Canned Killings and other Unnatural Behaviour in the Game Ranching Industry II
In January this year, the Boone & Crockett Club, the foremost hunting association in North America, came out with a position statement which, although directed specifically at the breeding of deer in North America, applies equally to the current situation in SA. They stated:
“There are currently commercial deer breeding farms that raise in captivity … primarily white-tailed deer and elk for sale to escape-proof, fenced, put-and-take shooting operations … Through selective breeding and artificial manipulation, these animals are raised to grow unnaturally large sets of antlers. For years, hunters and non-hunters alike have questioned the appropriateness of such breeding and shooting operations and the motives and ethics of people who choose to shoot these animals. The recent growth in this trade of captive-reared wildlife is testing the public’s historic support of hunting, has revealed new and growing threats to the health of wildlife at large, and is raising urgent questions as to how these captive animals should be managed and the industry regulated.”
The rest of their well-researched statement can be read on their web site, click here.
A month later, the South African Hunting and Game Conservation Association, with some 40,000 members, by far and away the largest and best funded amateur hunting and conservation association in Africa, released a remarkably similar press statement approved by all its member branches. They stated:
“Selective and intensive game breeding practices in the private game breeding sector are aimed at enhancing or altering genetic characteristics of game species for commercial purposes and include artificial and unnatural manipulation of wildlife to achieve unusual coat colours and excessive horn lengths. Although SAHGCA fully supports an extensive game farming sector and appreciates its contribution to the economy, the Association believes that certain uncontrolled practices might have detrimental effects on biodiversity and hold unwanted consequences for the wildlife industry as a whole.”
Dr Gerhard Verdoorn, President of SAHGCA, was quoted as saying “These practices of deliberately selecting and breeding animals for specific traits, similar to stock farming, to produce unusual coat colours or very large horn-lengths are not compatible with conservation principles … We understand that the stakes in the game industry are high, but we have to be responsible in utilising our wildlife heritage.”
The release continued, “SAHGCA says this ongoing exploitation of indigenous wild animals will affect the integrity of South Africa’s wildlife and harm the country’s reputation as a leader in conservation … Variations in coat colours in game occur in low frequencies in the wild and are caused by recessive genes that result in e.g. black impala, golden wildebeest or white springbok. The reason for the low numbers in the wild is that these animals are usually not well adapted to their environment and are eliminated through natural selection processes. However, commercial game breeders selectively breed these animals to enhance and manipulate the desired traits for commercial gain.
Prices of these purposely-bred animals are exceptionally high turning wildlife into a financial commodity. To protect their expensive investments, breeders put these animals in small camps with very tight security. Some of the undesired consequences of intensive breeding include:
- fragmentation of habitats and wildlife systems
- decrease in the genetic integrity of indigenous wildlife populations
- reduce animals’ natural ability to adapt to environmental changes associated with climate change
- animal welfare concerns
- increase persecution of predators because of the threat to breeding stock
- disinvestment in extensive wildlife areas which impact on the contribution that game farmers make to national conservation targets.”
The full Press Release can be read on their web site, click here.
The above statements complement previous resolutions passed by CIC, The International Council for Game and Wildlife Conservation in Europe, arguably the most influential hunting and conservation organisation in Europe, and decisions taken by the Nordic Safari Club in Scandinavia and SCI in the United States, which I have previously referred to in my articles and blog.
The South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI), in a recent fax to the Department of Environmental Affairs, recommended that:
“1. Selectively breeding for rare colour morphs should be discouraged or disincentivized as an undesirable practice and game farmers who wish to manage their farms and animals using sound ecological principals should be incentivized.
2. Conservation authorities should be aware of the potential threat that could result from this type of practice and the risk should be monitored and evaluated on a regular basis.”
It came as a surprise, therefore, when I read in the editorial of the April issue of the South African mouthpiece for the game breeding industry, Game & Hunt, that:
“It was a great pity that the SA Hunters … publicly called on government to implement measures to regulate selective and intensive game breeding practices, which led to WRSA also reacting publicly. It will be as great a pity if these two great partners in the wildlife industry, the hunters and the game ranchers, tackle each other in public on issues that could have been sorted out amicably amongst each other, without adding fuel to the fires of the animal rights organisations.”
Not the least because my information is that this is precisely what SA Hunters tried to do. Unfortunately, the WRSA representatives sent to the private meeting were not only unreasonable and rude but falsely accused one of the SA Hunters staff members of insulting the Deputy State President at an overseas conference. Although the accusation was proved to be manifestly false and designed to intimidate, the bully boy tactics did not work and SA Hunters are still waiting for an apology!
With behaviour like this, no wonder that the editor of Game & Hunt – intensive game breeders paid for over 100 colour pages of advertising in the latest issue – would like this matter to be resolved in some dark, private, smoke filled room far from the scrutiny of the 300 000 odd amateur hunters in this country. I think I speak for a number of amateur hunters and game ranchers who want the reverse. We want the debate out in the open where we can judge the rights and wrongs, threats and opportunities of the situation for ourselves. We do not need to be protected from the truth!
The response by WRSA to the above criticisms of the practices of certain of their members is instructive. I say “certain” because there are perceptions that fewer than 500 or five percent of the country’s some 10 000 game ranchers engage in these detrimental practices and only a minority are represented by WRSA anyway.
Their president, Dr. Peter Oberem, is quoted as saying that, “there has recently been a lot of noise in the press about certain wildlife ranching practices that are perceived by some as having a negative impact on conservation. This noise comes from individuals with strange self-aggrandizing motivation who are clearly ill informed about the wildlife ranching industry in Southern Africa.” Really? SA Hunters, CIC and SANBI, to mention but three authoritative bodies, are ill-informed?
In a similar vein, he later goes on to add that, “The attack on this country’s wildlife ranchers – and thus one of its major unique agricultural activities, wildlife ranching – by a few ill-informed and angry individuals purporting to represent the hunters of South Africa, is born from some other yet-to-be-determined motivation. This spreading of this information must stop! One does not punch a hole in the life raft one shares with others.”
These seem bizarre statements, particularly in the light of the measured and formal press and position statements of the highly regarded and august bodies referred to above. When you take into account the recent Australian government ban – announced in March 2015 – on the importation of lion trophies into their country because they believe, correctly in my humble opinion, that canned killing is not hunting and an unacceptable practice, it is clear that it is WRSA and a small minority of game ranchers who are effectively putting hunting and conservation in this country at risk. Forget about punching holes in the life raft, they are machine gunning the hull from the inside.
And put yourself in the position of a genuine, ethical, overseas recreational hunter looking to go on safari in Africa. He can choose any one of 11 Sub Saharan countries. Ask yourself this – if you were he, would you risk your reputation by coming to hunt in South Africa and possibly becoming innocently embroiled in a canned or put-and-take killing? Would you risk the ridicule of your friends that you went there to kill some Frankenstein, manufactured and manipulated, weird colour variant? Or would you rather just go somewhere else? The answer seems clear. The numbers of overseas recreational hunters visiting the country fell by 16% between 2011 and 2013.
When are WRSA going to realise that they are ever more like Johnny, the only boy in step in the cadet marching band. How much worse do things have to become before the government does something about this accident busy happening before our eyes? Or, as usual, will it be too little too late?
I would like to conclude with the words of Daniel Pedrotti, Jr., the Chair of the Boone & Crockett Club Hunter Ethics Sub Committee, “What is astounding is that multitudes and generations of us are being outmaneuvered by the Frankendeer faction. The “antler inches at all cost” addicts and their suppliers are so driven by ego and money that they will go to any lengths to legitimize their pseudo-hunts, including a very effective and well-funded lobby. At the very heart of their effort is a desperate need to make the public view them as a part of us, so as to trade on the goodwill we have worked for generations to establish and maintain. They are very good at the political game. It all begins with their propaganda, which suggests that we are starting a fight among hunters when we reject their redefinition of the hunt. It is bizarre that this underwhelming minority has such potential to negatively affect so many of us and that their position is that “we started it!””
He concludes by writing that, “The simple truth here is that we want to expose and thereby devalue the Frankendeer product and the pseudo-hunt scenario. We want to highlight the distinction between “legal” and “ethical” as defining standards of the hunt. We want to help the public see the tremendous difference between the egregious pursuits of antler inches at all cost versus simple, justifiable fair chase hunting. Fortunately, we have a remarkable advantage in this situation. There are multitudes and generations of us. All we really need to do is stand up and be counted.”
*From the article by Don Pedrotti, Jr., referred to in the text.