The horny dilemma – to hunt or not to hunt

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nt rhino Ex-QDMS Majestic Baixinha, the rare black rhino whose owner wants to sell the right for her to be hunted to death so that he can get back the money he invested in her.

The new year brought extensive coverage of the onslaught on our rhino, with 448 animals poached last year. This brings the total poached over the past five years to 984, which is not only a tragic indictment of our society but theft on a grand scale.

The legal market value of these rhino would have been well in excess of R200 million, and the illegal value of their horns is significantly more. It also represents a serious threat to the growth of our rhino population as the number poached is starting to get close to the number born every year. Soon, SA’s rhino population could begin declining if the poaching is allowed to continue.

One story which got a lot of attention was Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife’s Makasa rhino hunting story. Makasa Game Reserve is 1 700 hectares adjoining Phinda Private Game Reserve in northern KZN. I was involved in establishing this reserve, helping to facilitate the negotiations with the KwaMduku community, the custodians of the land, which saw them agree to set aside a significant piece of their land for conservation. This was nearly 20 years ago.

At that time the KwaMduku community bought into a vision for their future which saw “their” game reserve underwriting their sustainable development. They bought into a partnership proposal which saw the old Natal Parks Board stocking their land with game, including rhino, with a view to sustainably harvesting this game to generate income for their schools, clinics and other development needs.

At the time the partnership was negotiated, the KwaMduku community was much smaller than it is today and the land was relatively wild. Today, Makasa Game Reserve is the last wild area under their custodianship and there is no doubt it would be densely populated if it wasn’t for the Makasa partnership.

Thus, the fact that they are able to secure R1m through the hunting of one of their rhino should be celebrated as a massive conservation success. Their vision is coming to reality. Not only have they helped secure an important conservation area, but it is generating income for the community.

Now, I am not a hunter but I am firmly in favour of hunting where it is fair, ethical and in support of conservation. At least 50 percent of the land currently conserved in SA owes its existence to hunting, and SA’s rhino conservation success story has been underwritten by white rhino hunting. This is a reality, albeit an uncomfortable one in the light of the campaign to stop rhino poaching.

At first it appears contradictory to be promoting the hunting of rhino while supporting efforts to stop the (illegal) killing of rhino. Surely a dead rhino is a dead rhino. Yes it is, but we have been sustainably harvesting white rhino in SA for decades. This has put a significant value on them, allowing conservation agencies and private farmers to expand rhino range and invest in their security.

Banning hunting simply strips white rhino of their value, making it unattractive for private farmers to keep their rhino and virtually impossible for existing rhino custodians to secure their animals. They simply won’t have the funds to cover the exorbitant security costs.

So the banning of hunting will actually speed up the demise of this magnificent species.

I’m well aware that a small element of the hunting fraternity has been involved in poaching. However, a knee-jerk reaction to their activities makes no sense.

What we should be doing is addressing the core issues while investing in the business of conservation. This is happening. Over the past two years the state has invested heavily in conservation law enforcement, investigation and prosecution, and we’re starting see the impact. The number of rhino poached from provincial reserves dropped from 105 in 2010 to 58 last year, in direct response to the significant reinvestment in the provincial agencies’ law enforcement abilities.

The number of rhino poached in the Kruger National Park increased from 146 to 250, illustrating the vulnerability of this park through its extensive Mozambique border. However, the army is back in Kruger and SA National Parks is also investing heavily in its anti-poaching ability. I have no doubt we will see the impact of it this year.

Unfortunately, the number of rhino poached from private reserves increased from 82 to 121 animals. This is a worrying statistic, as the ability of private reserves to protect their rhino is directly linked to the return they get from their rhino. So banning hunting will reduce their ability to protect them and is likely to lead to even more rhino being poached. This is tragic as it will deter private land owners from investing in rhino. It will make no financial sense for them and in the absence of significant philanthropic investment, we’ll see a progressive reduction in rhino range. By implication our ability to keep growing a robust rhino population will be stymied. Tell me what you think – andrewventer.wordpress.com

Andrew Venter is chief executive of the Wildlands Conservation Trust.


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