The number of leopards in the country was unknown and hunting them could be detrimental to the survival of the species.. Picture: Ian Landsberg
Johannesburg – The Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) has extended the zero quota on leopard hunting to 2017.

This quota has been in place since last January following an evidence-based decision by the Scientific Authority.

This was after an alert was issued by the Scientific Authority that the number of leopards in the country was unknown and hunting them could be detrimental to the survival of the species.

However, this decision has not gone down well with the Professional Hunters Association of South Africa (Phasa), which said it was deeply concerned about it and the unintended consequences of the extension.

“To the best of our knowledge, there is currently no reliable scientific evidence to substantiate the zero quota for the second consecutive year,” said Tharia Unwin, chief executive of Phasa.

According to DEA spokesperson Moses Rannditsheni, the decision to extend the zero quota was based on the review of available scientific information on the status and recovery of leopard populations in South Africa.

“The Scientific Authority recommended the minister extend the quota based on the information received and reviewed, with the possibility of introducing a precautionary hunting quota in 2018,” he said.

Rannditsheni said the Scientific Authority took into account input from the Scientific Steering Committee for Leopard Monitoring, comprising government institutions, NGOs, representatives of industry and academic institutions.

“Also taken into account were the results of systematic camera trap surveys undertaken in KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo and Mpumalanga as well as relevant data from the industry obtained using Cat Spotter.

“Draft decisions from the 17th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites CoP17) required all parties with leopard export quotas to review the leopard hunting quotas and provide the scientific basis for the quota allocated.

“This Cites review process will continue in 2017 to ensure that an appropriate quota is allocated for the South African leopard population,” Rannditsheni said.

“The status of the Norms and Standards for Leopard Hunting, which are soon to be published for public comment, was also taken into consideration."

“The Scientific Authority recommended in its proposed quota a zero quota for 2016 and that a number of interventions should be implemented to ensure the sustainable utilisation of leopard populations."

“This included the development of norms and standards for the management and monitoring of leopard hunting as well as the extension of particularly systematic camera trap surveys to all provinces where leopards occur."

Phasa’s Unwin said the department’s statistics for 2015 showed a legal offtake of only 42, 37 and 36 leopards during 2013, 2014 and 2015 respectively.

“This is far less than the approved Cites and national quotas and speaks of good selective and sustainable hunting practices.

“Given the above, it is our humble submission that the total number of leopards taken is probably less than 1% of the country’s leopard populations, if the latter is very conservatively estimated at 5000 leopards,” Unwin said.

She emphasised that the legal offtake of leopards was not the problem.

“On the contrary, without any legal offtake, there is no incentive for landowners to tolerate predators preying on small game or livestock, and this results in indiscriminate poisoning, trapping and illegal shooting,” she said.

“The loss of leopards in the wild due to illegal offtake and poaching for cultural and religious ceremonies far outweighs the loss of foreign income derived from the historically low legal offtakes."

“This is an ongoing concern and simply cannot be denied,” Unwin said.

@Lanc_02

The Star