JOHANNESBURG – South Africa introduced regulations on Tuesday meant to ban “canned” lion hunts, in which customers pay large sums of money to shoot trophy animals held in private game reserves.
Environmental Affairs and Tourism Minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk said the rules, due to come into effect on June 1, would effectively outlaw the canned hunting industry, but environmentalists said loopholes would let the hunts continue.
“We are putting an end, once and for all, to the reprehensible practice of canned hunting,” van Schalkwyk said in a statement.
“South Africa has a long-standing reputation as a global leader on conservation issues. We can not allow our achievements to be undermined by rogue practices such as canned lion hunting.”
Sport hunting in South Africa has flourished into a multi-million dollar business, attracting hunters from mainly North America and Europe who pay up to $15,000 for the most prized trophy: a mounted lion’s head.
Under the national plan the government will issue permits on a quota system to breeders, animal exhibitors, game farms, nurseries, scientific institutions and rehabilitation centres.
The number of lions legally held in captivity will be reassessed annually and determined through consultations with scientific experts, a department spokesman said.
The new rules, however, say bred animals that have been allowed to roam free — in private game parks — for 24 months are still fair game for hunters, enraging environmentalists who say this will keep the canned hunting industry alive.
Van Schalkwyk had originally proposed a six-month acclimatisation period for the animals.
“The time span is irrelevant. It is the whole production of these trophy animals that needs to be stopped. The industry will continue,” said Louise Joubert, founder of animal sanctuary SanWild Trust, in northern Limpopo province.
According to the International Fund for Animal Welfare, an estimated 3,000 lions live in cages or are locked up behind the fences of captive breeding facilities across South Africa.
The new rules follow years of wrangling between animal rights activists trying to outlaw what they call a cruel sport and outdoor groups eager to defend hunting as a source of tourism revenue and integral to managing animal populations.
Van Schalkwyk said the rules were part of a broader effort to “clean up” the hunting industry and will also involve new bans on hunting from vehicles and with bow and arrow.
Conservationists say South Africa caved in to pressure from affluent breeders dangling lawsuits and acted against the advice of an expert panel it formed to study the issue, which last year recommended the “canned hunting” industry be totally shut down.
Estimates of the number of lions shot each year in controlled hunts on the private reserves and lodges range from 300 to 1,500. Animals living in South Africa’s national parks enjoy protected status.
The Professional Hunters Association of South Africa estimates the revenue generated from “canned hunting” exceeds 2.5 billion rand ($357 million) annually.
Story by By Sarah McGregor
Story Date: 21/2/2007
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