Hunting in South Africa: A bloody mess
Michele Pickover
4 July 2010


South Africa is the world’s top ‘canned’ lion hunting destination, the rhino hunting permit system has been repeatedly abused in recent years to launder horn into the illegal medicine market in the East and some hunters are shooting animals which live in the Kruger National Park and cross unfenced boundaries into private and provincial nature reserves.

The country has an ever-growing hunting industry and a large number of private farms and provincial and private nature reserves raise money by allowing animals to be killed by local and foreign hunters.

As this report shows some hunters themselves argue that quest for increased economic returns and bigger trophy animals sometimes overrides what they view as “accepted practice”. Some private farms are overstocked and also populated with species that do not occur in the region in order to generate greater hunting income, hybrid and colour-variant animals are specially bred for hunting despite the disapproval of formal hunting organisations and in many instances animals have no chance of escape and are shot under conditions that amount to ‘canned hunting’.

Over 1000 lions were killed in 2008 at a time when most people believed the industry had been stopped. It has not and still continues pending a court appeal. The Department of Water and environmental Affairs has no current figures for the number of lions hunted.

But despite the size of the hunting industry in South Africa it is poorly monitored, partly because many provincial departments are cash strapped and many experience skills shortages. The overall picture of what happens in the hunting industry is further clouded by poor record-keeping at provincial and national government level. Animals are suffering extensively as a result.

Although South African National Parks (SANParks) has regularly denied that animals from the Kruger National Park are shot in provincial and private nature reserves that share unfenced boundaries with the Kruger, international hunters boast that they have killed elephant and buffalo which have crossed from the park.

In the past SANParks has claimed that these animals are Res Nullius (i.e. they belong to no-one) once they leave the formal Kruger Park area and enter provincial and private reserves but this argument is irrational bearing in mind that SANParks has agreed that the Kruger’s boundary fences be removed to allow the movement of animals, acknowledges that animals do indeed move freely between the areas, sits on management committees of these reserves and also helps decide the hunting quotas. Although SANParks recently acknowledged, contrary to previous denials, that animals move freely between these areas it refuses to publically acknowledge they may be shot. It is astounding that South Africa’s precious heritage, in the form of animals that move across imaginary boundaries from the Kruger National Park (which is widely regarded as a national asset and one of the jewels of the country’s conservation programme), are intentionally being allowed to be hunted and killed for profit with the fervent support and consent of the South African government and all its conservation agencies. Ordinary South Africans should be extremely concerned The argument here is not whether hunting is legal in South Africa or not, it is whether SANParks is fulfilling its mandate to protect animals within National Parks. Allowing animals to be shot in areas
which, as tourist operators, some hunters and SANParks themselves advertise, are part of an unfenced natural area which forms the Greater Kruger National Park is, we believe, a contravention of this mandate and the organisations’ responsibility to the people of South Africa in terms of the Protected Areas Act, 57 of 2003 (as amended by Act 31 of 2004), which prohibits certain ‘extractive activities’ in national parks, including hunting.

Animal Rights Africa has attempted to get clarity from SANParks on this issue but has been met with incomplete and inadequate answers and referrals to provincial authorities. If the Government approves of the hunting of animals that cross from Kruger into provincial and private reserves they should proudly say so publicly – in other worlds Government must tell South Africa and the world that they do not mind if national assets are killed for the enrichment of a few hunting outfitters and entertainment of a handful of rich foreigners.

According to research by the University Of North West in Potchefstroom, of more than a million wild animals are killed by hunters every year, some for meat but some just because they have large horns, tusks, or pretty coats. Some, like African wild cats and genets, for example, are killed simply for fun and target practice. The Government supports this killing, arguing that hunting in South Africa is in line with concept of ‘sustainable utilisation of natural resources’. Ethics and scientific justification appear not to come into it.

As this report shows, hunting, and the ethics of allowing it, in South Africa is in urgent need of widespread public scrutiny, debate and action. 

Michele Pickover
Animal Rights Africa Coordinator
4 July 2010


“Hunting – the ultimate form of speciesism.” Peter Singer

South Africa has the largest hunting industry in sub-Saharan Africa. It is Africa’s most popular destination for foreigners wishing to kill anything from elephants and buffalo to the 4.5 kilogram blue duiker and 1.6 kilogram genet. South Africa also has a large domestic recreational hunting industry. In addition bushmeat hunting, usually referred to as ‘poaching’, takes place in many parts of the country.

South Africa remains the worlds’ top destination for the hunting of captive raised lions and is also the premier market for those wishing to shoot rhinos.

Foreign and local hunting operators also say they are shooting animals that move into hunting areas from the Kruger National Park (KNP) and that it serves as a strong gene pool for animals considered to be excellent trophy animals, in the Associated Private Nature Reserves (APNR – which includes the Timbavati, Klaserie, Balule and the Umbabat Private Nature Reserves) and the Makuya and Mthimkhulu Provincial Nature Reserves, all of which share unfenced boundaries with the Kruger National Park.

SANParks has a mandate to protect the biodiversity of the Kruger National Park, including large mammals which are regarded as national assets. The Protected Areas Act, 57 of 2003 (as amended by Act 31 of 2004), prohibits certain ‘extractive activities’ in national parks, including hunting. Nonetheless, at the time of writing this Report, hunting is taking place in reserves which share open boundaries with the Kruger National Park, although the Chief Executive Officer of SANParks, Dr David Mabunda told Parliament in March 2010 that his organisation believes that hunting in contract parks should be prohibited. Publicly, South African National Parks (SANParks) has recently denied
that animals from the Kruger National Park are hunted in these reserves.

In response to recent questions from Animal Rights Africa, Dr Hector Magome, Managing Executive:
Conservation Services at SANParks, conceded that animals do move freely between the Kruger National park and the Mthimkhulu and Makuya Reserves. This being the case it is not clear why SANParks is unwilling to admit that animals that are under their protection are being shot by hunters and that hunting operators are financially benefiting.

After almost a decade of inaction, and despite public pressure, in 2007, the then Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism finally attempted to introduce laws to make the hunting of captive raised lions less economically attractive to hunting operators. The matter has been before the courts since then as it is being challenged by the South African Predator Breeders Association (SAPBA). The number of captive lions trophy hunted has rocketed since the 2007 court challenge and the SAPBA estimated that in 1 050 lions were hunted in 2008 compared to the 700 the previous year. The Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism (now the Department of Water and Environmental Affairs) has not been able to supply figures for 2008, 2009 or 2010. It has also consistently failed to address the issue of the welfare of the approximately 4000 lions still in captivity and also what may happen to them if, as they have threatened, predator breeders decide to abandon the animals if the courts decision removes their economic value by restricting lion hunting.

The South African trophy hunting industry is not only growing quickly but it is also extremely difficult to monitor or police and is fast becoming a front for poaching and illegal activities as the current war on rhinos has shown. The hunting industry is far from being under control. Canned hunting has not been outlawed and the reality is that most trophy and sport hunting in South Africa is canned to a greater or lesser extent. South Africa also boasts that it is the world premier rhino hunting destination. Simultaneously though, more rhinos have been killed illegally in South Africa during 2008, 2009 and 2010 than at any other time in the last 90 years and the government and hunting
organisations admitted last year that the hunting permit system has been inefficiently administered and was used to launder rhino horns into the illegal medicine trade.

Although the situation with regards to lion and rhino hunting has attracted widespread attention and criticism, the hunting of all species has increased significantly over the past ten years and figures provided by the Professional Hunters Association of South Africa (PHASA) to hunting publications show that in 2007 about 16 000 foreign hunters visited the country and killed approximately 48 000 animals. Recreational, or ‘biltong hunting’ is also widely undertaken and a study by the University of the North-West estimated that ‘biltong hunters’ kill more than one million animals annually.

Despite the scale of the industry many hunting regulations are poorly enforced and provincial and national officials do not collect and collate the relevant data – a failing which draws into question the basis on which many environmental governance decisions are taken. Many officials, by the governments’ own admission, either misunderstand or fail to apply national environmental regulations such as the Threatened and Protected Species regulations (TOPS). The Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs conceded to Parliament last year that some provincial issuing authorities “seem to have some challenges constraining the effective implementation of the Threatened and Protected Species (TOPS) Regulations.’‘ (Question No. 310: National Assembly, 3 July 2009)

In August 2009, the Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs also admitted that her Department does not have an electronic permit system that allows it to collate the numbers of hunting permits issued nationally and if it requires information it has to contact each province. Neither are provinces electronically linked to each other, so if transgressions occur in one province other provinces are not made aware of this (Parliamentary Question No. 305, 3 July 2009). In the same reply to Parliament the Minister said that the Department “does not have information on the number of hunting permits issued for a particular species across the country.” The Department does not keep a national register of professional hunters and there is no limit to the number of hunters permitted. (Question No. 779: National Assembly, 14 August 2009)

Hunting of hybrid species, or species bred for colour variances, is also common although the Confederation of South African Hunting Associations (CHASA), the largest grouping of hunting organisations in the country, asserts that it does not approve of the practice. CHASA also states that it is opposed to the artificial enhancement of trophy animals through artificial insemination, unnatural breeding programmes, and cloning. Nevertheless, colour variants such as copper springbok, black impala, golden wildebeest and other hybrid species are indeed hunted, and often fetch higher prices than common species. A golden oryx was recently sold at the Kirkwood wildlife auction in the Eastern Cape which is partly sponsored by SANParks.

The South African government regularly states that the hunting industry operates in line with the concept of sustainable utilisation of natural resources as espoused by the IUCN (International Conservation Union) and argues that hunting and allied businesses, which includes wildlife breeding, wildlife capture and transportation and taxidermists, contribute significantly to the central revenue fiscus and creates jobs. However, it is unclear how government decides what constitutes sustainable hunting as much of it takes place on private land and is not independently monitored. Moreover, the ethics of allowing hunting is deliberately evaded. There is an urgent need for public debate on the issue within the South African context.

Hunting in South Africa is often divided into two segments: the local recreational hunting industry – sometimes known as “biltong hunting” – and trophy hunting which attracts a high percentage of foreign clients. There is some overlap between the two and South African biltong hunters also participate in trophy hunting.

Nearly all South African hunting farms are fenced, although some cover large areas. Most farms are divided into ‘camps’, fenced divisions of the total land area which makes it difficult for larger species to move from one area to the other. Many “game farmers” regularly buy wild animals at auctions to restock their land after hunting has depleted existing populations. Many “game farmers” feed the wildlife on their land. Some do so to maintain artificially high populations and others do so to sustain the wildlife during winter months.

In some instances species are also placed on land outside their normal range. For example Nyala only occur naturally in South Africa in low altitude sub tropical bush but are sometimes placed on Highveld grasslands and hunted there. Blesbok, a grassland species, are sometimes put onto bushveld farms and hunted.

Species that do not occur naturally in South Africa are also bred or bought on auction for hunting on some farms. Lechwe, which do not occur naturally in South Africa are regularly hunted as are Barbary sheep, fallow deer and a range of other species. Some wildlife breeders also use a variety of intensive breeding programmes and genetic
experimentation to try and breed animals that have longer horns or are larger than other specimens. Many hunters and ‘game farmers’ claim that there is more game on the land than at any time in the last 100 years and attribute this to the financial attraction of hunting. However, some experts point out that this is at the expense of true biodiversity with some species being favoured over others.

Many ‘game farmers’, for example, remove all predators from their farms because they do not want to lose antelope that could be sold to hunters and other species, as indicated above, are placed on land outside of their natural range.

Bow hunting takes place in many parts of the country too. Modern bows and arrows are capable of killing the largest animals although legislation prohibits the hunting of elephants, rhinos and most large predators with bows.

When hunting antelope and smaller animals most bow hunters construct hides at water holes and shoot the animals as they arrive to drink.

Habitat loss and hunting (which includes poaching) are generally accepted as being the greatest threats today to wildlife populations. Even so, trophy hunters maintain that their pastime is sustainable and humane. They say that the activity benefits the local communities in which they operate, providing revenue, jobs and protection to wildlife from poaching. Evidence is emerging, however, from several regions, including Africa and Canada, where trophy hunting takes place, which questions the credibility of such claims.

Apart from the ethical and compassionate issues, hunting is a ‘consumptive use’ practice that has significant environmental impacts and actively interferes with many ecosystem processes. It influences genetic diversity and composition of species; populations in terms of size, density, distribution, structure, dynamics and behaviour; and condition of habitats. Hunting also exerts negative impacts on other animal species, plants and ecosystems in general. Genetic studies of wild populations in which trophy hunting takes place have shown that body weight and horn size have declined significantly over time. Trophy hunting disturbs the sex or age structure in such a way that
the mating system is disrupted and the fertility and survival of certain sectors of the population and the offspring sex ratio may all be affected. The removal of even a few targeted individuals could have similar consequences. There is also growing concern amongst scientists about the undesirable evolutionary consequences of trophy hunting on wild populations.

According to Johannes Haasbroek, a former professional hunter who heads the Elephant-Human Relations Aid (EHRA) organisation in Namibia, the notion of trophy hunting is “a complete fallacy”. “When you hunt for a trophy, you look for the biggest and best animal you can find for your client. It is very likely to be an animal in his breeding prime. It has been proven that trophy hunting manipulates the genetic stock over time by eradicating the carriers of the largest horns and tusks.” (The Namibian,

Hunters and hunting advocates insist that trophy hunting is of major importance for conservation in Africa. However, there is a distinct lack of a critical mass of empirical data to support this view. This uncertainty is partly due to a lack of objective information regarding the economic and conservation impact of hunting. The paucity of robust, empirical and independent research also restricts the ability to evaluate the effect of hunting in South Africa. In addition, one cannot examine or permit trophy hunting without simultaneously interrogating bushmeat (there is a body of evidence to suggest that bushmeat hunting, at present levels, is a major threat to the conservation of biodiversity) and other threats. This has particular resonance, as stated in the Convention on Biological Diversity: “against the backdrop of increasingly fragile and threatened ecosystems, habitat degradation, loss of biodiversity imposed by human pressures, and the increasing rate of anthropogenic extinction any human tendencies that further threaten the life sustaining natural processes of the planet need to be critically analysed and evaluated.”

In an attempt to draw attention away from its bloody nature, the industry and its supporters argue that revenue from trophy hunting benefits communities and South Africa generally. Indisputably, it generates significant revenue and is a lucrative business. However, the overall economic justifications for trophy hunting have not been independently corroborated or properly investigated. Furthermore, there is uncertainty about how the so-called economic benefits of trophy hunting are being used. There is little evidence that the revenues generated are reinvested in the preservation of wilderness and protecting wild animals. It is also unclear who benefits. It appears that most of the profit goes to individuals within the industry. Despite the proliferation of hunting farms, they are declining in profitability and the possibilities of job creation within the industry are very limited. One critic, Saliem Fakir, has suggested that ‘the continued promotion of hunting is being justified by rather erroneous cost-benefit analysis’ and that industry stalwarts have skilfully manipulated the political language of the time to paint a righteous face for the industry. 

While Animal Rights Africa believes that all hunting is wrong this document is intended provide an overview of the current situation in South Africa.

Although this document quotes from a number of hunting sites and written accounts from individual hunters, Animal Rights Africa in no way implies that these organisations or individuals have taken part in any illegal activity.

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