Friday, May 05, 2006

South Africa's Clampdown on eco-thugs

Clampdown on eco-thugs


Fiona Macleod 



05 May 2006 11:59



Tame cheetahs destined for petting farms. (Photograph: Nadine Hutton)

Police investigations into “environmental thugs” trafficking in endangered wild animals for hunting received a shot in the arm this week with the unveiling of a proposed government crackdown.


In particular, the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism’s tough new draft regulations on hunting coincided with new information on the activities of controversial Northern Cape hunting operator Alexander Steyn.


Police have been probing Steyn since the Mail & Guardian exposed his activities in an article titled “We (almost) buy a canned cheetah” last August. They believe he has continued capturing wild cheetahs to sell them for “canned” hunts.


The investigators are now looking into allegations that Steyn was involved in the recent smuggling of six wild cheetahs from Botswana to North West province. The cats are apparently held in the southern Free State and are being advertised for sale at R35 000 a head by a farmer called Gideon Odendaal.


Steyn did not respond to messages left by the M&G.


Operators like Steyn and Odendaal have flourished in a grey area of permit regulation, which would be closed if the new “national norms and standards for the regulation of the hunting industry”, published by the department this week, become law.


These would ensure that endangered predators -- cheetahs, hyenas, wild dogs, lions and leopards -- could not be kept or bred in captivity for hunting. The “put and take” activity Steyn allegedly profits from -- where an animal is released on a property, irrespective of its size, for trophy hunting -- would be outlawed.


Cheetahs are South Africa’s second-most endangered predator, after wild dogs, but Steyn and others have been able to remove them from the wild and sell them because of a provincially fragmented permit system. The M&G went through the motions of buying two canned cheetahs from Steyn last year, but stopped short of concluding the deal.


Minister of Environmental Affairs and Tourism Marthinus van Schalkwyk said on Tuesday that the new regulations would introduce uniform national standards. “They will ensure we clear up the current confusion and close the loopholes that have allowed environmental thugs to get away with immoral activities like canned hunting, illegal trade and unethical breeding. No longer will ‘province hopping’ allow them to escape the law.”


Research published by his department last October showed that the Free State had at least 69 outfits that bred captive wild animals for the canned-hunting industry, and 64 bred lions. At least 61 stocked exotic species, including some specifically cross-bred abominations called “zonkeys” and “ligers”.


The research also showed that South Africa supplied 30% of Africa’s total of lions to the sport-hunting market and, of these, 80% were canned.


The new regulations are based on the recommendations of a panel of experts, appointed by Van Schalkwyk last June, and a series of workshops in the latter half of the year.


A cheetah expert, who asked not to be named, said this week that the market for cheetah hunts had virtually closed down over the past year, in anticipation of the government clampdown. “The value of cheetahs has dropped tremendously, although there is still smuggling going on,” he said. “Unfortunately, one outcome has been that these guys now just shoot the animals to get rid of them.”


Under the new regulations, the South African National Biodiversity Institute in Cape Town would set hunting quotas for all species, including for some endangered animals kept in an “extensive wildlife system”. This would mean a large piece of land where the animals were self-sustaining and did not need to be provided with water, food or veterinary care.


A new “scientific authority” would be established to regulate trade in protected species. All captive breeding facilities, nurseries, scientific institutions, sanctuaries and rehabilitation facilities would have to be registered.


Another permit loophole would be closed with a ban on hunting “damage-causing animals”. Escapees from protected areas would have to be retrieved or killed by the management authority of the area.


The hunting of species not listed as endangered would “be permitted only by humane methods, in accordance with strict fair chase principles, by hunters registered with recognised hunting bodies, and in terms of carefully monitored and reviewed offtake limits at both national and provincial level,” said Van Schalkwyk.


His suggested solution to controversial hunting on private land bordering national or provincial protected areas where fences have been dropped was to rule that this would have to be personally approved by the relevant provincial or national minister.


People who contravened the regulations would be liable to a fine and imprisonment of up to five years. They would be policed by environmental management inspectors, nicknamed the “Green Scorpions”. Up to 800 are expected to be in the field by July.


The proposed regulations are open for public comment for six weeks and are expected to be finalised in July.


For the cats,


Carole Baskin, CEO of Big Cat Rescue

an Educational Sanctuary home

to more than 100 big cats

12802 Easy Street Tampa, FL  33625

813.493.4564 fax 885.4457

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