Dart safaris for the well-heeled

Hunting a rare animal has all sorts of ethical complications, but now hunters can do it and know they are helping conservation.

It’s called green hunting—a client goes along with a professional hunter and a wildlife vet and darts an animal, has his photo taken with his “trophy”, and goes home knowing he’s helped conservation.

Once the photo has been taken and the vet has taken samples, or done whatever else is needed, the animal is given an antidote, gets up and goes back into the bush.

It’s just another way of funding the vast amount of research and conservation which goes on in South Africa.

Director of the Endangered Wildlife Trusts’ (EWT) wildlife resource centre, Dr Paul Bartels, says green hunting has brought in much needed revenue for conservation. He would “love it” if green hunting was more expensive than classic hunting, but it is not.

However, the client does pay for part of the conservation, otherwise the hunt would not be viable, economically. Rare animals are, obviously, more popular for this type of hunting, and also are the animals conservationists are most interested in for research.

Wildlife management is expensive and imperative, says Bartels.

“If you take Pilanesberg ...they ear notch their rhino population and that costs hundreds of thousands of rands a year.
They need to know their rhino population and ear notching identifies them.

“Gone are the days when the animals can just look after themselves ...We have destroyed and fragmented so much of their habitat and populations and we need to know what is going on in those populations. There are problems like in-breeding. We have to look at ways to fund that.”

The EWT’s wildlife biological resource centre is a “bank” where animals’ DNA and blood samples, and other samples of interest to scientists and conservationists, are kept for research purposes.

Bartels stresses that throughout the hunt the animal’s well-being is paramount.

“The conservation reason (for the “dart safari”) takes priority. If a rhino has been darted and something goes wrong and it needs to be woken up immediately the client doesn’t get his photo. I’ve done that twice.”

Bartels says the EWT decided to run dart safaris about four years ago, and they had great success until the post-September 11 slump in air travel.

“It was very popular until September 11 last year. We had between 100 and 150 clients a year ...mostly Americans,” he says.

At first the hunting community looked askance at dart safaris, but now Bartels says they are generally an enthusiastic partner in the enterprise.

Both “client dart safaris”, where the client darts the animal, and “group dart safaris”, where the clients go along and watch the conservation process, are offered by various organisations. Dart safaris are not openly advertised, a client has to go through a professional hunting company.

While there are no specific laws governing green hunting, the EWT has drawn up a code of conduct and there are laws about hunting and how animals are treated. For example, it was decided that an animal would not be darted over and over again because it has a good horn.

“I think that’s unethical,” says Bartels, “There has to be a reason, like the animal is to be translocated or a sample is needed for research.”

The SA Veterinary Association and the local hunting fraternity are drawing up reports on the practise too.

On a dart safari the vet handles the dangerous drugs used in a dart, collects all the samples and inserts microchips into the animals, while the professional hunter ensures the safety of the client. - Sapa

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