The recent decision by several international airlines to ban the transport of animal trophies will damage South Africa’s economy and do more harm than good, the country’s government has said.
The statement follows a wave of bad publicity arising from the slaughter of Cecil, a much-loved lion, by an American dentist turned big-game hunter in Zimbabwe. The furore has rebounded on South African Airways (SAA), with a Cape Town-based wildlife photographer circulating an international petition to stop SAA transporting wildlife trophies.
The petition wants SAA to join carriers like Delta, United, Virgin, British Airways and Emirates, and refuse to transport such trophies. (See Slaughter of Cecil the lion rebounds on SAA as petition) Over 550,000 people have signed the petition.
Now, however, South Africa’s Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) says many South Africans living in rural areas rely on hunting, which takes place under “regulated and coordinated conditions”. The department has called for the international airlines to revoke their decision.
Brent Stapelkamp, the Zimbabwean researcher who followed Cecil the lion for nine years before discovering he had been killed, says he opposes a ban on hunting. Although devoted to his lions, he told the BBC that the large sums paid by big game trophy hunters helped pay for rangers who battled wildlife poachers.
It is the poachers, who shoot animals illegally and poison waterholes, who pose the main threat to wildlife – not the big game hunters.
The South African government maintains that the decision to enforce a blanket ban fails to distinguish between legal and illegal transport of wildlife specimens and trophies.
Pohamba Shifeta, Environment and Tourism Minister in neighbouring Namibia, has said a ban by airlines could spell “the end of conservation in Namibia”.
“If conservancy members have no income, they will abandon their role in protecting the country’’s natural resources,” Shifeta told Al Jazeera.
Following the illegal killing of Cecil and another lion in Zimbabwe, the Zimbabwean government has banned big-game hunting for the time being, except in exceptional circumstances.
SAA earlier this year placed a temporary embargo (since lifted) on transport of animals parts, after elephant tusks labelled “mechanical equipment” were intercepted in Australia on the way to Malaysia.
A statement of the airline’s website says: “SAA Cargo has in the past experienced a problem where some of the shipments containing hunting trophies were misdeclared and was fined in a foreign country.
“In this particular instance, early in April 2015 a shipment lodged as machinery spare parts was discovered in Australia whilst in transit to Kuala Lumpur. The shipment contained elephant tusks and was seized.”
Written by Peter Needham