) commented on hunting in South Africa.

The business of conservation is one that lends itself to a number of contestations every now and then as everyone sees their important role in protecting or owning mother nature.

As a business and a science it is still very young, in most countries no older than a 100 years or so. Because of this relative newness of this area you find that there are any number of stakeholders who have diverse and differing views on how business should be conducted by conservation authorities in order to ensure continued income.

The recently revived debate on hunting on the borders of the Kruger National Park, our national and international icon, is one that is also squarely based in this public discourse of who has the environment's best interests at heart. Unfortunately nobody ever wins this debate because it often degenerates into emotional and unconstructive speculations.

Hunting in South Africa is a sport that is legal and regulated by law. The legislation that regulates the establishment and management of protected areas makes specific provisions for sustainable resource use, which includes hunting.

The National Environmental Management Act: Protected Areas Amendment Act 31 of 2004, clause 50 (1) allows the management authority of a national park to enter into a written agreement with a community resident inside or adjacent to the park to allow members of the community to use in a sustainable manner the biological resources in the park.

This is aimed at promoting sustainable utilisation of protected areas for the benefit of people, in a manner that would preserve the ecological character of such areas. The NEMA: Biodiversity Act 10 of 2004 also makes provision for the use of biological resources in a sustainable manner.

Hunting is also recognised by the IUCN (World Conservation Union) as a sustainable form of use of natural resources which is able to generate a high level of income. It is practised in many parts of the world around national parks which act as the source for natural resources, much in the same way that sustainable fishing around marine protected areas can occur in perpetuity if those areas are properly protected and fishing is controlled professionally and scientifically.

South African National Parks (SANParks) is not opposed to hunting in buffer areas as long as it is done transparently and according to the management plans and protocols that have been agreed to between the adjoining land owners and SANParks. It is important to note that there is a marked difference between protected areas and game reserves - most of which are privately owned - as well as between different types of protected areas.

Simply put, a protected area is a recognised geographical area that will be protected by whatever means for its ecological, historic or cultural value over a long period of time and may also include a tourism element. Within the suite of protected areas there are various levels of protection accorded to a range of parks, varying from national parks, to provincial reserves and right at the bottom protected environments. Game reserves are specifically designed for tourism and as such, may include activities such as hunting of the wildlife kept in the areas. Because of the high status of protection accorded to national parks, extractive forms of resource-use, such as hunting and mining, are not permitted within the boundaries of the national park.

Buffer Zones

In this context it should be understood then that land on the buffer zones of national parks, though legally contracted to or entered into formal agreement for the dropping of fences, is not national park land. The hunting occurring on the borders of Kruger National Park is actually taking place in the buffer zones - private land which is largely managed by the provinces, communities or private individuals.

Because hunting is regulated in SA one needs to have a specific hunting permit in order to practice such. Applications for hunting permits are evaluated and issued by the respective provinces. SANParks does not have the mandate or the jurisdiction to regulate hunting in any area, be it private land or provincial managed land. The former Minister of Environmental Affairs and Tourism, Marthinus van Schalkwyk, started a process which sought to further regulate the hunting of wildlife. At present the current draft Norms and Standards for Hunting Nationally have been developed, which would put a stop to undesirable forms of hunting such as canned hunting.

Although hunting is not one of the activities on offer to visitors to national parks (and we do not envisage that it will become one any time in the future) we support the game farming and hunting industry as a form of land use that is sympathetic to biodiversity conservation. The fact that land-holders in buffer zones to national parks may derive income from sustainable hunting, is one of a range of incentives for them to keep the land in a state that is compatible with the maintenance of wildlife.

Contractual National Parks

In the case of contractual national parks, we accept that our contractual partners may derive income from sustainable use of wildlife, including hunting, if they so wish. It is important to further note that of South Africa's 122 million ha, only 7.5 million ha consists of state protected areas with 17 million ha of protected land in private hands.

In its bid to increase land under protection from the current six percent to 10 percent by 2012, the government may rely a lot on the contributions of the private sector. One must realise that the private sector relies a lot on the optimal, though sustainable, use of the land under its management.

In a number of these private establishments trophy hunting brings in a substantial amount of revenue which is put back into managing the area to make the industry selfsustainable. Some revenue is also allocated towards community outreach programmes.

For example, the Professional Hunters' Association of South Africa (Phasa) has established a Wildlife Conservation Fund that, according to them, seeks to sustain the hunting industry and to assist with the regulation of professional hunting. The funds are also used to finance accredited research projects, and most private game reserves supporting hunting are committed to establishing proper wildlife management techniques in order to maintain the area's ecological balance and therefore to sustain their own industry at the same time.

As to the wild claims that the animals being hunted in these buffer areas are those belonging to national parks, wildlife is declared res nullius (nobody's property) and as such, one cannot speculate on this matter. Animals are territorial by nature and are not prone to wander unless under extreme circumstances. The likelihood of these being national parks animals is minimal. Most of the animals in the private reserves were part of these reserves before the fences were removed. The only effect of removing the fences was to create more land for the animals.

With all of this in mind, it should be noted, however, that all hunting within the boundaries of national parks where fences have been dropped is done only under agreed conditions.

Hunting off-takes usually come to less than one percent of annual population reproduction. This is not nearly enough to create a vacuum that would draw game from the national parks. Due to the extensive boundary of the Kruger National Park and the myriad of streams of all sizes that it has to cross, it is virtually impossible to keep all animals in the park all the time.

As long as the sanctity of national parks is maintained according to the laws of the country, SANParks cannot dictate or control the activities of its neighbours. Although unpalatable to some, it is prudent to note that regulated trophy hunting is the one avenue through which wildlife can create substantial revenue for the sustainable management of some small protected areas and environments as well as the upliftment of adjacent communities.

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