Sheree Bega

Premier Helen Zille’s DA-controlled government and CapeNature have come under fire for a controversial draft proposal that gives farmers and landowners in the Western Cape a licence to “massacre” black-backed jackal, caracal and bushpig.

The Landmark Foundation, a conservation NGO, says the conservation agency’s draft protocol with the Predator Management Forum is “nothing less than a global indigenous species extermination effort” and accused Zille’s government of gross maladministration.

CapeNature said the proposed protocol proposes best management practices for dealing with animals that cause livestock damage, a “400-year-old problem” in the Western Cape. “The underlying principle is to implement holistic management methods. Only after all holistic and non-lethal management tools have failed, will an individual damage-causing animal be targeted, and not the species as a whole.”

But Dr Bool Smuts, who runs the foundation, said the approval of poison collars, uncontrolled cage traps, daytime hunting and the use of prohibited gin traps, hunting dogs and helicopter hunts considered in the proposal “flies in the face of the principles the agreement ambiguously espouses”.

Smuts said the protocol would allow the return of hunt clubs, hot pursuit actions and “indiscriminate barbaric culls, much like the Oranje jag of old”. The methods approved would, “by virtue of their non-selective, barbaric and ecologically damaging nature, kill off non-target species and target entire species for decimation.

“The system promoted is nothing less than a province-wide extermination cull of several species.”

CapeNature said it had received 70 public comments for the “Co-Operative Agreement between the Predator Management Forum and CapeNature: guidelines for the management of bushpig, black-backed jackal and caracal responsible for agricultural losses within the boundaries of the Western Cape”. Public comment closed this week. Among these were from Dereck Joubert of the National Geographic Big Cats Initiative and an Emmy-award winning wildlife documentary maker, who said he was disturbed by the proposal.

“It seems to me you’re opening up an avenue for a wave of very active sport hunting against smaller predators in large numbers that will end in the eventual annihilation of these species. I have no doubt that what you are starting today will be the end of any natural and balanced ecosystem in your region.”

Smuts said Cape Nature and the DA administration had handed over the management of the Western Cape’s biodiversity to an industry lobby group with an “atrocious record” in biodiversity management and this amounted to “biological asset stripping” of our natural heritage.

“Even as late as April, only sweetheart organisations have been included in any discussions with DA-run institutions. The Premier even appointed a sweetheart forum to advise her on welfare issues, actively excluding critical stakeholders.”

Recently, Smuts and Zille were embroiled in a public spat over what Smuts dubbed the “Bredell cull” when CapeNature issued over 480 permits for landowners to kill damage-causing jackal and caracal. Each landowner was granted a licence to kill 10 animals a day – five caracal and five jackals – for six months, which Smuts described as the authorisation of the largest cull of biodiversity in Africa with close to 900 000 animals “permitted for destruction” last year alone.

Zille accused Smuts of being “highly inventive”, while he called her “arrogant”.

CapeNature says Smuts’ figures are fictitious and exaggerated. But Smuts added: “What is being proposed here is a further grand-scale wiping out of some natural occurring species, while the management and execution is being outsourced to the agricultural lobby groups.”

Harry Prinsloo of the Predator Management Forum said the issue was emotional.

“I represent 20 000 farmers. We live with nature. Why on earth does anybody think we’ll be part of a massacre? Let’s rather talk of controlling the numbers.

“We are trying to make a living. We have a big problem with predation and these animals cause millions in damage. Yes, some of the methods are of a cruel manner by shooting something, or gin traps, but sometimes it’s necessary. Jackal and caracal are beautiful animals, but sometimes you have to take uncomfortable decisions.”