Criticism and suspicion have shrouded the 14th African Wildlife Consultative Forum for excluding wildlife conservation groups from its programme.
The six-day conference, hosted by the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) at a Polokwane resort since Sunday, was sponsored by the Safari Club International (SCI), an American hunters’ organisation, and will cover a range of highly controversial environmental issues.
But both the Wildlife Society of Southern Africa (Wessa) and Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife have been excluded from the event.
According to a leaked agenda, items under discussion at the conference include issues such as poaching and the impact of the increase in human population to wildlife.
Challenges facing the export of hunting trophies from South Africa, illegal elephant killing, ivory trade, the demand for rhino horn in Vietnam and captive lion management and hunting are among other serious environmental issues that will take centre stage at the event.
However, an invitation was not extended to wildlife conservation groups. Instead, only hunters’ associations were invited, with an SCI employee helping the DEA in moderating most of the sessions.
According to the agenda, the department will present South Africa’s anti-poaching programmes and how much government invests in the programmes on Friday.
And the department will also itemise “the source of those US dollars” (for example, $100 000 directly from hunting licence sales).
The department is also expected to reveal to delegates the annual revenue photo-tourism generates, as opposed to hunting, and whether photo-tour-ism helps in anti-poaching efforts.
The SCI had recently suspended the hunting licence of club member, American dentist Walter Palmer, amid a public outcry for killing Zimbabwe’s prized lion, Cecil.
Wessa’s senior manager for wildlife and conservation in KZN, Chris Galliers, said he had heard that the conference was a government-to-government affair, and that attendance was by invitation only. Galliers is also Wessa’s rhino initiative project manager.
“When I heard about this gathering from a delegate at a biodiversity conference in Durban on Saturday, I felt that this was an opportunity to share information about wildlife challenges and discuss possible solutions.
“The delegate said attendance was by invitation only. We, as Wessa, were not invited. If the department wanted to get a good understanding of the severity of destruction of wildlife in South Africa, they should have engaged us, people on the ground,” he said.
Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife acting chief executive, Dr David Mabunda, said he found it strange that game reserve/ lodge owners were not invited to the conference.
“I must note that there are a lot of groups interested in wildlife that seek to promote their interests. These groups would be selective in inviting people to their events. In the case of rhino conservation, for instance, in Kruger National Park, in Zambia, Botswana and local privately owned game reserves, you will find rhinos with the bloodline of Ezemvelo. We are one of the most influential role-players in wildlife conservation,” Mabunda said.
Department spokesman Albi Modise distanced his department from any involvement in deciding who would be invited or not.
He said the AWCF was an SCI initiative which started in 2001 in Botswana, and South Africa and other African countries had participated ever since.
“We are merely hosting the meeting. SCI invited professional hunting associations from participating countries, just the same as South African hunting associations have been invited. This is a meeting of African governments affected by hunting with SCI, including hunting associations,” said Modise.
He said the media was free to attend the opening session of the meeting, and that SCI invite public entities at their discretion. Modise said the information they would be sharing on Thursday was not confidential.
“We’ll never sell our policies to the highest bidder, and the outcome of this conference will by no means influence our stance on wildlife conservation,” he said.
He said a media statement would be released after the conference.
Attempts to get comment from SCI were unsuccessful.
Adri Kitshoff, chief executive of the Professional Hunters’ Association of SA, said she could not comment as her association had only been invited to the conference.