Animal activists and farmers are up in arms about draft government regulations for the “management of damage-causing animals” that allow for the use of a controversial poison, soft traps and dog hunting.
The “norms and standards”, gazetted for comment two weeks ago, are directed at wild animals that prey on livestock, principally black-backed jackals.
With the necessary permit, they allow the use of sodium monofluoroacetate (also known as compound 1080), a controversial poison banned in the United States in 1972, but reinstated under Ronald Reagan’s administration.
Tim Snow, the manager of the wildlife mitigation team at the Endangered Wildlife Trust, who was part of a task team which helped draft the standards, said 1080 is the “chemical of choice” for damage-causing animals.
“The collar is specific to a predator that bites a sheep on the neck — It has to be bitten to release the poison,” Snow said.
Compound 1080 targets problem predators, while other poisons harm non-target species such as birds of prey that feast on poisoned carcasses.
Snow said 1080 is most effective on members of the dog family, and larger doses are needed to affect species such as raptors.
“It’s less likely to have a knock-on effect,” he said. But the director of the Campaign Against Canned Hunting, Chris Mercer, countered that 1080 failed against coyotes in America and had a massive effect on the environment.
“One teaspoon could wipe out everyone in Parliament,” Mercer said. Environmental affairs spokesperson Roopa Singh insisted that 1080 “is a lethal poison that does not cause undue suffering.” But Landmark Foundation director Bool Smuts, contradicted him, saying that a poisoned animal “can take up to six hours to die”.
Animal rights activists also object to “soft traps”, arguing that they are essentially a modern-day gin trap. “They’re invariably lethal — only a minority of the animals caught in these traps survive,” Mercer said.
He said that although soft traps differed from gin traps by not smashing the captive animal’s leg, they cost ten times as much. For that reason, he doubted that farmers would convert to them.
Farmers have also reacted fiercely to the regulations, particularly the requirement that each damage-control incident should be recorded, and that the authorities or an independent registered environmental practitioner should make a site visit and compile a detailed report.
Petrus de Wet, the chairman of the Predation Management Forum and president of the National Wool Growers Association, complained: “You have the right to protect your livelihood and protect your property, yet the farmer who feeds you needs a permit.”
De Wet said that predators killed more than 6 500 head of livestock every day. “I myself lost 55 on Monday,” he said. “It’s totally impractical. I’m not going to draw up a report every time I have an incident. It would take me all week.”
The document, De Wet said, would put “a massive chain around the department’s neck — one it won’t be able to cope with”.
In comments to the department, the Red Meat Producers Organisation also expressed concern about state capacity.
“According to our calculations, 600 000 small stock are killed or maimed annually,” it said. “The impact of these losses has a direct effect on food security, specifically in the emerging sector.”