Ed Stoddard, Daily Maverick | May 31, 2020
Tourism Minister Mmamoloko Kubayi Ngubane said on Saturday, 30 May that hunting and game drives could resume under Level 3, a potential lifeline for some game farms that are struggling in the face of collapsed revenue sources. But hunting falls under Environmental Affairs and Minister Barbara Creecy will shortly spell out the details.
As Business Maverick reported on 11 May 2020, South Africa’s game farming industry is in serious trouble because its three key sources of income – hunting, game driving and sales – suddenly evaporated with the lockdown measures to contain the spread of Covid-19.
Kubayi Ngubane said on Saturday that hunting would be allowed, but that has created some confusion, not least because hunting has not been regulated by the tourism ministry since it was split from environmental affairs.
Adri Kitshoff-Botha, the CEO of Wildlife Ranching South Africa (WRSA), told Business Maverick that WRSA was advising its members to hold off on inviting hunters back to their properties until clarification was made by the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA).
In response to queries from Business Maverick, the department said: “The minister is processing directions which will provide further guidance on hunting and fishing.”
Business Maverick understands that hunting for meat will likely be allowed, not “trophy hunting”, though it is hard to see how that would be regulated. Some hunters target large male species as trophies, but the meat still winds up in their freezer. One suspects that hunting of the “Big Five” will remain off-limits – not least because foreign hunters with deep pockets are unable to fly to South Africa currently – but that is just speculation at this point. The taxidermists will remain out of business it seems, but some butchers may have additional work.
Regulations signed by the minister earlier in May 2020 said that while recreational hunting remained prohibited then, culling operations could take place under “strict conditions”, for example to thin out populations based on census data. Game farms are enclosed with fences and are like islands of habitat that can only support a finite amount of wildlife.
WRSA’s Kisthoff-Botha told Business Maverick that a resumption of hunting on game farms “would be a welcome income stream” though if restrictions on inter-provincial travel remain, it will likely only be a trickle. Many hunters, including those who “shoot for the pot”, are middle or upper-class residents of Gauteng, where there is very limited hunting compared to what exists in other provinces such as Limpopo or North West.
The same will apply to private game farms that typically host tourists for game viewing. Most of them will draw their clientele from other provinces – notably Gauteng – or overseas, so they will hardly reap a sudden windfall.
WRSA says the local hunting industry contributes about R2-billion to South Africa’s economy each year. Some animal welfare organisations will dispute this figure and frankly, all sides of the wildlife economic debate – hunting versus non-hunting, bunny hugger versus gunslinger, “sustainable use” versus “non-consumptive” approaches – tend to overstate the economic importance of their cases.
Still, there is little doubt that game viewing, hunting, and the trade in wildlife species generate jobs and income and business opportunities and capital in South Africa, with spin-offs through various economic pipelines. Some of the jobs created are skilled and reasonably well paid, while many are low wage – but in South Africa today, a job is a job.
This is one of the reasons why the ANC government has never been anti-hunting in the way that Kenya has been for decades. Supporters of the South African model might note that its wildlife populations have generally grown over the same period, while Kenya’s has for the most part been in decline.
South Africa’s game farming industry – an unusual example of wildlife or faunal privatisation – has helped to conserve and grow populations of species that play a crucial ecological role such as rhinos, at least half of which are now probably in private hands in this country.
Much of the land that such animals are found on are not the best for crop cultivation, so food security does not appear to be an issue here. But in terms of land reform, more radical political elements – against the backdrop of surging poverty, fertile soil for populism – may raise disquieting questions around land being used for wildlife and conservation mostly for the enjoyment of the affluent classes in a country with such wide disparities in property ownership. It remains to be seen how this all plays out. Covid-19 is forcing a lot of issues to the fore.