Monday, June 19, 2006

Gin traps slated after leopard death

Gin traps slated after leopard death


By Fran Blandy

BAVIAANSKLOOF – The death of a female leopard three days after she tore herself from a gin trap in the Eastern Cape has reignited debate around what some conservationists call “barbaric weapons”.

“My strong message is that gin traps are barbaric, indiscriminate weapons and there is no place for it in the 21st century,” said Bool Smuts, director of the Landmark Foundation which works with the conservation of predators.

The leopard tore free from the trap and was on the loose in the Baviaanskloof area for at least three days with the trap still attached to her paw.

He said a hunter and his dogs picked up animal’s scent and found a severed toe. On Friday the hunter apparently came across the dogs tearing the leopard apart.

It was a point of dispute whether the animal was dead before or after the dogs arrived.

Gerhardus Ferreira, an environmental officer from the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism says the animal was dead when the hunter found it. It had probably died of severe stress caused by pain and suffering and being unable to hunt.

Smuts said when trapped, leopards would attempt to “eat their own (paws) off to escape.” Often gangrene would set in as blood supply to the limb was cut off.

He said Baviaanskloof World Heritage site was a hotspot of conflict over the use of gin traps.

Smuts said four leopards had been caught in the area since January, three of which died. Two of those were breeding females. This brought to 19 the number of leopards killed in the past 42 months.

Dawid Smith represents a union of farmers who have implemented a leopard committee with the environmental department. His farm borders on the one where the leopard was caught.

He farms sheep and angora goats and estimates that leopard killings have cost him R300 000 over the past three years. At one stage he lost 58 lambs in three weeks, he said.

However, he says farmers are not trying to trap leopards.

“Let me make it clear, farmers are more conservation aware than the person who complains about the poor leopard which got hurt,” said Smith.

He said farmers were tired of being seen as barbarians and that people should become financially and not just emotionally involved in leopard conservation.

In the past, he said, farmers have found injured leopards and taken them for treatment before freeing them again.

Smuts said professional hunters, such as those who found the leopard, go from farm to farm with their dogs looking for predators.

“They have an incentive to bring back (dead) predators,” said Smuts, adding that a dead leopard was said to fetch about R500.

Smith agrees that the hunter is remunerated if he brings back a rooikat, but would be penalised for killing an animal not considered a threat.

He denied that farmers paid hunters for dead leopards.

“But, you must pay them something, they have worked for a day’s wages.”

Ferreira said in most cases a hunter would be paid up to R2 500 if a leopard was brought back alive, as an incentive not to kill it.

Gin traps are legal for use against “problem” animals such as the rooikat.

Smith said using gin traps to catch other predators which put farmers’ livestock at risk was successful enough to justify their continued use.

While farmers might also find leopards beautiful, they were of no financial worth to them, said Smith.

He said farmers could use leopards as part of a tourism initiative by collaring them and taking people to see them for a fee. This would do more to ensure their safety.

He would happily use his land for tourism if it earned him as much as his land and stock, he said.

Other methods currently used are hunting dogs, cages and poison traps.

Cages had not been very successful, but farmers were looking to draw from the experience of others who had been more successful catching animals in this way.

A leopard caught in the cage could be released in another area without being injured.

According to Ferreira, before the leopard committee was set up, farmers and the government did not work together and leopards were often killed secretly.

Now permit systems and a plan of action which is followed when a injured leopard is found have been implemented and found to be very successful.

He added: “A farmer is not there to conserve, he is there to farm.”

Ferreira said the problem was a lack of scientific data about the number of leopards in the area, as well as their habitat in the extremely mountainous area.

Research was planned to determine problem areas and the numbers of leopard.

In the meantime, he says, everyone was trying to work together to find a solution. - Sapa. 

 19/06/2006 17:49:03,1,22

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