Time for laws to stop in­ter­ac­tion with car­ni­vores to en­sure safety of pub­lic

Saturday Star - - NEWS - SHEREE BEGA

WITH at least 28 in­jured peo­ple and 12 deaths in South Africa, the “time has clearly come” for leg­is­la­tion to be en­acted to end all pub­lic in­ter­ac­tions with car­ni­vores.

“There is no jus­ti­fi­able ra­tio­nale for the pub­lic to be in­ter­act­ing with car­ni­vores in cap­tiv­ity, risk­ing peo­ple’s lives,” said a group of con­ser­va­tion or­gan­i­sa­tions in an open let­ter to Min­is­ter of En­vi­ron­men­tal Af­fairs Edna Molewa yes­ter­day.

Should the gov­ern­ment con­tinue to turn a blind eye, more peo­ple would be in­jured or killed, warned the En­dan­gered Wildlife Trust, Blood Lions, Pan­thera, Wild Trust, Na­tional As­so­ci­a­tion of Con­ser­van­cies, Stew­ard­ship of SA and Wildlife­act.

“It is clear the cur­rent sys­tem is flawed and a fail­ure to re­act rapidly to pro­tect peo­ple would be neg­li­gent.”

Last week­end, Michael Hodge was mauled by a 10-year-old lion he hand-reared since birth at the Thabaz­imbi Preda­tor Park.

“It’s with grave con­cern that the un­der­signed or­gan­i­sa­tions, note that yet an­other per­son has been se­ri­ously in­jured by a cap­tive car­ni­vore in South Africa”. But this in­ci­dent, it said, was not iso­lated.

Records showed that at least 37 sim­i­lar in­ci­dents hap­pened since 1996 af­fect­ing “no less” than 40 vic­tims. “This fig­ure re­flects only those in­ci­dents that have been re­ported in the me­dia and hence there could be more.”

The or­gan­i­sa­tions stated that of the 37 known in­ci­dents:

● Forty vic­tims were in­volved, 28 were in­jured and 12 killed. Four­teen (38%) in­volved cap­tive chee­tahs;

● Twenty-two (60%) in­volved cap­tive lions;

● One in­ci­dent in­volved a cap­tive tiger;

● 92% of fa­tal­i­ties were by lions; 46% of all lion at­tacks were fa­tal. Th­ese in­ci­dents in­volved 13 women, 18 men and nine chil­dren.

“Th­ese in­ci­dents are ge­o­graph­i­cally wide­spread: Lim­popo: nine; Eastern Cape: eight; Gaut­eng: six; North West Prov­ince: four; Kwazu­lu­na­tal: four; Western Cape: two; and one un­known. Th­ese in­ci­dents oc­curred in a va­ri­ety of ways, with the most com­mon at­tacks oc­cur­ring while peo­ple were in­side the camps with the car­ni­vores (24 in­ci­dents). Four in­ci­dents in­volved peo­ple be­ing at­tacked through a fence.

On three oc­ca­sions, the an­i­mals had es­caped, while on an­other three, the vic­tims were in­side or on a ve­hi­cle.

Three other in­ci­dents in­volved the vic­tim tres­pass­ing – at­tacked by re­leased cap­tive chee­tahs.

“Mem­bers of the con­ser­va­tion sec­tor have been ex­press­ing con­cern about cap­tive fa­cil­i­ties where th­ese in­ter­ac­tions take place for more than 10 years be­cause they have no con­ser­va­tion value.”

The or­gan­i­sa­tions said there were not ad­e­quate safety reg­u­la­tions in place to pro­tect tourists and fa­cil­ity staff. Wel­fare stan­dards were often com­pro­mised or not reg­u­lated or mon­i­tored, and were fur­ther com­pli­cated by un­clear man­dates on wel­fare be­tween the de­part­ments of En­vi­ron­men­tal Af­fairs and Agri­cul­ture, Forestry and Fish­eries.

The links to shoot­ing of cap­tive lions and the bone trade were neg­a­tively im­pact­ing on South Africa’s con­ser­va­tion im­age.

“There are clearly sig­nif­i­cant risks posed by the in­ter­ac­tions be­tween hu­mans and cap­tive car­ni­vores, and it’s wor­ry­ing that de­spite this, the sec­tor re­mains in­ef­fec­tively reg­u­lated,” the open let­ter stated.

“There are no reg­u­la­tions gov­ern­ing which car­ni­vores may be kept in cap­tiv­ity, or why; by whom and for what pur­pose; un­der which con­di­tions and with what ac­tiv­i­ties re­lated to them.

“It is highly prob­a­ble that the in­ci­dences of in­jury or death from in­ter­ac­tions with cap­tive car­ni­vores will con­tinue.”

The let­ter called on the gov­ern­ment to in­sti­tute strict reg­u­la­tions for the man­age­ment of all car­ni­vores held in cap­tiv­ity.

This would en­sure that only qual­i­fied, ex­pe­ri­enced peo­ple had ac­cess to th­ese an­i­mals and that no risks were posed to ei­ther hu­man or an­i­mal life by un­re­stricted, un­reg­u­lated ac­cess.

PIC­TURE: ROD­NEY PRYNNE

Of all fa­tal­i­ties recorded, 92% in­volved lions. The time has come, say con­ser­va­tion bod­ies, for all pub­lic in­ter­ac­tion with wild an­i­mals to cease.

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