Fences and Lions
Fences and Lions
by Ludolph Swanevelder, National Chair CHASA
The generation who lived in the beginning of the previous century, referred to game as “res nullius” – a Latin legal term which means that game “belongs to nobody”. Since mankind’s numbers have exceeded the 3 billion mark a few decades ago, this principle has become totally unsound when it comes to the successful conservation of wildlife. Game animals have no chance of survival if they belong to nobody. The successful North American model of conservation is based on game being owned collectively by the people, and the said people’s representatives manage the animals. This model also applies to Southern Africa’s national parks.
The South African model, responsible for the most successful conservation story of all times, is based on the principle that game is owned by an individual landowner. Seventy percent of all game animals in South Africa are owned by ranchers and this success story is based on the necessity of fencing, enabling the individual to own and manage the animals.
All animals on this planet have borders which restrict their movement. The home range of the majority is restricted by natural topography, or the availability of suitable habitat. Most are surrounded and restricted by human settlements or manmade infrastructure. Fences are just one more border restricting animal movement – but in a world of increasing human numbers, these fences have become an imperative for the survival of game.
The principles of ethical hunting requires that the hunted animal have a fair chance of escape from his pursuer, and further that the animal be located in suitable habitat where it can be self-supporting. The vast majority of South Africa’s fenced game farms comply with these requirements, and we can therefore deduce that the presence of fences is compatible with the principles of ethical hunting. During the last years a practice has developed to “hunt” lion in camps where they have no reasonable chance to escape, and the term ‘canned hunting’ has been coined to describe this practice. Responsible hunters totally reject the shooting of canned lions, and also reject the “hunting” of any other species under similar circumstances.
The scientific approach towards conservation does not make any distinction between indigenous species and does not favor one over the other. Favoritism of ‘celebrity-species’ is the style of animal rights activists – normally with the view of soliciting money form a well meaning but ill informed public. And favoritism is always detrimental to biodiversity. People who are serious about conservation will manage all wild species according to similar principles. The rules on which we manage other game species, must thus also be applied to lion.
When we then reject the shooting of canned lion, we must not overreact and reject all forms of lion hunting. Game conservationists acknowledge that sustainable utilization and game management require fenced areas, and this must also apply to lion. But lion hunts in these areas must be conducted according to ethical norms which comply with the requirements of fair chase, and in suitable habitat where the individual hunted lion is a part of a self-sustaining lion population.
Without the income incentive from responsible hunting of lion, no landowner will make land available for lions, and the conservation of lions will then become the responsibility of SANParks alone. What a tragedy for “Panthera leo”.