Op-Ed: Time to rethink leopard hunting norms?

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“Our primary mandate is to protect these animals (leopards) so that we don’t open them up to a situation where they will be hunted and where they will perish,” said Mr P Mapulane, Chairperson of the Portfolio Committee on Environmental Affairs.

He was responding to the Department of Environmental Affairs’ presentation on its draft Norms and Standards for the management and monitoring of the hunting of leopards, a regulatory document that contains a number of inconsistencies.

The most glaring example seems to be that the Department of Environmental Affairs has disregarded previous directives – and a finding by the Scientific Authority – that found that hunting of leopards is likely to have a detrimental affect on the species, and that population numbers are vague, at best.

A hungry leopard. Credit: Freeimages

LEOPARD NUMBERS UNKNOWN

As it stands, the norms and standards pay little regard to this finding, seeming to completely disregard the fact that there is insufficient credible data on leopard populations or the effect that trophy hunting could have on the species.

It’s a point that has been raised by NGOs the country over. “Though some work has been done to create leopard hunting zones (LHZ) in some areas, population estimates in the Western and Eastern Cape have not been adequately researched,” says Helen Turnbull of the Cape Leopard Trust.

When questioned by her fellow MPs regarding the actual population numbers for leopards, Thea Carroll, Chief Director of Biodiversity, Planning and Management for the DEA, openly admitted that leopard population estimates sit at an extremely wide range of somewhere between, “2,813 and 11,632” – with more variation in the numbers than there possibly are leopards.

SEVEN-YEAR RULE

Another point of concern is ‘the 7-year rule’. According to the norms, the DEA will “restrict trophy hunting to male leopards > 7 years only”, and hunting outfitters “must first undertake and pass a once-off leopard hunting examination… in order to confirm to the relevant issuing authority that such local hunter, or professional hunter, is competent to assess the age of a male leopard.”

This process, Carroll says, “is proof that they are aware of the legal requirements.” However, the proposed practice exam allows one to practice an infinite amount of times, with the correct answers being handed to you after your first try. Although the official exam has yet to be released on the website, let’s hope its not a sheer replica of the practice exam, as that would hardly be foolproof.

PENALTIES

And what if a male leopard younger than seven years or a female is hunted? The norms and standards state that the hunting permit for that area will then be withheld for the next season and that the issuing authority can refuse to issue a permit for the export of the hunting trophy.

This, however, contradicts the National Environmental Management: Biodiversity Act, which states “…a person that is convicted for contravening the conditions for which the permit was issued is liable to a fine of not exceeding R10 million, or an imprisonment for a period not exceeding ten years, or to both such fine and such imprisonment.”

TIMELINES TO FIT HUNTERS SCHEDULE

Carroll said that permits could be applied for by 1 September. By 30 September, information about population management must reach SANBI, which will then go through a process to see where hunts can be allocated.

“By the end of November, the process must be finished” – just in time for the big international hunting shows to market leopard hunts.

“There is concern that reporting in September will not allow enough time for DEA and SANBI to evaluate and analyse data and adaptively manage the quota for the following year,” says Kelly Marnewick of EWT.

So again, it needs to be asked if the DEA is really concerned about the population numbers of leopards, and with protecting those remaining, or more concerned about playing into the pockets of trophy hunters?

Are they trying to appease the hunting lobby despite not having adequate scientific evidence regarding leopard populations in South Africa?

In the end, it was the Chairman of the meeting who again brought the norms and standards into question, asking if allowing them clashes with protecting wildlife. “The committee finds it necessary to rethink the current approach., with the primary mandate of the DEA to look after animals and to see the species grow ,” he concluded.

It remains to be seen if the DEA will take his opinion and that of the parliamentary committee members to heed.

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