Southern African Leopard Hunting Perspectives


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Aug 21, 2009
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Southern African Leopard Hunting Perspectives
courtesy of African Outfitter

The editor of African Outfitter decided to tackle the issue of Leopard Hunting with Hounds and asked Ron Sparks and Ronnie Rowland to share their views with the readers. African Indaba appreciates that permission was given to reproduce the two articles.

African Outfitter is an independent bimonthly publication promoting fair hunting and ethical business practices within the hunting industry. From a hunting perspective, the preservation of biodiversity on the African continent is the first and foremost priority. The emphasis is however also on the sustainable utilization of wildlife.

Editor's Note: The readers should note that the Professional Hunters Association of South Africa (PHASA) does not support the practice of using dogs for hunting purposes, where the dog or dogs act as the hunter. This policy, adopted by the PHASA EC in 2001, included that hunting leopards with hounds being considered as contrary to the spirit of the PHASA Code of Conduct. The policy was put to vote at the 2004 PHASA AGM, after being challenged by the houndsmen. A seventy percent majority vote supported the PHASA EC stance, thus ending the debate. When Roy Sparks brought the issue to the attention of the EC at the 2005 AGM, it was dismissed.

The Houndsmen Say...
by Roy Sparks


The traditional method of hunting leopard used by most safari operators is by the baiting method. A few lucky hunters have taken them by chance during the course of other hunting activities and in this case it is purely by opportunity.

About ten years ago a small number of houndsmen started making their services available to outfitters seeking the assistance of their hounds that were being used to hunt problem predators in stock farming areas. The houndsmen along with their keen scented and well-trained hounds were soon to revolutionize leopard hunting in southern Africa in respect of the safari industry. Due to the amazing results and quality of the experience the hunting client was afforded, the practice soon gained in popularity in the market place and is now a client-driven demand. This can be attributed to vision and foresight on the part of those now in the enviable position of being able to offer these hunts.


The houndsmen are specialists at their task of tracking problem predators and their knowledge and skill acquired from years of hunting extremely cunning livestock killers has been adapted to tracking leopard, making for an immensely informative and interesting hunt for anyone involved. Even for the bystander this is a most rewarding experience as you are taken into the Kingdom of the Stealth Killer. This is a proactive approach to pursuing leopard and is more often than not a hunt for a specific individual leopard that has a history of livestock predation. These leopard are specialists in their own right having evaded all conventional attempts by farmers, professional hunters and the game departments at bringing them to book. Conducting a hunt of this nature is an extremely revealing and rewarding experience for the client who is taken in pursuit of the leopard and enters his domain. The hunt may take the full duration (14 days) and it may be over in less time but the final out- come is not guaranteed. Like all hunting, these hunts are not always successful as there are limiting factors that may influence the final outcome.

This is a positive approach to hunting leopard as often a damage permit is awarded and these leopard are harvested using less desirable methods such as poisoning and trapping. The damage permit is awarded irrespective of a client being involved or not and is not related to the CITES quota. If a problem leopard is hunted by a paying client it serves a good purpose as it means the harvesting of a problematic animal by a hunter that would otherwise be eradicated by any method, foul or fair. Fewer leopard will be put under pressure as this concept will be serving a double purpose. The CITES quota is over and above all leopard that are harvested as problem animals. The perfect way to deal with these leopard is by tracking them with trained hounds and making the chance and experience available to a willing and paying client. It is a sensible and practical solution.

A very valuable point to mention at this stage is that the reader needs to be informed that those of us who specialize in this practice use trail hounds. This group of hunting dogs has several breed types who characteristically use their keen noses to track scent that is invisible to the naked eye a truly remarkable feat. The specialist can train his hound to be absolutely target specific. These hound breeds can be traced back for centuries and were developed for the specific purpose of hunting by trailing scent deposits left by the game animal they are expected to pursue. If they manage to close the gap they are expected to hold the animal at bay until the hunters arrive on foot dispatch it. The pointing breeds can attribute their origins to the true hounds. Hunting breeds of dogs are synonymous in the world of hunting and we should be proud to still have them as valued assistants in the field for whatever purpose. To start discarding these ancient practices which are the very essence of the chase is senseless and in doing so we may as well throw in the towel on all forms of hunting. For most of us true hunters this is very much a heritage and tradition that we should be proud of and keep on handing down from generation to generation.

Hunting with hounds has come under attack from many fronts, the most surprising of which is from our very own Professional Hunters' Association (PHASA). Their reason is supposedly due to the ethics of this form of hunting. From 1993 until now my hound teams have completed 160 successful leopard hunts. I have not had a single client question either the fairness or ethics of this method of hunting. I have, however, had many clients who have previously tried to secure a leopard by the baiting method, who had reflected on these experiences with contempt due to certain malpractices, etc.

It would be unfair not to acknowledge the skill of some pro-hunters at baiting leopard and the skill required in order to do so successfully. This method entails putting up bait such as sections of warthog or impala in a tree and is usually applied in the true wilderness areas like northern Botswana, areas of Zimbabwe and Tanzania. The results are quite often positive. However, we must not confuse or compare the situations there or the leopard to leopard that co-exist with and are in constant confrontation with us humans due to their predation habits on ranches. The scenario differs entirely. Ranch leopard are street-wise and over generations have adapted to become super cunning stealth operators that will seldom if ever take bait. They have adapted so well under these conditions that they actually thrive and do remarkably well despite the odds that seem to be stacked against them. I am willing to say that, percentage wise, most of the top ranking leopard trophies come out of cattle ranching areas. This in itself bears testimony as to how successful they actually are.

Here a problem exists in that often a rancher is not satisfied in having to wait for a pro-hunter using baits to kill a problem leopard with his client. It simply takes too long and is seldom successful and during this period he and his neighbors will sustain losses due to predation which they cannot afford and will not tolerate. They normally then take the matter into their own hands, often using poison with devastating results and aftereffects.

Proudly the hounds have proved to be a practical, sensible solution in this respect and as a direct result have convinced farmers owning many thousands of hectares of land throughout southern Africa that there is a successful way of dealing with stock killers. All the private land we hunt on is now poison free and for the most part trap free. The leopard we hunt are free roaming and cover many farms in their territories. The farmers receive a handsome reward from us and most are far more tolerant of leopard on their land than before. I claim this as a very positive contribution on the part of the houndsmen and their teams toward conservation and ironically to the long-term welfare of the leopard and other carnivores.

What needs serious addressing at this point is PHASA's adopted policy against the use of hounds for tracking leopard. PHASA has taken orders from the NSPCA and has acted in favor of their whims, rather than sticking to its guns on a practice that has many merits for both the hunting industry and conservation. If PHASA allows an organization like NSPCA to influence them, they are playing right into their hands.

In the UK fox hunting and firearms have been banned, a classic victory for the anti's using the old method of divide and rule. We cannot afford a division or any concessions to the anti's as it is just the first nail in the coffin. All hunting is under threat and none of us in the business of hunting or those that contribute to hunting by way of paying for the privilege to hunt can afford division at all. We need to be rational and tolerant and supportive of all role-players in the hunting practice.

We houndsmen are sorely tempted to join the fray and get involved in the mud-slinging in an effort to defend ourselves. If we had to reveal what is currently happening during some of these baited hunts it would only serve to further strengthen the case of any radical anti-hunting movements by discrediting hunters as a whole, and assisting the anti's to reach their ultimate goal which would be an outright ban on all hunting. My goal is to achieve unity between us hunters by encouraging tolerance and common sense.

PHASA would be respected by all concerned hunters if they would only acknowledge the fact that they actually oppose hound hunting because it is far more successful than baiting, not because of the ethics or NSPCA. They regard this as unfair competition as many hunting clients are choosing to hunt their leopards with hounds, rather than do a baited hunt. Unfortunately not every outfitter has access to a good hound team, but pretending to concede to demands by NSPCA is a shameful excuse. We believe PHASA's true motive is competition in the industry. They would do better to come on board and benefit from the services we can assist with, rather than resort to conniving tactics. At this point they are portraying divided loyalties, which should be a matter of extreme concern to all participating in the industry and creating a wonderful opportunity for the anti-hunting fraternity to divide and rule!

I attended the 2005 PHASA AGM to represent the Southern African Houndsmen Association (SAHA). At this meeting, I was informed by Mr Stewart Dorrington, chairman of PHASA, that his association had already adopted a policy against the use of hounds to track leopard and that there would be no further discussion on the matter as a decision had already been reached.

Dorrington explained that the decision was in the best interest of PHASA and the hunting industry. He explained that in dealing with NSPCA, he was told by their representatives that they did not have problems with hunting as such, but practices like using dogs to hunt leopard were unacceptable to them. In respect of their sentiment toward this practice, he felt that PHASA should distance itself and not associate itself with anyone using hounds.

I feel PHASA should seriously reconsider conceding to the wishes of an extremely anti-bloodsport organization, as believing that the society actually condones certain methods of sport hunting is extremely naive. Making concessions to an organization like NSPCA is just the first nail in the coffin. What will be their next demand? Hunting with hounds is a perfectly acceptable and very popular method of hunting many animals in Europe and the Americas. Why is PHASA suddenly supposedly embarrassed to be associated with it?

At a special meeting called for Eastern Cape members concerning several matters, I used the opportunity to raise this issue again. This took place during the same PHASA conference mentioned above. A vote was called for by those attending this meeting and virtually everyone voted in favor of the use of hounds for hunting. Realizing the popularity and support this practice received, Matthew Greef, in defense of PHASA, stated that PHASA was not in favor of hunting leopard this way. PHASA did not have a problem with the use of hounds for hunting caracal or bushpig, or for that matter, employing them to flush blue duiker and bushbuck. I find this remark to be a contradiction to the policy adopted by PHASA. The question which now begs to be asked is how can leopard be accorded a higher status than other game animals and on what grounds? I was taught to revere and respect all huntable game animals, irrespective of the species or if it was classified as one of the Big Five. We are talking about basic principles.

Briefly, before closing, I would like to add that hounds have been around for a long time. This is not something new and sinister. There are records of the British settlers bringing hounds into the Cape in the 1800's and a lot of leopard were successfully hunted with hounds in the old Cape province because of predation on domestic stock. It is only recently, since money has become involved, that we who have had the vision to offer these classical hunts to paying clients, have been the target of our competitors who do not offer these hunts. Some other operators who do not have access to hounds regard us as a threat because so many clients now want to book their leopard hunt with hounds. It has become obvious to us as houndsmen that we are simply being targeted by fellow hunters so as to eliminate us as competitors in the business! As the old saying goes, "Money is the root of all evil!" How sad it is that our very own association chooses to "run with the hares, rather than hunt with the hounds!"

Views of an Old Professional Hunter
by Ronnie Rowland, Past President PHASA


Ortega made famous the words: "A hunter does not hunt to kill, but kills to have hunted". The struggle to survive, the keenest of senses and the wisdom of experience are the hallmarks of the hunted. To pit your own skills, senses and wisdom against those of the struggle hardened and wisest of the bush, be it an old kudu bull or leopard, constitutes the true spirit and ultimate experience of selective trophy hunting. To me hunting is neither a sport nor an art. It is much more it is a way of life, it encapsulates my whole existence, it embodies the soul of my being. Humankind has become entrapped in comfort and luxury it can no longer escape the modern way of life, which is driven by self-interest and materialism. Quick-fix solutions, fast and ready food habits, instant guaranteed results and consumerism, are the order of the day. Modern life governed by technology has left no part of our existence untouched, not even hunting. To underline this fact compare the development of safari hunting of yesteryear to that of today, e.g. the basic fly camp has in most cases been turned into a luxury 5-star lodge. So too, compare the evolution that has taken place in our own fraternity. Today just about anyone, even "suites" (city slickers), can become PH's and outfitters. In most cases we have evolved from being a person who grew up with nature and was part thereof, loving the wilderness for what it is, to being an astute business manager, driven by demand and supply, detached from the ways of the wild, serving the demands of the modern-day client who in most cases is a collector, wanting to bag as many animals in as short a time possible.


The trophy has been reduced to being a collection item. Its value is judged according to the tape measure and record book. I often wonder about what and whose record book? What has happened to the actual experience i.e. the hunt itself? The only thing that seems to count nowadays is instant results and even worse, guarantees. Ten or more trophies in seven days supermarket hunting fuelling the practices of put and take, guaranteed lion (canned) and leopard (caged) shooting.

Gone are the days of the true spirit of hunting where the actual hunt overshadowed everything, where nothing was guaranteed, where you had to depend on your skills, senses (including the sixth sense what is that?) and knowledge of the bush and its animals. No longer (in most cases) does a client book his/her hunt with a personality e.g. a Selby, who has earned his reputation and experience the hard way deserving respect. On the contrary, as pointed out, most of the modern-day clients want quick-fix, guaranteed, instant results since their time is limited and their money is the sweetest lure to those outfitters who readily adapt and provide him/her with what they want. Welcome to the world where the thunder of the dollar god reigns.

Reading the above you may think that here we have another old cynical PH yearning for the glory of days gone by. Or you might even think of me as a relic of the past who, just like the dinosaurs, cannot adapt and will become extinct. If so, you are wrong on both accounts because I believe there are enough of us around (old and new PH's) who have a conscience and who can stop the rot by standing up to be counted and show the way back to the roots. Now you will be asking, what has this got to do with the topic being discussed? Allow me to explain.

Being a known opponent of hunting leopard with hounds as well as having been part of the deliberations and decisions on this subject, I was asked to put my thoughts on paper. Addressing this sensitive issue I would like to, at the outset, clarify my position with a few points of departure. First and foremost, I would like to state that I am neither against hounds nor ethical hounds men. I know quite a few and respect them. Secondly, being of German descent, I certainly do not contest the place of hounds or gundogs in the tradition of hunting. On the contrary, they have earned their rightful place as a hunting companion and aid, e.g. in the wingshooting fraternity. In addition they have become an integral part of for example the European hunting tradition (where human tracking skills have almost become obsolete) as flushing dogs during driven hunts or as tracking dogs once game is wounded.

Even in our own country the tradition of using well trained dogs for predator control or driven hunts are part and parcel of traditional hunting amongst our indigenous peoples and especially the folk from the Eastern Cape. The latter tradition mainly evolved from a yearly social event where farmers, their families and friends gathered, whilst unfortunately it needs to be said that the former type of dog hunting by indigenous people has changed from being a hunt for meat for existence to being a gambling exercise and commercial poaching.

All this, however, has in my opinion nothing to do with hunting leopard with hounds. If so, then what? Having briefly touched on our modern way of life in my introduction, I believe that we as entrapped consumers are being forced away from nature. As guiding principle in our market-driven global economy a false rationality, namely brutal capitalism, has become the norm of survival. I use the term "false rationality" deliberately since it should and cannot be construed as being the same as the rationality which is inherent in the ways of the wild, where mutual respect despite inequality and survival of the fittest are the norms of the day.

In addition to this, is it not true that generally speaking supply and demand plus maximizing profits have become the essence of our existence? By this I mean that most of our decisions and actions are based on calculable utilitarian reasoning. Even in hunting we have embarked on a mission of trying to justify our actions and existence by means of utilitarian arguments such as the sustainable utilization of wildlife based on the wise consumptive use as a means.

In 1998, I have already made the point that we are neglecting morality in our reasoning. With regards to ethics I furthermore argued that the root problem in many cases was our refusal to admit to some things we do as being ethically indefensible, even though they might be legal or tradition.

The common error we keep on making whenever reasoning about ethical behavior, I believe, is confusing prudence with morality. Prudence in this case means acting with one's overall best interest in mind, whilst morality sometimes requires sacrificing self-interest in the service of a greater good. In practical terms this means that prudent decisions (e.g. hunting problem leopard with hounds as a wise consumptive use alternative) require thorough knowledge of the issue at stake only (e.g. overpopulation of leopard, livestock farmers killing leopard with poison, using hound hunting to increase success rate and change farmer's attitude, etc.) whilst moral decisions involve something more, namely conscience (e.g. is it morally defensible to chase down the prince of stealth, king of survival and ultimate hunter with a pack of hounds to have a paying client kill it or does this type of killing leave this noble creature any dignity?) Obligations and actions in wildlife preservation and conservation have no moral meaning without conscience! Bare facts alone should never supersede our conscience!

Furthermore it needs to be emphasized that most of us tend to confuse legality, inclusive of traditions, with morality. For example, we know that many immoral activities and behavior are prohibited by law. This, however, should not soothe our conscience, since not all behavior permitted by law can be considered as being moral. A case in point is the "canned lion" or captive bred lion shooting debacle. We as hunters should never assume that whatever the game and hunting laws and regulations permit or even tradition supports, is morally correct or acceptable. We are all obliged to evaluate on an ongoing basis all laws, traditions and actions according to our moral sense.

This brings us to the question on hand whether hound hunting of leopard should be permitted or not. In arguing this point I want to emphasize that my quarrel is neither with ethical hounds men nor their hounds. It also needs to be pointed out that I'm neither a total novice in this regard nor am I an inexperienced protagonist against hound hunting, speaking for a lobby, since I have myself chased down cattle killers with mongrel dogs in my youth as well as have had the opportunity to experience first hand leopard and caracal hunting with well-trained hounds in the company of ethical houndsmen. As far as anyone else is concerned, allow me to assure you that I have always been my own man with my own ideas. Those of you who know me, know this to be true because I have always put animals first. Thus my arguments, points of view and discussion do not purport to be the know it all and be it all they merely portray my opinion and soul.

The first point I would like to raise in this regard is the question who actually hunts the leopard when a houndsman and hounds are involved? Is it not so that it is the houndsman, more specifically his hounds? The paying client merely tries to keep up with the dogs, which seldom happens, eventually reaching the point where the dogs have either cornered or treed the leopard and then kills it. Question: How many houndsmen can keep up with the hounds, let alone PH's and clients? Based on my opening thoughts on hunting I cannot but deduce that in this case it is the hounds that do the hunting and not the PH and his client. He merely does the killing and irrespective of the thrill of the chase, he definitely does not hunt according to my definition.

My second concern raises the question of ethics versus materialism. As pointed out to Barry York, a well-respected hounds man arguing for the case of hound hunting leopard, I do not believe that in our world today there are many Barry Yorks around, irrespective of whether we can by law regulate this activity e.g. by limiting the registered number of packs, etc. There are just no guarantees avoiding the pitfalls where materialistic aims will supersede true ethical behavior. I know most of my col- leagues and certain farmers and, sad as it may seem, soon we could be confronted by the fact that every leopard becomes a problem animal.

As a matter of fact, some farmers would be happy to eradicate the leopard in their area and so too there are outfitters/PH's who would readily oblige. Believe it or not, but it has already happened that in certain areas two to three hound- hunted leopard were killed as problem leopard, but only the largest was reported for export purposes.

In addition we should not turn a blind eye to the development of hound-hunting the bongo in certain African states. This elusive forest dweller once upon a time represented the holy grail of African hunting (fortunately in some areas still does) no guarantees of success plus the difficulty of the hunt and its terrain including climate, rightly elevated it to a status beyond the dreams of everyday mortals.

Is it a coincidence that after the introduction of hounds in certain areas and states that we see more and more outfitters and agents at hunting conventions offering 100% bongo hunts? Add to this the remarks of some well-respected taxidermists that the trophy quality of bongo has diminished drastically over the past few years and we can safely assume another victory for our market-driven march of folly where demand and supply dictate. Having said this, it however also needs to be pointed out that the above should not detract from the fact that there are still more than enough ethical bongo outfitters and PH's out there that have not bowed to the dollar god. Hats off to our iron men within the ranks of our fraternity!

Whilst on the topic of materialistic gain (refer to introductory remarks) the following question inadvertently jumps to mind: Why is it that purporters argue that stock farmers can be educated and persuaded to rather conserve their leopard than poison them? Why can this only be done by raising the success rate of leopard hunting through hound hunting? Why not increase the price of a leopard hunt to be on par with lion and elephant hunting and to pay the farmer accordingly? Won't the latter also change the farmer's attitude to rather conserve?

I personally do not for one minute believe this, since a farmer that poisons in most cases will carry on doing so! My father always said a leopard never changes its spots. The same goes for the unethical PH and outfitter. Thus my answer to the argument of increasing the success rate and possible greater conservation of leopard by stock farmers is that only one party can gain by this, namely the PH/outfitter since the demand by clients exists and money is to be made. Where possibly could the moral base be regarding this position? To my mind non-existent! On a side-note who was first, the leopard or the cow?

Turning to a more emotive dimension inherent in this discourse, which most of us tend to overlook, i.e. the leopard itself. Put yourself in his shoes (paws) and view the whole exercise and happening of hound hunting through his eyes.

To actually understand this, we need to first take a closer look at who and what he is. To me he is the prince of the wildlife universe. He is the ultimate hunter (something we would all like to be). Silent, stealthy, powerful, secretive, cunning, regal, noble, he is grand, a gentleman (letting his lady feed first whilst pairing, in many cases, to the detriment of many an experienced and novice PH) and above all he is wise! Add any adjective to describe him and you will be spot-on. He embodies the totality of beauty in nature, dead or alive. When seeing him jump up effortlessly to the bait in the last rays of sunlight, his grace and poise, his golden brown illuminated skin represents the golden fleece of hunting, the sight of which to me is heaven on earth. If ever I were to be found worthy enough of being accepted beyond the pearly gates into the great hunting grounds in the sky I imagine he will be the shining light illuminating paradise.

Having waxed lyrical the essence of beauty to me as a hunter, we should also not forget that the leopard throughout his life survives on his own. Unlike his big brother, the lion, he is dependent on his own skills and cunning as a predator to prevail. To subject this animal to the practice of chasing him with a howling pack and in most cases with no escape and then having him killed by a paying client, to me is just not on! Imagine his panic trying to escape, then realizing there is no way out, cornered, he holes up or climbs into a tree, full of fear with the constant howling and yelping of hounds in his ears awaiting the henchman. No, this cannot be! We will be robbing him of everything he owns and represents there is no respect or dignity in killing him this way, irrespective of hound hunting traditions or anything else.

At least with baiting he still is the master of the situation and beats us hands down in most cases. I'd rather have hunted using all my skills, know-how and experience and not be successful, than to devaluate the personification of the ultimate predator. No money in the world, no existing hound hunting tradition, no demanding client, no stock farmer nor profit-driven PH/outfitter should be allowed to jeopardize the way of life of the true hunter. Prudence with self-interest as motive should never be allowed to supersede the greater good based on morality. A hunting world with no conscience will mean the end to us all.

To conclude, heed the following: Whatever you believe in right now, please consider my final statement. Do not at any time confuse the thrill of the chase of hounds hunting and the killing of the prince with the thrill of the chase based on your own skills and experience. Make every client part of the hunt to the extent that it becomes his hunt. Let the actual kill be secondary so that the total experience triumphs and has a moral foundation.

I salute every PH, including houndsmen, who has not lost his sense of being. Wisdom comes with experience and age. May we return to our origins where our love of the wildlife and nature, freedom and above all respect for Creation dictates our lives and not money.

PS: I am a leopard hunter who believes in baiting and blinds as the only traditional way of selective hunting with a moral base. To those of you, who frown upon this method, believe you me there is nothing more exhilarating, captivating and interesting than blinds and a wily old tomcat. Wish you were here to experience what I'm talking about, even though we might not have success.

Long live the prince!
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