S. Africa: We are not savages, lion breeders say

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John Yeld
Cape Town
29 June 2007

Prospective hunters from overseas are willing to pay up to $60 000 – about R430 000 – to shoot a lion, but are now afraid to book for lion hunts because of the new regulations designed to prevent “canned hunting”, says one of South Africa’s biggest lion breeders. Leigh Fletcher of Sandhurst Safaris in the Kalahari area of North-West Province made these comments in an affidavit which is one of several filed in support of a High Court action being brought by the SA Predator Breeders Association against the government. In a letter to environment minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk, written in 2005 but attached to the court papers, Fletcher – who has previously been named in the media as being involved in canned hunting – said lion breeders and game farmers were “not slaughterers or savages”. “We are farmers who are making a living by hunting. In doing so, we provide more jobs on one hunting farm than on 10 cattle farms together.”

The predator breeders association and two individual lion breeders – Matthys Mostert of Bothaville and Deon Cilliers of Excelsior, both in the Free State – are bringing an urgent application in the Bloemfontein High Court against the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism over some of the new regulations on threatened or protected species that relate to lions. The regulations, under the Biodiversity Act, were to have come into force at the beginning of this month but have now been delayed to February next year – but not as a result of this court case, according to Van Schalkwyk.

The applicants are asking for an order suspending the implementation of the regulations insofar as they relate to lions; for all applications to breed, keep or hunt lions to continue to be administered in terms of provincial nature conservation ordinances; and for all permits relating to lions immediately before the new regulations were to come into force, to remain valid. Sandhurst Safaris bills itself as “the only private hunting company that hunts the big five and 18 plains game species on one hunting area”.

In her affidavit, Fletcher said there were currently some 250 lions on Sandhurst. They bred between 120 and 150 lions a year and offered about 50 for hunting each year. She did not say what happened to the remainder of the animals. Their name was a “world-wide” brand, and the estimated value of Sandhurst as a going concern was R87.3 million, she said. “The new regulations contain several terms and conditions that are irrational and will have dire consequences for game breeding and the hunting industry in South Africa.”

Referring to the regulation that requires lions to be allowed to be free-ranging for 24 months before being hunted, Fletcher said no one could afford to keep and feed lions for that long without generating any income. Prospective hunters had been afraid to book after June 1 because of the regulations, Fletcher said. “What will happen to the thousands of unwanted lions, no one knows.” The government is contesting the case and is expected to file replying papers soon. The case may be heard later this year.


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