The Department of Environmental Affairs has announced its decision to set the year-long provincial leopard trophy hunting quota at zero meaning that the 2016 leopard hunting is officially banned throughout South Africa.
According to the department, the decision was necessary following recommendations made by South Africa’s scientific authority which postulated that though the number of leopards in the country is unknown, the trophy hunting posed a high risk to the survival of the species. Hence, intervention was needed to ensure the survival of the leopard population in the country.
“Provincial conservation authorities were informed that leopard hunts should not be authorized in 2016…the ban would be reviewed at the end of the year.” The department of environmental affairs said.
Speaking further on the necessity of the ban, member of the environmental group Panthera, Guy Balme said “we just don’t know how leopards are faring in South Africa, they’re secretive, mainly nocturnal, solitary and range over huge areas.”
Conservation groups expressed their excitement on the year-long ban, saying the decision was urgent and necessary for the protection of the species given that the size of the population is unknown. Kelly Marnewick, the Environmental Wildlife Trust’s carnivore conservation manager, supported by saying:
“It’s important to ensure that any wildlife trade we do is sustainable. If we can’t do that, it’s highly problematical. We need a trade ban until we can get to that. Record keeping on trophy hunting in this country is shocking. We haven’t been recording age, sex or size of trophies. If our hunting fraternity is serious about using wildlife sustainably, they will embrace this ban and find ways to work with government until trade is sustainable.”
The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) permitted South Africa to allocate 150 leopard trophy export permits a year and the country earns substantial revenues from the selling permits.
Prior to this time, early warning of possible permit curtailment appeared in the Government Gazette late last year indicating that if the guidelines issued earlier in the year were not adhered to, provincial quotas would be set at zero for 2016.
The Department of Environmental Affairs had at the time issued what it described as a ‘negative non-detrimental finding’, meaning that hunting was likely to have a detrimental effect on the survival of the species.
The department listed various activities that posed a threat to leopards. These include excessive legal and illegal shooting of damage-causing animals, poorly managed trophy hunting, illegal trade in leopard skins for cultural and religious attire, and general poor monitoring of hunts and permit allocation. This thus revealed that only between 5% and 15% of leopard habitat were strictly protected.
Hunting is one activity that generates income for the economy. Report from the Ministry of Environment said it generates about 6.2m rand ($375m) for South Africa every year especially as wealthy foreigners are willing to pay thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars to hunt one of the “big five” (lion, leopard, elephant, rhino or buffalo).