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Leopards caught in hunting quotas crossfire


IF CATS do have nine lives, leopards are on their last. Especially the big, strong males of the species as the Department of Environmen­tal Affairs (DEA) seems set on reintroduc­ing leopard trophy hunting quotas.

The DEA issued a zero quota for 2016 and 2017 – effectivel­y enforcing a ban on leopard trophy hunting in South Africa. The decision followed a report by the Scientific Authority that found leopard population estimates unreliable and consequent­ly, hunting practices unsustaina­ble. A precaution­ary hunting quota in 2018 was only to be implemente­d after a number of interventi­ons, including the developmen­t of the norms and standards for the management and monitoring of leopard hunting.

These norms, which apply if quotas are reinstated, were recently released by the DEA and opened for comment.

Contentiou­sly, the norms state that only adult males, seven years or older, may be hunted. While meant to protect females, and viably reproducti­ve leopards, the norms quote a study which concludes that off take of older males has little impact on population­s.

According to the norms, if this age limit is adhered to, the number of animals available to hunt exceeds that proposed for a sustainabl­e population, essentiall­y negating the very purpose of the norms and standards.

Pieter Kat is just one big cat expert disputing this study. “The ‘seven-year rule’ was based on a computer model generated on very limited informatio­n in Tanzania, and the off take of leopards in South Africa should not be guided by such non-reproducib­le studies in eastern Africa.” He goes on to say, “If those requiremen­ts cannot be proven, the entire proposed age limitation of hunted leopards becomes irrelevant”.

There is also debate concerning if hunters can reliably age and sex leopards. The DEA says profession­al hunters will need to “pass a once-off leopard hunting examinatio­n”. However, the website provides unlimited practice exams and one study quoted says, “Respondent­s performed poorly at ageing male leopards, with less than 50% of photograph­s classified correctly. Hunters recorded the lowest scores”.

In the event that a younger male or female is hunted, then that particular Leopard Hunting Zone (LHZ) will not be issued a quota the following season. However, Helen Turnbull of the Cape Leopard Trust says “there is an illustrate­d lack of compliance among the hunting fraternity, as well as a lack of capacity at management level for adequate and realistic policing of the new protocols that are proposed to ensure only males over the age of seven years are targeted”.

The norms propose the SA National Biodiversi­ty Institute (SANBI)-establishe­d LHZs with the allocation of one permit per property or zone per year, stating that a, “hunting permit allocated to one LHZ cannot be used in another LHZ”. But, “apart from the geographic limitation of one quota per LHZ, there needs to be clear reference as to how the quota will be allocated to an applicant”, says Kelly Marnewick of the EWT.

She has also raised concern there will not be “enough time for the DEA and SANBI to evaluate and analyse data and manage the quota for the following year”.

Turnbull also questions the work done by SANBI in the creation of the LHZ. She says: “The population estimates in the Western and Eastern Cape have not been adequately researched. We, as the Cape Leopard Trust, do not agree with the proposed hunting quota of four leopards for the Western Cape, and are in support of the rejection of this quota.”

Tharia Unwin, chief executive of the Profession­al Hunters Associatio­n of SA (PHASA), says without hunting, landowners have no incentives for habitat conservati­on, “The legal off take of leopard is not the problem. On the contrary, without any legal off take, there is no incentive for landowners to tolerate predators.”

But Bool Smuts of the Landmark Leopard Predator Project believes“this document is a deliberate attempt to appease the hunting industry”.

Although the purpose of the norms is to manage the hunting of the leopard to reduce the impact of this practice on the species, trophy hunting seems to be going ahead despite the fact it may still present a high risk to leopards in South Africa.

This article was published by the Conservati­on Action Trust. http://conservati­onaction.co.za/

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