History & Status Quo of Recreational Hunting in South Africa


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Oct 1, 2007
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History and Status Quo of Recreational Hunting in South Africa, with some suggestions on improving the regulatory system on hunting on a national basis
Panel of Experts (POE), South African Department of Environmental Affairs


Hunting in this country is nothing new. Between 3 million years ago and 120 thousand years ago, primitive men in the form of Australopithecus and Homo erectus roamed the South African Highveld. Long after them, the Khoi-San Bushmen, Khoi Strandlopers and Khoi-Khoi Hottentots have sustained themselves and survived by hunting and gathering in Southern Africa for more than 40,000 years. They used their legendary bows and poison arrows to hunt every animal, from a duiker to an eland very successfully. Records of the Khoi-San in about 15000 rock art paintings and engravings, ranging in age between about 27000 and 150 years, mainly depict aspects of hunting.

The Nguni tribes arrived here form up the east coast between 600 and 500 years ago, bringing with them throwing spears and hunting dogs. Although they were cattle farmers, they only slaughtered and ate their animals on religious occasions. To substitute their diet of sour milk and millet with some meat, they hunted regularly, either in small groups with their dogs, or on big drives, using fire to drive animals over cliffs or into pits. This hunting was strictly regulated by kings and chieftains, who “owned” the game, and large areas were put aside for personal hunting, thereby in effect introducing conservation areas for sustainable utilisation.

During the 1400’s Portuguese explorers landed at Saldanha, Table Bay and Mossel Bay and recorded in their ships’ logs incidents of shooting “deer” for fresh meat.

Jan van Riebeeck landed in the Cape in 1652, and within a year the Cape Lion and the Hippo in the Liesbeeck River became a threat to the V.O.C. livestock and vegetable gardens. Within another year, the hippo was shot into local extinction, and the Cape lion was never to be seen again. Later, Governor Simon van der Stel was on a copper exploration into Namaqualand, when his coach was attacked and wrecked by an irate Black Rhino near Klawer. Rhino hunting in South Africa was born.

By the early 1700’s the Dutch trekboers started moving north into the Karoo and Klein Karoo meeting up with the vast herds of Springbuck, Kwagga, Blesbuck and other antelope, and virtually lived off these for 200 years. “Wildschietboeken”, or permits issued to the first South African farmers of European descent, are still in the Cape Archives, reflecting that regulatory measures became necessary to conserve the game.

Towards the beginning of the 1800’s the Eastern Cape was reached and ivory hunters started working on the herds of Elephant, making their fortunes in selling ivory. The Eastern Cape at this point became the gateway to Africa for explorer recreational hunters such as Gordon Cumming, Charles Baldwin and Cornwallis Harris, the latter who fortunately kept meticulous notes, sketches and journals. The latter regularly referred to assistance rendered by the local inhabitants during his hunts, and the knowledge they displayed on the habits of the various game species. Hundreds of fortune seeking ivory hunters of European as well as indigenous (mainly Griqua, Hottentot and Nguni) origin who thought that the game would never run out, depleted the herds considerably.

At about 1837, the Voortrekkers started moving through the Free State, settling along the way to the Transvaal, thus starting the great South African love affair with sustainable hunting. Boer ivory hunters started to operate and legends like Jan Viljoen, Petrus Jacobs, Hendrik van Zyl and Piet Botha became very well known. In the 1870’s they were joined by hunters like Selous, who learned from Jacobs and – amongst others – one Cigar, a well known Hottentot ivory hunter. All of the “legends” made mention of the indispensable assistance rendered by indigenous hunters accompanying them on their hunts.

During the “Victorian” era of the 1800’s, South Africa was seen by Europeans, as a hunting paradise. In 1860 “The Great Hunt” was organised for Queen Victoria’s middle son, Prince Alfred, on the farm Bainsvlei, just outside Bloemfontein. On this occasion a 1000 mounted Barralong tribesmen drove about 30000 head of game towards the Bainsvlei homestead, where more or less 5000 head were killed. The lion’s share of the meat was utilised by the families of the local tribesmen.

By the turn of the 1900’s, hunting had become firmly entrenched as part of South African traditions, and the deprivations of the Boer War had forced an impoverished population of Boers to utilise their legendary shooting skills to provide for their families off the veld. Following this, there was a period of 70 years of social, sport and biltong hunting hosted by farmers, for their relatives and friends from the cities and towns. Biltong and droêwors is now considered part of our national heritage!

It was only during the early 1970’s that it was realised that overseas hunters were willing to pay in foreign currency to come and hunt here. Earlier political unrest in Kenya (Uhuru) and elsewhere in Southern and East Africa frightened hunters from there, to the benefit of South Africa. Game farming and commercial hunting became a viable way of land use. The fact that a financial value was attached to the life of an animal and the privilege to hunt it, assured the survival and prosperity of species like the Black Wildebeest and Bontebok. The regulation of the trophy hunting industry promoted thousands of people in the game industry to qualify themselves as professional hunters and outfitters, but regulation of recreational hunting remained virtually stagnant.

The poor economics of domestic stock farming in some areas, aggravated by the declining value of the rand, proliferation of stock theft, droughts, etc. stimulated the growth in the game ranching industry, driven by the demand for recreational and trophy hunting. Scarce and expensive game became sought after, and with huge investments by game farmers, and local as well as overseas investors (mainly trophy hunters), breeding stock was acquired and these rare species were bred up to sustainable numbers. Further growth was stimulated by the changes on the political scene causing an influx of foreign tourists to the new South Africa.

It is quite clear that the hunting industry has benefited wildlife conservation in S A in a huge way. It drives the entire game ranching industry. The conversion of millions of hectares of stock farms to game farms also stimulated the proliferation of eco-tourism ventures. This has injected huge sums of money into the rural areas, which have been in the economic doldrums for the previous fifty years. The development of the hunting industry was – in many cases – the saviour of inhabitants of the rural areas, and should remain that for years to come.

The statistics by Prof. Theuns Eloff for the year 2000, according to a Farmers Weekly article, reflects the contributions by the principal components of the game industry:

• Biltong (or Recreational) Hunting - R450m
• Trophy (Foreign) Hunting - R153m
• Live Game Sales - R180m
• Eco Tourism - R40m
• Venison Sales - R20m
• Total - R843m

These figures have grown substantially in the past five years (in the Eastern Cape at an average of approximately 20% per annum), and can probably be doubled for 2005.

From the above, it is clear that the recreational hunter contributes more than half (53%) of the total income generated by the game industry, or put differently, it contributed more than all the other components collectively!

During the seventies, most of the provincial hunting associations in South Africa were established.

Hunters Associations in South Africa, the two key players being CHASA (Confederation of Hunters Associations of S A) – representing 19 different hunting associations in the country - and SAHGCA (South African Hunters and Game Conservation Association) officially represent the recreational hunter component of the industry, with a combined membership of about 40,000, spread out in provincial and regional branches and affiliated associations all over the country. It is estimated that another 200,000 odd recreational hunters out there do not – at this stage -belong to any hunting association (based on the selling of hunting licenses).

Hunters associations have, as their primary task, the training and education of its members. This is aimed mainly at (i) ethical behaviour in the hunting veld, and the various associations have - over the years - developed their own Codes of Ethical Conduct. Most of these Codes of Conduct defines aspects such as “Fair Chase”, although recognition is given to practices of ecological management such as culling/harvesting, vermin control, etc., with the proviso that these activities will not be regarded within the context of hunting.
Training and education is, furthermore, focussed on (ii) the development of the hunters skills and abilities, in order to comply to the FIRST LAW OF ETHICS, viz. “TO KILL AS CLEANLY AND HUMANELY AS POSSIBLE”, and the full utilisation of the carcass, which forms part of the ethical approach.

Regulations alone will never succeed in cleaning up the hunting industry. Hunters associations, and the discipline it can enforce via peer pressure, is the only effective and practical way that the hunting industry in South African can regulate itself, and stay vibrant in future. This must be actively supported by DEAT.

Government involvement in the Hunting Industry

DEAT has a mentorship role, and is the custodian for conservation in South Africa.

Canned hunting and “Put-and-Take”)
The initiative taken by Minister van Schalkwyk to draft norms and standards for hunting in South Africa, has been long overdue. Rogue activities by so-called “hunters” (mainly instigated by hunting outfitters) have done almost irreparable damage to the public’s perception of the noble recreational activity of hunting, and should be stamped out completely. Canned shooting has been going on for many years, seemingly with the blessing of the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism, since no regulations, policies or actions have been implemented to eradicate this. The practice of “Put-and-Take” should also be investigated and regulated, since this practice can be as damaging to the image of the hunter as is canned shooting. This is common practise and even some National Parks are supplying trophy quality animals – horn lengths published in their game auction catalogues – for auctioning, knowing full well that those animals will soon be offered to foreign trophy hunters.

Damage – causing animals
Damage – causing animals along the boundaries of certain National Parks should be managed according to well construed guidelines set by DEAT. Presently, provincial conservation departments only allow hunting outfitters to utilise these animals for foreign clients. South African citizens, recreational hunters should get first option to hunt these animals, being from a heritage resource, which have at inception largely been funded by taxpayers’ money. Interested, qualified citizen hunters can, via their hunting associations, put their names on a waiting list, and can be contacted as soon as a problem animal is identified. This way, a willing hunter will be found within hours, and not weeks as is currently often the case with outfitters waiting for their next clients to arrive. These animals must be eradicated a.s.a.p. to prevent negative impact on people’s livelihood. Hunting associations such as CHASA will devise their own mechanisms to ensure fair allocation of such hunts. DEAT should investigate a firm policy of a fixed minimum percentage of such hunts to be offered to citizen hunters first. Parts of the proceeds, and meat from these hunts, should go to the local communities.

Controlled hunting in associated private reserves
Controlled hunting in associated private reserves neighbouring onto national parks should be allowed, since the income generated is in most cases ploughed back into conservation. These buffer zones, protecting adjacent populated areas, must be economically viable to it’s shareholders, even though the resource base is shared with the adjacent park.

Hunting in provincial nature reserves
Most provincial nature reserves are too small to qualify as ecological systems, and game management is unavoidable. In the past, live game capture was a good management tool, but the demand for live game has dwindled and hunting is probably the only economically viable option. Again -, citizen hunters should be given the first option, or a set percentage of the packages offered. Hunters Associations can largely assist with the fair allocation of such hunts to experienced, qualified hunters. Bowhunting, which is becoming very popular and has a low disturbance factor, can be allowed to run in parallel with eco-tourism where the latter is an important component of income generation.

Exotic species
Exotic species have a record of up to a century in this country (e.g. fallow deer and lechwe in the Eastern Cape, the former having been introduced more than a century ago, and the latter more than 50 years ago). Introduced indigenous species (to regions where they did not occur historically), e.g. impala, waterbuck, giraffe, etc. into the Eastern Cape, or blesbuck, black wildebeest, etc. into the Northern Provinces have been established decades ago, with the blessing of the conservation authorities, as long as fencing requirements were kept. In many instances, these species were often supplied by the Nature Conservation authorities themselves! To wish these animals away, or try to eradicate it, would be futile. This should be seen as just another farming commodity. On private land, economics have been the main drive for conservation, and the game rancher has – in many cases – bred up scarce species because of its potential economic benefits. One should, never forget that active game ranching is done because of its economic benefits. The positive conservation aspect is purely a spin-off and seen in its entirety, has more conservation benefits than negatives. The introduced game species should be treated as just another farming commodity, as is all introduced domestic stock, which has in numerous cases caused irreparable damage to vegetation in certain areas. However, given the spirit of the new Biodiversity Act, CHASA cannot condone the captive breeding and release of totally alien species such as the Ring-necked Pheasant and French Helmeted Guinea fowl, especially since birds cannot be contained by fences

Outdated bowhunting legislation
W.r.t. Bowhunting, most current provincial Ordinances, regulations and policies were written more than 20 years ago, and has not kept pace with the phenomenal progress in the technical development of modern compound bows. The growing popularity of this form of recreational hunting requires DEAT to compile a national policy w.r.t. bowhunting, since the current provincial Ordinances or policies all have vastly different technical specifications. With a bowhunting proficiency certificate from an accredited bowhunting training institute, the bowhunter should be able to buy a bowhunting license (that will be valid in all the provinces) for the season. It should be up to the landowner to decide whether he will permit bowhunting, as is his prerogative w.r.t. the caliber he will allow for certain species on his property.

Discrepancies in legislation
There are huge discrepancies between the various provincial conservation bodies on hunting legislation, regulations and policies. The confusion caused by this is often intentionally exploited by rogue hunters, or unintentionally by the uninformed, hunter. Hunting licenses should be valid nationally (and should cost the same everywhere) since it makes better sense that the hunter should be licensed, and not the hunt. Income generated by hunting licenses should largely be ploughed back into hunting (e.g. law enforcement), or BEE in the hunting industry. Implementation of a Tagging System can replace the species permit system. (More about that later). Provincial agencies also differs w.r.t. the requirement for hunting licenses or not on CAE (Certificate of Adequate Enclosure) of “exempted" properties, which causes great confusion and often leads to ethical hunters unintentionally breaking the law. Uniformity of hunting Ordinances in the nine provinces is essential.

Honourary Nature Conservation officers
Experience during the last 10 years has taught the industry that most provincial conservation agencies are unable or unwilling to act against hunting rogues – those that do things illegally. Since 1994, most experienced law enforcement officers have left the provincial conservation agencies, resulting in the capacity to fulfil essential responsibilities, largely being eroded. Unethical practices are not getting any attention at present. However, if hunting associations combine forces with the conservation agencies, unethical practices (and corruption) can largely be stamped out. Although most of the Provincial Ordinances provide for the appointment of Honourary Nature Conservation officers, the various agencies seem to be reluctant to appoint them. Most hunters would be honoured to serve as such, and this can go a long way in alleviating staff shortages with the agencies. Most Hunters Associations have a “conservation” component in their names and Constitutions, and will actively promote their members’ activities in this regard.

Education of the public
This will help change the ill perceptions the general public presently has on hunting. A huge challenge is the education of the public to appreciate the role hunting plays in conservation, and to condone hunting as long as it is done in an ethically (in all its senses) acceptable way. The recreational hunter should have nothing to hide away, and should be publicly proud of the fact that he/she is an ethical hunter.

Compulsory training/mentorship
CHASA feels strongly about the compulsory training of all hunters. Currently, anyone in legal possession of a hunting rifle can legally hunt (with a few provisos such as a valid hunting license – bought over a counter – and letter from the landowner), even if he/she has never been exposed to hunting! W.r.t. the “First Law of Ethics” – “To Kill as cleanly and humanely as possible” – no one can expect of a novice hunter to comply if he/she has never been made aware of what this entails by a fellow hunter or hunters association. The same goes for all the other rules of ethical conduct. Similarly, novice – or even experienced hunters having been brought up in a not-so-ethical hunting environment - often break the law since they have never been exposed to their provincial hunting Ordinances or Proclamations, regulating aspects such as daily bag limits, species and gender limitations, certain areas closed for certain species, or even the details of the annual hunting season. With compulsory basic hunters training, or a system of mentorship whereby novice hunters are guided/mentored by professional hunters or master hunters from hunters associations, ignorance of the law cannot be pleaded.

Corporate hunting is a classic example of novice hunters often being “thrown in at the deep end” without having had any basic training or exposure to hunting. In many instances, these individuals know nothing or very little about hunting or any of the essential subjects related to hunting, such as the relevant hunting legislation, ethics, basic ballistics (e.g. .223 caliber not suitable for kudu), shot placement/vital areas, basic ecology (e.g. how old before a kudu calf is weaned), gender ID etc. Money often dictates the ethics (or lack thereof!) during such hunts.

A would-be hunter should not be able to buy his/her annual hunting license if he/she cannot produce his/her “hunters ticket” (or whatever we want to call it), earned by training and/or mentorship. Courses of this kind (this can be completed in one day) can be offered by hunting associations, who already have the capacity to do this. Existing dedicated hunters or PH’s will automatically qualify for their “hunters tickets” (process of RPL). The landowner should welcome this basic training, since he’ll get a better informed hunter and better accomplice for essential management, resulting in better shot placement (cleanly killed animals), better ethics, etc.

Preferably all hunters should belong to a hunters association (compare Germany and the Scandinavian countries). To enforce ethical behaviour would be extremely difficult if the person does not belong to a hunting association, since peer pressure has proven to be the most effective way to improve the wrong ways of a person. However, our Constitution (inter alia the aspect of “Freedom of association)” could make this difficult to enforce.

Hunting on CAE/exempted properties
Hunting on CAE or exempted properties is largely regulated by the landowner, and further restrictive regulations by the conservation agencies should not be imposed. However, on “open farms” where the game animals “belongs to the state”, current regulations are far from adequate, and open to abuse. A challenge for DEAT and the hunting industry to take up, would be to devise a regulatory system that would address the following:
• Regulate off-take on open properties in accordance with ecological management principles (hunting seasons often not ecologically defendable)
• Prevent over-exploitation (over off-take) from individual “open” properties (over –shooting on one property can cause a “vacuum” effect, “sucking” in game from adjacent properties)
• Combat poaching
• Prevent abuse of crop-damage permits (using permit over and over)
• Generate income for essential research in the industry
• Provide good, essential statistics on the recreational hunting industry

Very few (if any) of our provinces have any reliable way to compile statistics of numbers and species hunted in that province every year. One of the biggest problems faced by institutions doing research in the game industry is the almost total lack of statistics w.r.t off-take (and values) of animals in the recreational hunting industry (as opposed to the trophy hunting industry, where excellent statistics are generated annually, due to the relatively good regulation of the export of trophies by this component of the game industry).

Introduction of a tagging system
The implementation and enforcement of a well-researched and designed TAGGING system can effectively fulfil all of the above requirements.

This could be considered for all species, but preferably mainly for the indigenous species in an area, e.g. kudu, bushbuck, mountain reedbuck, etc. in the Eastern Cape. Introduced species should remain the responsibility of the landowner to manage as he/she sees fit. For the bona fide game rancher, these introduced species are just another farming commodity, and since he has paid for these animals, he should have sole discretion w.r.t. off-take. This tagging system will provide a good control mechanism for more effective control of numbers of game harvested, and allow for better statistics pertaining to natural game populations, to ensure that such populations remain viable and are not over exploited. The way of implementation could be that the landowner should apply on an annual basis for a specific number of tags for specific species occurring naturally on his/her property. When applying for his/her tags, he/she must provide certain basic information regarding size of the property, type of farming taking place, etc. In assessing criteria, farmers associations and hunting associations can be called upon by the conservation authority to assist in the matter.

The cost of the tag (this should be affordable) is passed on to the hunter. The tag should be something similar to those used in the USA, since “paper” tags or booklets are open to abuse. A plastic tag (can be attached only once) should be attached to the carcass from the veld to the end user, be it the hunter’s home, butchery or meat processing factory, and serial numbers on the tag must allow tracing of the carcass to its provenance, i.e. the landowner. All used and unused tags must be returned to the conservation authority (with a refund in the case of unused tags) by the end of each season, where a proper database can be established.

If the viability of a TAGGING system is considered in principle, hunting associations can assist with developing the mechanics thereof.

Benefits to rural and previously disadvantaged communities
The biggest challenge for the hunting industry will be the development of a scheme whereby rural communities, specifically the previous disadvantaged, get their fair share of the fruit of the industry. The CAMPFIRE type projects in Zimbabwe and other Southern African countries can serve as a good example to follow. Hunting associations are willing to take hands with government to identify opportunities for BEE, without compromising the development and vibrancy of the hunting industry. CHASA, via some of it’s associations, has actively become involved in this.

Recreational hunters, via their hunting associations, should go out of their way to introduce members of other population groups to the joys of hunting. If one experiences the way most black /coloured trackers and guides enjoy the hunt, one can imagine the pleasure they would derive from being the hunters themselves! With the right tuition, guidance and mentorship, these born fieldsmen can be honed to become excellent hunters. Hunting associations, with their established access to hunting opportunities on private property, can assist new entrants from the previously disadvantaged communities to get going. However, the Firearms Control Act, specifically w.r.t. first time firearm owners, will make this a huge challenge in which we as recreational hunters should assist as far as possible.

Provincial and national forums/committees
Committees or forums established on provincial as well as national levels, whereon all role players in the hunting industry can communicate to facilitate problems, needs and input to the conservation agencies, has proven to be extremely productive and beneficial to conservation and hunting in general. A very good example is SECSICOM (Stakeholders in the Eastern Cape Safari Industry Committee), in the Eastern Cape, wherein 14 different role players interact with the conservation authorities on a regular basis. Similar initiatives have been established by KZN and North West Hunters Associations, and should be promoted in all the provinces as well as nationally.

The above suggestions and those by other organisations which may be accepted for implementation by the panel and DEAT to improve the regulatory measures for the hunting industry, will take very hard work, dedication and commitment by all role players to achieve, but if we want hunting to be a way of living, also for our children and those after them, we have no option.

Without proper enforcement, the best regulatory system is doomed to failure, as is the best Code of Ethics if not propagated and applied by hunters associations. Only compliance to a well enforced regulated industry, strengthened by impeccable ethical norms, will ensure a sustainable, publicly acceptable and “clean” recreational hunting industry. Only then will CHASA’s slogan “Standards in Hunting” and everything it entails, become a way of living for the recreational hunter.
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