Three weeks ago I received an invitation from the Department of Environmental Affairs to present a paper to the SECOND NATIONAL DIALOGUE WORKSHOP ON THE INTENSIVE AND SELECTIVE BREEDING OF COLOR VARIANTS. I received a copy of the agenda and program a week ago and, was due to speak at 09h30 on Wednesday morning, 2 December. In the interim, I have been hard at work preparing my presentation on the hugely negative effects of the intensive breeding of previously wild animals to produce domesticated ones with exaggerated horn lengths and unnatural colour variations, as well as lions for various canned killing operations. Eighteen hours before I was due to catch my flight to Johannesburg – hotel accommodation and car hire booked – I received a call from the President of SA Hunters and Game Conservation Association to say that his presentation and mine had been summarily cancelled. No reasons were advanced for the cancellation and, but for him calling me, I would have flown to Johannesburg, incurred the expense, arrived at the workshop and been embarrassed to learn that my presentation was no longer required. In other words, two out of the three presentations by those representing amateur hunters were cancelled at the last minute for no reason. At any rate, in the very brief 15 minutes each presenter was allotted to make his or her presentation, this is what I proposed to say:
SPEECH: COLOUR VARIANTS AND CANNED KILLING
I would like to start by stating the obvious and, in this, I think I speak for many people here today and that is: I am passionate – my wife says obsessed – by wildlife and wildlife habitats and I therefore support whatever conserves them and oppose whatever does not.
Let me now turn to my conclusion and between stating this and the expiry of the very brief 15 minutes I have at my disposal, I hope to convince you of the truth of this conclusion, namely, that the intensive breeding and domestication of wildlife to produce animals with exaggerated horn lengths and unnatural colour variations is, along with canned killing, causing overseas hunters to avoid South Africa. This, in turn, is having a seriously adverse effect on hunting and, consequently, on conservation in this country.
I include canned killing with the intensive breeding referred to above because they are two sides of the same coin. Firstly, because they both involve the domestication and perversion of wildlife and, secondly, because neither has anything to do with conservation.
Let me immediately make a third and unrelated point. There is a gaping chasm between extensive wildlife ranching and the intensive breeding and domestication as described above. The former deserves all the recognition and praise that is their due for creating the quiet conservation revolution that has spread across our country over the last 60 years or so and which has led to the remarkable revival and resurgence of both wildlife and wildlife habitats in South Africa and my remarks concerning intensive breeding and domestication should in no way be construed as a negative reflection on game ranching in general and of which I was a miniscule part for over 20 years.
I know that intensive breeders like to try and don the robes of extensive game ranchers and claim they are one and the same but this is clearly nonsense and the two should not be confused with one another. Although, like most things in life, there are grey areas where the two overlap at times, in their pure forms there is a vast difference between the two and extensive game ranches form by far and away the vast majority of game ranching operations in this country.
Fourthly, no-one can deny that hunting is the power behind The South African Conservation Success Story. It is the foundation upon which it has been built over the last 60 years. After six years of study, research and filming, the 1 ½ hour documentary of the same name produced by me in conjunction with the world famous, Canadian wildlife biologist, Shane Mahoney, and the then head of National Parks, Dr David Mabunda, conclusively proved the truth of the previous statement but, instead of merely rehashing the contents of the documentary, I will leave a copy of the DVD and the subsequent book that was published with the Department in the hope that someone here may watch the DVD and/or read the book. They were, incidentally awarded the Environmental Prize by the prestigious European hunting and conservation body, CIC – The International Council for Game and Wildlife Conservation and additional copies can be ordered online from www.peterflackproductions.co.za. In summary, therefore, anything which harms hunting in this country, harms conservation.
The question remains, however, why does the intensive breeding and canned killing harm hunting. The obvious answer is that it does so by keeping the important overseas recreational hunters away who contribute major revenue to the hunting community, much of which is used to fund wildlife and wildlife habitat? How has this happened? Well, for starters, every major hunting association in North America, Europe and Africa has come out publicly against these practices – the Boone & Crockett Club and SCI in America; The Nordic Safari Club and CIC in Europe and SA Hunters and Game Conservation Association in Africa to mention but a few examples.
Genuine and ethical hunters do not want to be tainted by hunting in South Africa and having people question whether their hunt was “canned” or their trophies domesticated animals bred to be killed or they went to shoot one of the weird, unnatural colour variations, which most people know are usually kept in small paddocks for their own safety and to facilitate the feeding and veterinary services they often require. There are enough people critical of hunting already that an overseas recreational hunter does not need to voluntarily add to the negative pressure against what he is doing by coming to South Africa, which is seen as the home of these nefarious practices.
And such a hunter does not need to come here. Apart from a few endemic species such as vaal rhebok and Cape grysbok, most of what South Africa has to offer can be hunted in other countries and certainly this applies to the more popular species such as impala, kudu, warthog, springbok, blue wildebeest, zebra and waterbuck. And this is, in fact, what is happening. Hunters are going elsewhere.
I have recently seen the 2014 figures published by the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) and, since 2011, the number of hunts by overseas recreational hunters visiting the country has dropped every year from 9 138, to 8 387, to 7 638 to 7 405 last year. This represents a steady and continuing drop of 1 733 hunts or 19% over the four year period.
According to research published in the December 2014 edition of Game & Hunt by North-West University, the average overseas hunter spends R138 200 per hunting trip or roughly 4,4 times the average annual spend of the South African biltong hunter of R31 471. The reduction in hunts by overseas hunters represents a loss of nearly R240 million per annum to the country. Given the 32% drop in the rand dollar rate over the last year, the loss is currently closer to R320 million today.
And the number of animals shot has also fallen by almost 3 000 animals from 2011 to 2014. Of the revenue so generated, 19% is accounted for by one species – lion. According to the DEA, lion killing contributed R194 million, or 19% of the income from trophy hunting in 2014. This was from 641 lions shot, of which approximately 99% were “captive bred” or canned lions. And the question must be asked, is there a risk that this revenue will disappear? Apart from the facts and figure referred to above let me mention the following things that have recently been brought to my attention:
Matthias Kruse, the Editor of Jäger, the leading German hunting magazine made the trip to Brussels especially to see Blood Lions. He announced after the screening that, as of next year, and I quote, “Germany’s leading hunting show held in Dortmund will no longer allow the advertising or selling of any form of canned or captive hunts. The show will also no longer allow the sales and marketing of any species bred as unnatural colour variations such as golden wildebeest.”
According to a South African outfitter specializing in marketing hunts to Scandinavians, and again I quote, “The Nordic Safari Club has already banned canned lion shooting from both the advertising and editorial sections of their Magazine “TROFÆ”, as well as removing all South African lion trophies from their record book. In Denmark the media took an intense interest in the Cecil issue a few months back and all Danish hunting agencies have removed SA lion shooting from their advertising but I do suspect that, unofficially, several of them are still selling this con. Sales have dropped as the general public and Danish hunters have become very much aware of the background, and we’ve reached a stage where anyone publicizing a story or film on lion shooting in South Africa automatically becomes the subject of public ridicule. That in itself is a step in the right direction.”
Another question that needs to be asked and answered in this context is, why do the vast majority of people come from overseas to hunt in Africa? The answer is quite simply the romance which Africa has to offer. The idea that you can wander over vast open spaces teeming with wildlife. That you can sleep under canvass to the tune of lions roaring and hyenas cackling. That you can relive the past. Go where famous past hunters went, see what they saw, meet the people they met and hunt the game they did. For the tales around the campfire, for the thrill of the chase, to test yourself against the toughest game on earth. And it is just as the famous Spanish professor of philosophy, Ortega y Gasset wrote, “They do not kill to hunt, they kill to have hunted.” People seem to forget that, for the genuine and ethical hunter, the hunt is everything that happens up until the trigger is squeezed or the arrow released. These people come to hunt game animals by fair chase means in their natural environments. In marketing terms, this is the sizzle which sells the steak. Africa is THE aspirational hunting destination. Nothing else comes close.
The exact opposite is what South Africa is degenerating into – where the offering is more and more about the instant killing of unnatural or domesticated game in small fenced enclosures. Overseas hunters do not come to hunt barnyard animals or domesticated animals in these enclosures or unnatural colour variants and, most importantly, they do not want to be tainted by accusations that they do. Their passion is under enough attack as it is that they do not want to and, just as importantly, do not need to open themselves to further accusations that this is the reason why they went to hunt in a particular place and hence they have stayed away from South Africa in their droves and the statistics demonstrate this.
How do I know this? Because I have been an avid meat and trophy hunter for some 58 years. I have hunted in 17 African countries for all the game species available in Africa and on licence, with the exception of nine animals. During this time, I have written and/or edited 12 books on hunting, filmed seven documentaries and written hundreds of articles for a variety of magazines in Africa, North America and Europe. Most importantly, I have attended major hunting shows in America and Europe for many years. I meet overseas hunters all the time. I live in that society. I speak their language. I understand their needs. I am one of them and they talk to me on a regular basis.
Other reasons have been advanced for the drop in overseas hunters coming to South Africa but they are all nonsense, especially if you take into account that hunting has been stopped in Botswana, has only recently been re-opened in Zambia and has suffered a dramatic reduction in Zimbabwe. As happened in the past when hunting was stopped in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania, the hunters that previously went there, came south but this time not to South Africa. The countries that benefitted most have been Mocambique and Namibia, both of which have seen the number of overseas hunters visiting their countries climb dramatically, while here the numbers here have dropped.
For example, while the number of hunts by overseas hunters visiting this country has declined dramatically since 2007 when it hit 16 394 to the 7 405 in 2014, the corresponding number of overseas recreational hunters visiting Namibia, as supplied by the Ministry of Environment and Tourism, reached 23 768 last year, including 6 985 from North America and 13 730 from Europe. So, while South Africa has been going backwards and blaming the decline on every factor other than that we are now seen as pariahs in the world hunting community, Namibia has, over the same period, seen the number of hunts by overseas recreational hunters multiply by a factor of four, from some 6 000 hunts in the early 2000s to nearly 24 000 hunts last year. As the old Nedbank advert said, “It makes you think, doesn’t it?”
Can you imagine if the additional 18 000 overseas recreational hunters had come to South Africa instead of Namibia? The coffers of our hunting community would have been swelled by R2,5 billion and much of this would have helped fund the conservation of both wildlife and wildlife habitat! In a nutshell, the country simply cannot afford these relatively few intensive breeders and their domestication and perversion of our wildlife!
But let me pause here and ask you a third simple question – do you know why wildlife is often referred to as game? The answer is a simple one – because in times gone by hunting was a game played almost exclusively by royalty. And it was called a game because, like all games, the result was in doubt. If it was not, and the result was pre-ordained or a foregone conclusion, it was no longer a game. And shooting purpose bred, domesticated wildlife – whether unnatural colour variants, with exaggerated horns or lions bred to be shot – in a paddock where they can neither feed themselves, procreate nor escape their predators naturally, can be culling, shooting, killing or slaughter but it is not and can never be a hunt.
Genuine, ethical, recreational hunters do not want this and, just as importantly, do not want to be tainted by accusations that they do. Just like justice, which must not only be done but be seen to be done, genuine and ethical hunters want to hunt ethically and be seen to do so.
So, in conclusion, let me state that I am a lawyer by training and was a partner of the law firm, Bowmans, one of the three biggest in the country, for six years before leaving to start a career in business and where I ended up as the CEO of the fifth largest gold producer in the world employing over 36 000 people. During my time as a lawyer, however, I was trained to believe that, after logic had excluded everything else, what remained had to be the truth. And the truth is that the intensive breeding and domestication of wildlife to produce exaggerated horn lengths, unnatural colour variants and canned lions, is having a seriously negative affect on hunting in this country and, consequently, the conservation of wildlife and wildlife habitats which, if properly conserved can continue to provide opportunities for all our people in perpetuity, particularly in the poor rural areas where such opportunities are most needed. The converse, of course, is that in order to make a few already wealthy businessmen and politicians even more wealthy than they already are, we are placing the future of our country’s renewable natural resources at serious risk which, in turn, will remove the abovementioned opportunities.
The fourth and last question that must be asked crisply is, “What does the government want and what is it going to do to achieve these goals?”
Judging by the approach of the Department of Environmental Affairs the question appears to have already been answered by them and this excuse for a workshop is mere window dressing to allow them to say that the hunting community was consulted when nothing could be further from the truth. And so nothing of consequence will be done to stop what South Africa’s foremost businessman, Johann Rupert, has labelled a Ponzi scheme and, in addition to all the other damage that has and will be done, dozens of innocent South Africans, particularly the late entrants, will in all likelihood lose their shirts and pensions.