Feeding the Hunters’ Addiction in South Africa

The attached video is from a 2015 documentary (“Safari, Paying to Kill”) published onto YouTube in March 2016:

It’s a very interesting 45 minutes, with the interviewer, Olivia Mokiejewski clearly exposing the deceit of the ‘canned’/captive-breeding industry in South Africa. Olivia describes ‘canned’ hunting as South Africa’s “nasty little secret” which at its worst, is nothing short of “butchery” – a term which should be an insult to any hunter that considers their ‘passion’ to be ‘noble’ and somehow above any ethical reproach.

The South African ‘canned’/captive-breeding industry is dominated by the ‘need’ to breed the biggest and the best ‘commodities’ (trophy animals) for the abhorrent industry of death that South Africa harbours within its midst. This is an industry based on animal exploitation willingly supported by Trophy Hunters, predominantly (“90%”) being American nationals.

These so-called hunters are all too willing to ignore the sheer lack of moral basis for their ‘passion’ for ‘conservation’ and/or ‘sport’ – a sport which to any outsider, appears very much like an addiction to collecting ghosts/animal trophies. Of course, the ethics of the ‘true hunter,’ is only taking life when absolutely necessary and clearly not for self-gratifying thrills/fun/trophies and finding excuses to justify it.

With this documentary, we first get to see inside an open auction of such commodity (animals sold to the highest bidder for reserves, photo safari operators, but also hunting operators)…….Christophe (an ex-accountant turned animal trader) is our guide to this ‘stock market for animal commodity,’ where the biggest and the best trophy animals command the highest prices.

The Trophy Hunter

We go on to meet 57 year old Frenchman Alan, a self-proclaimed poor rifle shot/rank amateur hunting enthusiast (proving his lack of aim/skills in some practice shots on camera).

We follow Alan as he manages to shot a purposely released male lion in the chest after just a mere hour’s ‘canned’ lion hunting – hardly a challenge in an enclosed space where the lion has no real means of evasion/escape, and no real danger for Alan either as he is accompanied by at least five other gun wielding ‘friends/guides.’

Once the lion has been executed, there are hearty congratulations. But Alan appears conflicted with an expressed feeling of ‘regret’ at the slaying of the handsome lion (which looked much more handsome alive than dead in my opinion). Needless to say, Alan manages to hold himself together for the obligatory pictures with his magnificent lion conquest (with the lion’s head propped up on piled sand and the lion’s tongue popped back into its dead mouth to help compose the must have ‘noble hunter pictured with kill’).

Game Breeder – Lumarie

Then there is the meeting with ex-nursery owners turned captive-breeding entrepreneurs Carolien and Jacques Malan of Lumarie, some 7,000 hectares of fenced game-stud situated “50 km west of Bela-Bela (Warmbaths) in severe heartwater veld.”

stud_3_3

Jacque’s USP (unique selling proposition) is offering rare, genetically mutated examples for Trophy Hunters to lust after, be that a white antelope, black giraffe or black impala (all command significant order of magnitude higher returns for Jacque and Carolien come game auction time return on investment).

According to Jacque, it’s a bit like growing flowers and a desire to develop unique colours (or in another analogy Jacque proffers, a need for a different dress (?)). In Jacque’s game breeding/hunting world the same ‘fashion’ applies to animals it seems. “No,” according to Jacque, producing ‘designer’ animals is not about playing God, it’s all about taking nature’s rich palette of colours and using it (or some such self-justifying wisdom Jacque espouses).

I am not sure about you, but this lust for unique trophies (including those that cater for it for profit) just says Trophy Hunters are more interested in acquiring a ‘better’ trophy to brag about, being seen to have spent more on its acquisition than anything to do with wildlife conservation (but perhaps I am being a bit harsh?).

Taxidermist

We then move on to meet Fritz Viljoen, Taxidermist the man charged with creating the animal trophy (‘ghost’) the noble hunter desires to put on display back in their home, game room/lodge, and/or cave.

Trophies

Fritz enlightens us that some American Trophy Hunters want their trophy on ‘steroids,’ all bulked out with ‘muscle’ in static tableaus of death (presumably the ‘bulking’ enhances the image that the hunter overcame incredible adversity in slaying the target beast with their remarkable hunting skill and prowess….….who knows).

Fritz informs us of one client that wanted a slain elephant’s male genitals moulded and mounted for home display in the hunter’s chambers, which even Fritz finds somewhat grotesquely bewildering (and Fritz is clearly a man on the edge when it comes to being overly-familiar with the hunter’s bizarre and sickening ‘tastes’ in trophies and ‘home furnishing’ ideas utilizing slain animal parts in ‘amusing’ homages to ‘conservation’ and ‘honouring’ the dead animal(s) in question).

The ‘Ghost’ Collectors

We travel to Texas to meet Cole Reid and explore his ‘impressive’ “game room” housing some 200 trophies in the ‘Great Room’ at Morani River Ranch, including ‘the African big-five’ (lion, leopard, elephant, rhino and Cape buffalo) given due reverence up on a special stage/shelf – a room of ‘ghosts’ funded by the Reid’s real estate business.

Game Room

 The “impressive” ‘Great Room’ at Morani River Ranch

Olivia then takes us on a visit to Dallas for the 2015 “Greatest Hunters’ Convention on the Planet” – basically a surreal shopping mall for those seeking to peruse one’s next hunting trip (flicking through brochures of priced up trophy animals), purchase needed hunting apparel and equipment etc.  Not much mention or evidence of ‘conservation’ duly noted at the convention, or justification for activities such as selling glorified holidays to go and kill polar bears in Canada (it must be ’conservation’ disguised as killing for fun right?).

We do get a few words from the elusive Jeff Rann – ‘hunting guide’ to the rich and famous, including the abdicated (2014) King of Spain, Juan Carlos. Jeff accompanied then King Juan Carlos on his infamous 2012 elephant killing trip, a hunting trip taken whilst Spain was enduring the worst financial crisis in living memory. Clearly Juan Carlos was more interested in taking down a ‘big tusker’ for €30,000 than finding ways to support his nation’s people in times of need. Jeff states that he tries to “avoid politics and the ‘emotions’ of hunting” which would suggest a clear inherent level of detachment necessary to maintain his professional standing – or is such a detachment a trait of self-delusion I wonder?

The Canned Industry in South Africa

Olivia visits an anonymous captive-lion breeding facility (which later transpires has South African Predator Association (SAPA) ‘accreditation’), where lions (and other big-cats) are mass produced in cramped conditions. Despite having no license to legally offer hunts, this facility’s owners have no real problems (especially as Olivia’s husband “is a South African”) in offering to arrange a lion’s, and even a tiger’s hunt (on a neighbouring property of course to keep it all more, or less above board).

Tiger's Illegal Kill in SA

Picture Courtesy of Annamiticus – “Screenshot of a photo apparently depicting a tiger killed in a bow hunt. This undated photo has since been removed from the Gotsoma Safaris’ gallery

It has to be borne in mind, that thanks to South Africa’s own rulings, the captive-breeding industry is basically unregulated. A 2010 South African legal ruling (“The Supreme Court of Appeal of South Africa Judgement,” Case No. 72/10, 29 November 2010) declared captive lion breeding as ‘farming’ and of no conservation value.

When the South African Environment Minister tried to enforce a 24 month wilding rule (under Threatened or Protected Species Regulations) to ensure no previously captive (’canned’) lion or big cat could be ‘hunted’ unless it had be freed from captivity for 24 months, or more. The Predator Breeders Association (PBA) (the PBA supplies the ‘canned’ industry) sued the Environment Minister for this attempted regulation of their activities, but the PBA lost in the South African High Court.

However, after the PBA applied to the South African Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA), the SCA ruled in November 2010 (of its own volition, “mero motu”), that ‘since no captive bred lions have ever been released back into the wild, then lion farming had nothing to do with conservation.’ Therefore, in the SCA’s view, the Environment Minster had no jurisdiction to impose restrictions on what was essentially being declared animal ‘farming.’

South African Predator Association (SAPA)

There is a South African Predator Association (SAPA) member shown (“allegedly“) offering illegal lion hunts on his property, including the offer to illegally hunt a tiger (a CITES Appendix I protected species with no hunting quotas permitted anywhere in the world)……

Here we meet up again with Professor Pieter JJS Potgieter, President of the SAPA (“The Professor” of recent ‘myth-busting’ infamy with his ludicrous “9 Myths About Captive-bred Lions” public statement).

In The Professor’s attempt to win over public support, he explains to Olivia that he can’t possibly know what all SAPA members are doing. This begs the question what possible value and ‘reassurance’ is any SAPA accreditation possibly worth then? In the absence of SAPA oversight of compliance to The Professor’s self-proclaimed standards for the predator breeding industry, this industry can only be an unregulated animal exploitation cartel with SAPA as nothing more ’valuable’ than a complicit bystander.

In turns out that Professor Pieter JJS Potgieter is a one man band (The Professor is the only paid employee of the SAPA), but he’s determined ”that it is my [The Professor’s] mission to clean up this industry.” But at the time the documentary was made, he had only managed to visit 5 breeding farms (out of some 200 plus such farms in South Africa). The Professor’s response is “I don’t see it as my function”…..which again suggests that SAPA ‘accreditation’ The Professor speaks of as assuring a clearly differentiated and superior element of the industry, is in fact a meaningless rubber stamping exercise in exchange for cash. The SAPA is clearly a sham scheme exposed within the documentary and reaffirms (in my opinion) the SAPA’s and The Professor’s credibility at zero.

The Professor becomes increasingly riled when questioned over the SAPA’s role in defending the predator breeding industry when The Professor has clearly stated he has no real over-sight and does not see it as his/the SAPA’s function!

Clearly The Professor has no idea what the SAPA’s ‘accredited’ members are actually doing (The Professor is basically defending the indefensible and he knows it), but bizarrely The Professor chooses to question the interviewers professionalism and ethics concluding that Olivia “you are now talking like an NGO ‘greenie’” and the interview is thankfully cut short before The Professor is faced with more ‘difficult’ and embarrassing questions he clearly cannot answer from a solid defence/foundation.

Of course being called a “greenie” by The Professor is a compliment really, because talking like a rational “greenie” is surely preferable to talking a lot of deluded, self-serving, contradictory nonsense like The Professor isn’t it?

Lion Park

Nowhere is the South African hunting industry’s deceit more apparent than at Lion Park, where thousands of gullible tourists a year pay to be near lion cubs, petting them and taking obligatory pictures with them.

lion cub pet

In the documentary, the Lion Park Communications Manager/Spokesman, Andre Lacock ‘explains’ that when the cubs become too big for petting, they are ‘retired’ to a facility some 25km from Lion Park, with some 20 to 30 lions a year exported to zoos around the world. Andre is immediately contradicted by staff within his own office, that state on camera only 1 lion was successfully relocated to a zoo the year prior (2014), and none the year before that!

However, Andre’s own paperwork presented on camera indicated some 15 lions were sold to a game breeder Nazeer Cajee with a sworn affidavit that this breeder has no connection to lion hunting. However, when Olivia makes a quick call to Nazeer he immediately admits that indeed he offers lion hunting. It would appear that Andre’s/Lion Park’s assurances that when it comes to its ‘retired lions’ “we try to give them an environment where they can live happy lives” and ‘sworn affidavits’ are meaningless platitudes.

“The Lion Park has gone to great lengths to ensure that our lions never end up in ‘canned hunting’ scenarios or unsuitable environments” – Source: Lion Park brochure.

Department of Environmental Affairs (South Africa)

In another admission, the Department of Environmental Affairs (South Africa) spokeswoman, Magadel Bashoof nonchalantly admits the whole industry is out of control and her Department lacks the resources (and even the basic will it would seem) to try to rein in the animal breeders’ and hunting industry’s unabated abuse.

Unless we prohibit lion hunting, there will always be irregularities or illegalities taking place, then [to ensure any sort of regulation/compliance ] we would have to close down the whole hunting industry…” – Magadel Bashoof, the Department of Environmental Affairs (South Africa), 2015.

Well maybe a complete moratorium is what is required, so the South African authorities can regain some vestige of control – but that would require someone within the Environment Department and/or South African Government brave enough to champion the exploited animals’ plight. That would seem to be a hopeless wish in today’s South Africa where complicity in animal exploitation would appear to be mandatory.

Is South Africa a Worthy CoP17 Host?

The Private Rhino Reserve

The documentary also postulates the ‘positive’ side of rhino protection through trophy hunting, but is this even a true reflection of conservation when other options are available and other forces/effects are at play?

The piece concludes at Wiaan Van der Linde’s privately owned rhino reserve, where he hosts four rhino hunts per year (at $90k USD per hunt, so $360k USD per annum). The protection of his rhino stock is maintained by heavily armed anti-poaching units (costing some $451k USD per annum apparently, so there must be more income derived from elsewhere but not stipulated on camera to cover costs?).

Some of Van der Linde’s stock is purchased from The Kruger National Park, apparently because the park is unable to protect its rhino populations from poachers. So indeed, ‘protected’ Kruger rhino could end up being shot for money on a private reserve.

Rhino

This suggests that the anti-poaching efforts in The Kruger National Park are wholly inadequate and underfunded, be that fencing, rangers, equipment etc. But also the international efforts to stem the ‘illegal’ and ‘legal’ (from Trophy Hunting) trade in rhino horn are not helping. One answer would be to stop all trade and crush demand through ruthless pressure to stem all trafficking of rhino horn once and for all (again a moratorium is suggested).

Petition to remove South Africa’s rhino from CITES Appendix I protection (with removal of CITES approved annual hunting quotas)

The fear is the South African Government is going to seek to farm rhino horn and flood the market from pre-existing stockpiles, thus hoping to curtail poachers seeking to profit. However, this of course could backfire spectacularly and actually increase demand exponentially, thus increase poaching incidents seeking to profit from the upswing in demand (no matter if there is less profit per horn, just poach more rhino). In the end, the criminal syndicates financing poaching as one of their lucrative activities, are always going to be better funded and motivated it would seem than the range governments and authorities mandated with species protection.

Nowhere is the blinkered dedication to hunting income (over other options) more evident than in present day South Africa, where little effort is seemingly made to regulate, let alone stem the endless flow of animal bodies the industry is willing to slay at the ‘altar of profit.’

The hunter pays to kill, the poacher kills to get paid

The question the interviewer did not ask (and Van der Linde did not answer) was does ‘legally’ hunting rhino just send out the message that every rhino is a mere commodity to be exploited by whomever (poacher, hunter, private reserve owner, medicine seeker in China etc.)?

Sure, Van der Linde can get $360k USD for hosting just four rhino hunts per year, but that’s rather missing the big picture when arguably hunting tacitly encourages poaching in the first place; hence Van der Linde has to spend more then he earns in hunting income alone (a reported $451k USD per annum) protecting his rhino from poachers!

Conclusions

PR Wouter van Hoven (‘Animal Conservationist’) sums up the manmade dichotomy on show, when he says he would love to see healthy herds of unthreatened wildlife wandering across the vista, but the pragmatic ‘reality’ will most likely be private reserves homing all ‘wildlife’ (which of course, is no longer truly wild at that point) and sustained with ‘wildlife’ sacrificed for hunting income.

The question is whether the complicit nature of hunting/poaching will combine into a perfect storm, with the warring factions seeking to eradicate for fun/profit the species within the reserves at increasingly unsustainable rates.

Without a radical ‘disruptive innovation’ that unbalances the ‘if it pays, it dies’ race to eliminate wildlife, the current model will no doubt reach a critical mass of killing on a path to complete decimation of endangered species sooner, rather than later.

The hunting industry is obviously hugely beneficial to the pockets of those within the industry and employs a fair range of personnel to facilitate its many intriguing and established facets. The argument goes, if the industry was shut-down what would happen to all those facilities (game breeding private reserves) and people employed within the industry?

The best response I have seen, it that they would all have to find a less morally reprehensible way to make a living (like the vast majority) that hopefully did not rely on animal exploitation and pandering to the sick addiction of the noble Trophy Hunter.

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