Court lifts suspension on hunting

The Pretoria High Court on Tuesday ordered that game and trophy hunting on private game farms bordering the Kruger National Park (KNP) may go ahead.

Judge William de Villiers had set aside an order on March 29 by the Limpopo provincial government, in terms of which all hunting activities on these farms were suspended.

He ordered that the provincial government must issue hunting permits to the private game farms in question without delay.

This order was granted provided it did not prevent the department from suspending hunting activities in future. Such a suspension, however, must then be reasonable, lawful and procedurally fair, said De Villiers.

“We will keep issuing hunting permits but our rules for granting them will be a lot stricter,” Peter Thloaune, spokesperson for Limpopo’s department of economic development, environment and tourism told the Mail & Guardian Online on Wednesday.

“In fact, the provincial government decided to lift the suspension on hunting last week Wednesday,” said Thloaune.

This was done because the province had already issued permits and the suspension posed some practical problems for overseas hunters.

The Limpopo province organised public hearings in which the matter of hunting in the private reserves bordering the KNP could be discussed.
This meeting was held on Monday.

“It was a good meeting and I think that the green lobby presented a very strong case on Monday,” said hunting opponent Hennie de Beer, one of the owners of land within the Timbavati private reserve.

The green lobby believes that hunting should not be practised since there is no fence separating the private reserve from the KNP. The wildlife from the park can wander freely into the private reserves and be shot. The hunters will then be shooting protected Kruger wildlife. 

“The meeting was held to give the province insight in[to] the opinions of different parties in this debate. These opinions will all be taken into account and will play a part in the provincial contribution to the national committee that is investigating the matter,” said Thloaune.

Minister of Environmental Affairs and Tourism Marthinus van Schalkwyk announced in his Budget statement that a national committee would investigate hunting in buffer zones (private reserves that border a national park and where the separating fence has been brought down) and canned lion hunting.

“Our department is not, in principle, opposed to regulated, responsible hunting, but we believe that a framework is needed to bring greater clarity to issues like hunting and harmonising land-use practices in areas adjoining national parks,” Van Schalkwyk told Parliament on April 6.

“Our new legislation will bring legal certainty to these issues in the future ‒- ensuring that such relationships are dealt with in clear and defined contractual terms,” he said.

Van Schalkwyk appointed a panel consisting of, among others, conservation and environmental ethics experts. The panel is to be chaired by his former director general, Crispian Olver.

This committee is to present a report on the matter within four months.

“We might adapt our policies in regard to issuing hunting permits based on the advice of this committee. If the national policies change, then we will also change our policies. Until then, we will be stricter in issuing permits,” said Thloaune.

The applicants and the respondents agreed to the order of the Pretoria High Court.

The court case followed an urgent application by Associated Private Nature Reserves, Timbavati Private Nature Reserve as well as the Klaserie and Umbabat nature reserves.

The Limpopo local government in January this year granted the private game farms permission to hunt, among others, elephant, buffalo and certain buck.

Thomas Hancock, chairperson of Timbavati, said in court papers that hunting is regulated and a game census is undertaken in August and September each year.

This determines the number of a certain species, sex and even the age for which hunting allocations are proposed.

The issuing of hunting permits to clients is a formality (once the allocations have been approved by the department) and the permit is only issued a few days before the hunt is due to start.

On March 29 this year the provincial government suspended all hunting activities on the private game farms due to “conflict of interests”.

Even though the moratorium on hunting was lifted it was still difficult to obtain permits.

Lorraine Pietersen of Timbavati told the court that when she applied for permits, she was told that “head office had not received any instruction to issue any hunting permits”.

Said Hancock: “Even if the applicants are not technically precluded from applying for such permits, it is clear that their applications will not be considered on their merits.”

The court heard that the situation was very urgent, as trophy hunters from abroad were in many cases on their way to hunt on these farms.

The hunting season on many of these farms has already started, and others will commence this week. The main hunting season is generally between April and early September.

Hancock said the decision to suspend all hunting activities on land adjoining the KNP was, in any event, irrational.