Conservationists are calling on the government to outlaw all forms of gin trap, the toothed, sprung leg-holds used by farmers to kill thousands of wild animals each year.
And they have reacted furiously to proposed research into ”soft” — rubberised — traps, supported by University of the Free State academics and officials of Cape Nature and the National Department of Environmental Affairs.
The project, which would be conducted on farms in the Northern Cape, sparked a catfight between conservation NGOs after the Cape Leopard Trust supported research into ”soft” traps as an interim alternative remedy.
However, following criticism from fellow NGOs and inquiries by the Mail & Guardian, Quinton Martins, the trust’s project manager in the Cederberg, dissociated his organisation from the research.
Gin traps are banned outright in about 90 countries around the world, but are legal in South Africa except when capturing protected species such as leopards and rhinos.
Tim Snow, manager of the wildlife conflict prevention group at the Endangered Wildlife Trust, said gin traps were inhumane and could not target specific species. ”Our experience shows at least 50% of gin traps catch non-targeted animals,” Snow said.
He added: ”There is no such thing as a ‘soft’ gin trap. I’d like to suggest that the people who want to apply to use these devices test them on their own cojones [testicles] first.”
Bool Smuts, director of the Landmark Foundation in Baviaanskloof, Eastern Cape, described ”soft” gin traps as barbaric and a ”green-washing” effort. ”They continue to fracture limbs, cut off blood supply, tear ligaments and tissues and cause dehydration and stressful deaths.
”The animals still chew off their limbs and break their teeth trying to free themselves from these devices,” Smuts said.
His foundation, which last year persuaded farmers in the 50 000ha Baviaanskloof valley to adopt non-lethal predator control methods, staged a symbolic burning of gin traps in the Eastern Cape last week.
The farmers now protect their livestock with Anatolian dogs, sheep collars and preventative herding techniques.
Smuts said his foundation had been offered a R100 000 ”donation” in May in return for ”softening” its stance and criticism of gin traps. He would not name the proposed ”donor”.
”In particular there was an objection to us calling gin traps ‘barbaric’ devices and to us calling for a ban on them and all leg-hold devices,” he said.
Martins said gin traps had killed up to 17 leopards a year in the 170 000ha area before The Cape Leopard Trust managed to persuade local farmers to ban the traps in 2003.
”Originally we were prepared to be involved in a carefully controlled experiment,” he said on Tuesday. ”We have subsequently reviewed this intention and will no longer be involved.
”To be pragmatic, in the Northern Cape right now any intervention that would reduce the carnage we have witnessed over the past eight months would be a positive step.”
Agricultural outlets and co-operatives around the country sell gin traps. A factory in Prince Albert, in the Western Cape, reportedly manufactures up to 1 200 gin traps a month and even markets ”leopard gin traps”.
Peter Schneekluth, owner of the factory, told the M&G the trap was ”for the odd declared rogue leopard. This trap is rather a heavy-duty version, mainly to control problem bush pig, warthog and big stray dogs.”
The environmental affairs department is developing draft norms and standards for the control of animals which cause damage. The draft regulations do not envisage a comprehensive ban on gin traps, said director of regulation and monitoring services Bonani Madikizela.
”There are humane ways in which gin traps can be used to minimise injury. Certain gin traps will be prohibited, while others may be used,” Madikizela said.