By Mike Cadman
As South Africa moves to regulate hunting, staggering new statistics show "biltong hunters" are killing more than a million wild animals a year.
These local hunters are quite apart from foreign "trophy" hunters who come to South Africa to shoot about 40 000 animals a year, including lion, white rhino, leopard and elephant.
These figures and new research, which shows the hunting industry is even bigger than previously thought and is worth almost R4-billion a year to South Africa, comes as the government this week considers steps towards the regulation and cleaning up of the industry.
'Hunting regulations in South Africa vary considerably from province to province'
The new statistics come from a study undertaken by North West University's Institute for Tourism Management and Leisure Studies in Potchefstroom, which estimates the 200 000 "biltong hunters" spend at least R3-billion rand a year while hunting.
The government calculates that foreign hunters contribute a further R800-million a year to the industry.
The latest figures from Professional Hunters Association of South Africa (Phasa) show that 7 342 foreign hunters, about 53 percent of whom are from the United States, shot at least 39 130 animals between October 1 2004 and September 10 2005. This includes at least 305 lions, 51 elephants, 74 white rhinos, 202 buffaloes and 34 leopards.
According to Phasa the average cost of a trophy white rhino is about $29 000 (R200 000), an elephant $21 000, a lion $17 390, a leopard $8 000 and a buffalo $7 880.
The South African government is strongly supportive of hunting and argues that the "sustainable utilisation" of wild animals is both a morally and financially acceptable practice that contributes towards the economy and helps create jobs, particularly in rural areas.
Michele Pickover of Xwe African Wildlife, an animal rights non-governmental organisation, said that while large amounts of money are spent on hunting, the industry is neither ethical nor sustainable.
"The hunting industry in South Africa is merely farming with wild animals. It is undergoing unsustainable growth and revenues are not reinvested in the preservation of wilderness and the protection of wild animals. What South Africa needs is a holistic, non-consumptive and ethically driven ecotourism industry.
"A 2004 study estimated that ecotourism on private game reserves generated more than 15 times the income derived from livestock and game rearing or foreign hunters and created more jobs," Pickover said.
Hunting regulations in South Africa vary considerably from province to province and are poorly enforced.
"Canned hunting" - animals reared to be shot are hunted in confined areas - and other malpractices within the industry have been widely condemned by hunting organisations and opponents of hunting.
Dr Peet van der Merwe, a senior lecturer at North West University, said "The research is the most comprehensive done and shows South African hunters contribute a huge amount to local economies.
"The money is generated in the country and spent in the country so contributes directly to the economy."
Van der Merwe said that there that there were about 6 330 exempted game farms - hunting is allowed all year round on exempted game farms - in South Africa covering about 14,7 million hectares. All of South Africa's national parks cover a combined area of 3,7 million hectares.
Van der Merwe said that game farms comprise about 17,9 percent of all agricultural land in South Africa. About 50 percent of game farms are in Limpopo province and the study showed that the most commonly hunted animals are springbok, impala, blesbuck, kudu, warthog, blue wildebeest and gemsbuck.
South Africa is one of the top hunting destinations in Africa and is heavily promoted at international hunting shows and conferences. Most hunting takes place on private game farms but is also permitted in a number of provincial and private game and nature reserves.
Hunting is allowed in, among others, the Pilanesberg National Park, Madikwe Game Reserve, and the Borakalalo and Botsolano Game Reserves run by North West province, the Songimvelo Game Reserve and Mthetomusha Game Reserve run by Mpumalanga province and the Manyaleti Game Reserve and Letaba Ranch run by Limpopo province.
Both Manyaleti and Letaba share unfenced boundaries with the Kruger National Park (KNP) - raising fears that animals from the Kruger are being hunted.
Hunting also takes place on a number or private game reserves including the Associated Private Nature Reserves (APNR), which comprises the Timbavati, Umbabat, Klaserie and Balule private nature reserves. These reserves also share an unfenced boundary with the KNP.
An elephant shot and wounded by a hunter in the Umbabat Private Nature Reserve in March is believed to have fled into the KNP. During the same month landowners, lodge owners and staff in the APNR were also outraged at the hunting and wounding of a well-known lion.
The draft norms and standards, published earlier this year by the department of environmental affairs and tourism, recommend that in future the minister himself must approve all hunting that takes place in areas adjoining national parks where fences have been removed.
The document also recommends that provincial MECs must personally approve hunting in provincial reserves.