The Professional Hunting Industry in South Africa: History & Future


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Aug 21, 2009
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The Professional Hunting Industry in South Africa: History & Future
by Stewart Dorrington


PHASA was established by some remarkable professional hunters, who saw the need of such an organization some 28 years ago. These old professional hunters were in it for the love... the love of nature, the love of outdoors and the love of hunting. It was hard to make money in those days it was more of a life style. I think of names like Steve Smith, Basie Maartens, Coenraad Vermaak, Bertie Guillaume, and others, some still hunting today. We must always be grateful for what they started and the vision that they had. We must preserve the values that these folk established. Even 28 years ago, there were issues facing the then small industry. Some of these issues are being repeated again today! They were the "fly by nights" acting as operators and fleecing clients of deposits, substandard hunts began giving SA a bad reputation as a hunting destination. This is when the professional hunters got together and formed PHASA. They worked together with government to establish regulations governing the industry whilst at the same time establishing their own code of conduct and constitution for PHASA. The emphasis of this constitution has always been to keep the hunting industry clean and wholesome.

Little did the founding fathers know what the industry would grow to in SA. The poor economics of cattle ranching and the declining value of the rand, especially during the 90s`, saw a massive growth in game ranching. This was driven by the demand for hunting, both local and trophy hunting. Having a game farm also became a very vogue thing for many business people and investors. The demand for rare and expensive game species took off. Big money entered the scene, from game farmers, local investors and also from hunting clients, who invested in South Africa.

SA became the biggest hunting destination in Africa drawing clients mostly from the USA and Europe. Professional hunting schools sprung up because Nature Conservation could not cope with the demand of testing all the aspiring PHs. Game farms sprung up everywhere and nearly every farmer or his son became a professional hunter! In addition, growth was further stimulated by the increase in foreign tourists to the new South Africa, which resulted in more farmers going into game with the intention of
capitalizing on the tourist market. In doing this, they further increased the value of wildlife...especially the rare species.

There is no doubt that professional hunting has done well for wildlife conservation in SA. It is the dynamo that drives the game ranching industry. It has seen millions of hectares being reclaimed from domestic stock farming and put down to conservation. Not only have the species benefited, but entire stems and biodiversity in general. Oxpeckers and vultures are some of the indirect beneficiaries as well as many of the smaller game species. Even predators such as leopard have benefited from trophy hunting. A farmer will allow a leopard to consume some of his game or stock knowing that he may derive income if it is legally hunted. Without the potential to earn income, it will simply be destroyed as the cost of keeping it is too high! The anti hunting lobby needs to understand this. Preservation on private property has little incentive unless there is some economic benefit. The increase in game farms has also provided the springboard to many other tourism ventures like lodges, hiking trails, 4x4 routes, etc. One could ask whether this would have happened if the game industry had not boomed, and could the game industry have boomed, if it were not for professional hunting? Certainly not! If the demand for hunting dies, so too will the high prices for game, and the incentives for farmers who are now in tourism diminish as a substantial portion of their income is derived from live game sales. Not all areas are conducive to tourism. They can however sustain considerable game populations instead of domestic stock if they are able to market hunting and live game. Should they be denied the chance to game farm?

The tremendous growth has not been without problems. Most of them are still with us and are growing. The adage "if it pays it stays" became well accepted, even if the species in question had little or no conservation value. In addition, many landowners had little idea of game farming, they had little idea of habitat requirements for different species and little idea for the need to preserve biodiversity, etc. Game that was in demand was sought, irrespective of other factors. Farmers had found an alternative to domestic stock, with attractive financial returns. In consequence species were moved to areas where they had never occurred before, different genetic groups were mixed and populations were manipulated purely to make money for the game farmer. Conservation was often forgotten. Economics became the main driving force.

The ethical standards of professional hunting were also compromised. Many new PHs and some older ones too have let economics supersede the principles of fair chase. Canned lion hunts and unacceptable put & take practices emerged. Some hunting safaris became shooting sprees, with no hunting involved. This has been driven by some trophy hunters demanding to improve on or to collect large trophy animals or multiple species within a very short safari. The SCI record book has helped to erode the principles of fair chase further as some clients don't seem to care how their trophy is obtained as long as it meets their requirements. For some, tight economics also compromised fair chase.

These developments have made the professional hunting industry vulnerable to anti hunters who are actively lobbying against hunting in all forms. The hunting industry also has not won the support of the black people. It has given them little benefit except those that are directly employed. But this is not the biggest potential threat to the industry: right now it is government policy. However this threat could be transformed into our biggest opportunity.

Since 1994 there has been a declining interest and ability of government and the provinces to control and service the industry. The prosecution of offenders and "hunting rogues" is a function of the provinces and it has not happened! The timely issuance of permits remains a problem. The transformation of the 4 old provinces into 9 new ones, each with own regulations, has created a compliance nightmare for every PH and outfitter. Without a functional system, the industry will eventually be forced to close down. We do all we can to communicate with government to ensure that this danger is seen. The new gun legislation has the potential to destroy the industry. Many foreign clients vowed never to return to SA after long delays and rough handling at our airports, many times coupled with insinuation for bribery. The issuance of li- censes and renewals for local hunters and gun owners is not keeping pace with demand. Without rifles we cannot hunt, without new hunters the industry will stagnate and die. If the relevant authorities cannot perform their functions efficiently, they will ultimately fail conservation. How do we get government to cooperate with our industry? We have to transform trophy hunting so that the government can be proud of it, that they can promote it openly and honestly. It must become an industry that government wants to be involved in for the benefit of all South Africans. Currently this is not the case; and the hunting industry is at fault for not having addressed the issues earlier.

We have to clean up our act. Hunting must be understandable and acceptable to the public. PHASA has embedded in its constitution a high level of sportsmanship. Our code of conduct and constitution are aimed at keeping hunting clean and wholesome. To this end PHASA has taken a very strong stand against the hunting of captive bred lions and we reject the hunting of any captive bred large predator under any conditions. This is taking a higher ethical stance than the proposed government draft document relating to the same issue. We don't want canned lions! It discredits hunting and it serves no conservation purpose!

The industry must be seen to have teeth. PHASA is currently, at substantial cost to the organization, taking disciplinary action against some members for various offences. It is vital PHASA has disciplinary ability to protect our good members and to protect the industry. There has been an inability by some of the provinces to act against "hunting rogues". Hopefully here in Limpopo this will be coming to an end as PHASA and the Department have pledged to work together to clean out unethical hunting in the industry and corruption in the province. Once again, it is imperative that the public, ourselves and our clients, see that there are lines that cannot be crossed without consequences.

Secondly, we have to make hunting belong to all the people of SA. This is a huge challenge for an industry which has traditionally catered for the wealthy white client by white outfitters. PHASA has developed its draft BEE Policy which incentivizes members to empower and to contribute to PHASA's empowerment efforts. Once again we hope to work with government to identify empowerment opportunities within the professional hunting industry, for the development and upliftment of a broad base of black folk who previously were not given the opportunities we whites had. We will do this in a manner that will uplift the industry and that will be for the benefit of all parties, and for the benefit of conservation. There are many state concessions and tribal lands which can contribute substantially in this regard.

Lastly, we have to market hunting to the public. We need to educate the public as to the role hunting plays in conservation and we have to show examples of the correct way to hunt. This will mean we have to engage the media on all fronts and to do this we must not have anything to hide.

Without the professional hunting industry, the game auction of this weekend would be valueless and would generate very little for the province. When I started game ranching back in 1986, Nature Conservation was virtually giving away excess game as there was little demand. It has been the paying hunter who has created the demand. It is absolutely essential that the provinces are part of growing our industry. They control so many aspects of our industry and without their cooperation and help it will grind to a halt. The provincial reserves and community land hold much value that can be developed through professional hunting. There is a desperate need to share the benefits of hunting with PDIs and to involve and educate them, so that they can manage and grow their wildlife heritage and generate economic benefits too.

Namibia's professional hunting industry has a wonderful relationship with the government. The Namibian president is a member of NAPHA and participates in the annual conventions. He is a hunter himself. Currently the numbers of foreign hunters in Namibia are soaring, so much so that 2 extra international flights a week have been scheduled to cope with demand. At the same time, SAA are losing seats because of our gun legislation. Hunters to other SADC countries are often choosing to fly via Namibia to avoid the frustration of transferring guns through our airports.

Another challenge or opportunity for the industry is to get black people to enjoy hunting. It must not be for the white elite, everybody must be able to enjoy this wonderful sport. A speaker at our last convention, Rev Mahana, drew the parallel with golf. How many black people actually played golf prior 1994? Hardly any, and now all the executives play. It is en vogue. So can hunting become the recreational pastime of black corporate South Africa. This is a challenge to all hunters and not only to us involved in professional hunting.

It must be remembered, that if game is not utilized for profit, its economic value will deteriorate and many private farms will be driven back to stock farming by economics alone. It is therefore vital, that the province assists to maintain and grow the value of our wildlife and wildlife areas. Hunting is the best tool to do this.

The revenue generated from the game auction this week, is entirely dependent upon the health of the hunting industry. Game auctions countrywide are a barometer of the health of the hunting industry. Let's hope that it grows from year to year. All of us in the professional hunting industry need to join hands with government and work together to realize the enormous potential of this wonderful and exciting industry, for the benefit of all South Africans.

Editor's Note: At the Limpopo Wildlife Expo, Premier Moloto called for an increase in training facilities within the wildlife industry to enable more people to obtain employment in the sector. Mr Moloto said stronger partnerships had to be built between the wildlife industry and communities living along boundaries of protected areas. "Our parks will not be sustainable if the needs of the people living in surrounding areas are ignored," he insisted. Collin Chabane MEC for Economic Development, Environment and Tourism, told the delegates that elements of the Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) Charter for Tourism would be introduced in the province. He said that in-depth talks with representatives of the hunting industry will be held to create greater access for black people to this sector.
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