by Staff Writers
Sun City, South Africa (AFP) Dec 02, 2012
South Africa's hunting industry has set its sights on growing its already booming business and on casting off its negative image.
The country's abundant wildlife, already a top tourist attraction, also draws thousands of marksmen in search of trophies for the wall or meat for the pot.
Hunters are thought to have spent about 6.2 billion rand ($703 million, 543 million euros) in 2010 -- the last known figure -- and provided employment to 140,000 people in a country where one in four people are jobless.
But the industry has an obvious image problem. It struggles to convince the public that shooting individual animals does not threaten species.
"If you look at the image of hunting, a lot, lot could be done to ... educate the urban public to the reality of hunting," said Stephen Palos, chairman Confederation of Hunters Associations of South Africa.
According to Palos these "misconceptions" are pedalled by "fringe elements, animal rightist elements."
He said "animal rightists play on emotion" and by hurting the hunting industry they reduce the funds that go to convservation.
But there is no doubt hunting is big business. Big trophies draw big bucks.
It costs an average of $22,000 to shoot an adult male lion.
Around 500 are killed annually, including a few lionesses which cost $4,000.
Outfitters also offer packages with various combinations of animals over several days.
Local hunters are largely interested in hunting for meat, especially antelope for the local dried meat delicacy biltong.
Thousands of foreigners also come in search of white rhino, buffalo and large antelope such as kudu and oryx.
In 2010, 5,673 foreigners came mostly from the United States, Denmark, Sweden and Norway and shot nearly 32,000 animals at a cost of 600 million rand ($69 million)
"This figure is underestimated, the amount should be much higher," said Melville Saayman, a researcher at the North-West University.
"I think we need to position our country as a hunting destination much stronger than we do."
South Africa has more than 10,000 commercial wildlife reserves which stretch over 17 percent of the land and have an annual turnover of eight billion rand.
Of this figure, 75 percent comes from hunting and the rest of activities like eco-tourism and auctions.
"The (wildlife) industry measured in terms of turnover grew an average rate of 20.3 per annum in the last 15 years," said Gert Dry, president of Wildlife Ranching South Africa.
The government is fully aware of the benefits that hunting offers.
"The hunting industry contributes substantially to the economy of the country," Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa told a recent conference, calling for more blacks to enter the white-dominated business.
"Government recognises that game farming and hunting contributes significantly to conservation, tourism development, job creation and sustainable development, especially in rural areas, and is part of the broader biodiversity economy."
Yet emotions in South Africa are currently running high, thanks to a rhino poaching crisis.
Rhino poaching has reached record highs, with 588 of the animals killed already this year.
A recent "canned lion hunting" scandal also fired up anti-hunting sentiment.
Then, marksmen were filmed gunning down the captive bred top predators in small areas, which Saayman said was "unethical" and had given hunting bad publicity.
Anti-poaching advocates admit hunting is a thorny issue.
At best hunting could be done within a well managed system and the proceeds could be used to fund conservation.
But the rate of illegal hunting of some species is such that populations may be under threat.
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