Green Hunting

With so much attention on canned hunting, it is not surprising that “green” hunting may seem like a viable and responsible alternative.

Not surprising either that media and public attention haven’t been on green hunting when the spotlight is well and truly on the dreadful, despicable and unethical practice of canned hunting. Even the TV drama series CSI has aired an episode on canned hunting. As the most-watched television series in the world, you can’t do better than that.

Green hunting is being promoted as “the thrill without the kill” or the big-game hunting experience without killing an animal. It has been promoted internationally, included on web sites: – “Imagine the thrill of tracking, spotting, stalking and hunting the world’s greatest game animals at close range in Africa – lion, buffalo, leopard, elephant and rhinoceros – without killing any of them.”

“Catch-and-release hunting is now possible by converting a high-powered rifle to a tranquiliser dart gun.”

A list of reasons is given (San Francisco Chronicle) why green hunting “solves many problems.” This includes the fact that an animal is not killed, no trophy-kill fee (ie cheaper), an inspiration for the travel industry, providing income for habitat protection, worldwide in scope, relatively low cost and a “full experience without a downside.”

At first sight, perhaps argues the NSPCA’s Wildlife Unit. Just about anything can be promoted as inspiring the travel industry or that income can be ploughed into good causes. But an activity without a downside. Not so.

The Chairperson of the Game Ranger Association of South Africa stated to the NSPCA in 1999 that “I am not sure if you people are aware of green hunting and what it entails. It basically has to do where animals are to be immobilised it is then done by an outsider paying big money for the privilege. Surely this can create an opportunity for the misuse of animals for the sake of money and should be a concern of yours. It has come to my notice that there has already been a case where one white rhino bull is apparently subjected to monthly immobilisations.”

Concerns have already arisen about green hunting and there are incidents to prove it. An elephant was “green” hunted near Tandatula Lodge in late 1999 and the elephant was killed when it charged the “hunters.” A letter to the NSPCA from the South African National Parks’ Dr Douw Grobler stated: “It was decided that one collared animal (elephant) would be selected for the eco-hunt purpose. Whilst they (the “hunters”) were approaching a termite mound, the elephant became aware of our presence (in my opinion, the movement of the eco-hunter) and moved closer towards us in a typical head-up fashion.” Dr Grobler describes how the hunters backed up, the elephant charges and was shot and killed.

Three shots at close range and a further three once the elephant was down to make sure it was dead. This elephant was one of the elephants collared as part of the satellite tracking programme. This was green hunting or eco-hunting.

A member of the public wrote to the NSPCA: “I find the practice of green hunting absolutely abhorrent. It would seem that some of the conservation tourist bodies go to any lengths to appease the American dollar or any other foreign currency. Our wild animals, like our natural environment, are becoming victims of greed and expediency.”

African Environment and Wildlife Magazine reported in January 2000 that prices of up to R300 000 can be paid for the opportunity to dart an endangered animal, that numbers of animals being darted in this way are increasing annually and that now more rhino, to give but one example, are darted for sport than lethally hunted. But although this same report heralds the sport as “catch-and-release”, dart safaris, chemical hunting or non-consumptive hunting – it lists multiple dangers.

It notes one instance when a man was charged and knocked down by a rhino whilst chasing after his wife’s first dart victim. He required surgery and was considered lucky to be alive.

What about the animals? The late Dr Andrew McKenzie wrote a definitive text on darting wild animals and he warned that some unscrupulous game ranchers are repeatedly darting a single rhino because “It is a great way to make a dung-heap full of money from one animal.” The South African Veterinary Association recommended that no animal should be darted more than twice a year and preferably only once, to minimise stress. Yet, it has been reported that the same rhino has been darted three times in eight months.

The NSPCA concurs that darting for the sake of darting is not only wrong but totally unnecessary and that even when a dart safari is done for the right reasons, there are risks for the animals. It is hazardous.

Professional capture teams almost always dart from a helicopter. Amateurs on safari do not do that. They are on the ground which raises the likelihood that a dart may be off-target when it hits the animal. This would result in a partial dose of the drug being given. One documented example is when the shot from the eco-hunter deflected off a twig and hit the rhino in the rib cage. The semi-conscious animal then fled, ending up trapped between two boulders.

Lloyds of London has insured 35 rhinos for dart safaris. That’s how big it is and how seriously it is being taken – including the risks to the animals.

The NSPCA recently received a communication entitled BUSINESS PLAN GREENHUNT COMPETITION which involved “hunting” big game on foot with a paintball gun. R1 000 000.00 is up for grabs in prize money, R1 000 000.00 to be donated to nature conservation and R3 000 000.00 to be earned by game farms participating. That is a lot of money for grabs.

It would be a brave person or organisation to stand and oppose but the NSPCA is brave and proud of its moral stance – and opposes.

Take a look at the rules and see for yourself:

“Each game farm will be allocated points for habitat, type and gameness of game. It will be up to teams to develop a strategy that will benefit them as a team. Points will be allocated for the accuracy of mortal shot or shot that will disable the game. Points will be deducted for headshots and wounded shots.”

We reiterate a comment written by former NSPCA Wildlife Coordinator, Rozanne Savory which sums it up: “I must admit to having been somewhat naïve in believing that green hunting was only conducted on animals that were the subject of research or needed to be immobilised for veterinary reasons. To repeatedly immobilise an animal for no purpose other than for that animal to be the target of green hunting – in other words for commercial purposes – is opposed by the National Council of SPCAs on welfare grounds and would be deemed to be causing unnecessary suffering to that animal. In addition, there could be some build-up of the immobilising drug in the body of the animal over a period which could be detrimental to its health.”

Little wonder that the ANIMAL TALK article on the issue carried the headline “Darting Safaris – Brilliant Concept or Another Scam?”

It might seem ironic that the Professional Hunters Association of South African came out in opposition to green hunting, stating to the NSPCA that, “After careful consideration and consultation with top authorities on the question of the dart hunting of animals, and in consideration of the trauma and stress caused to the animals involved, the Professional Hunters Association of South Africa has come to the conclusion that it cannot presently support the green hunting of any species as a form of sport hunting.”

The Game rangers Association of Africa advised the NSPCA that, “The effect of repeated tranquilising on any animal is unknown in that the levels of trauma and effect on social behaviour cannot be effectively measured. The possibility of the animal killing or injuring itself during the period in which the drugs are taking effect are real as the animal cannot effectively be moved away from danger. The position in which the animal goes down can also cause death by asphyxiation or damage to internal organs. The threat of injury or death is therefore significant. The practice of green hunting can only be considered abhorrent by members of the Game Rangers Association of Africa who spend their lives protecting these animals for posterity. The ethics of clients who participate in this practice must be questioned as much as those of the people who offer the service.”

The NSPCA has written to the Department of Nature Conservation stating that there is no doubt that repeated immobilisation of an animal takes place and that there are exempted game farms when Nature Conservation is not present during green hunts – and therefore where green hunting has been abused and exploited to the detriment of animals. In one week, the NSPCA received two reports alleging that specific trophy white rhino bulls were being immobilised for green hunts as often as once a fortnight. This clearly has welfare implications. Investigations continue and we wonder if, as may have been predicted, the original justification for green hunting has fallen by the wayside in the quest for the dollar.

In a dramatic turn of events in 2010 the South African Veterinary Council (SAVC) declared veterinary involvement in green hunting (the practise whereby a veterinarian facilitates the immobilizing/anaesthesia of an animals by a non-veterinarian) an unethical procedure. This came into effect 1 June 2010. The conduct of veterinarian who are involved in green hunts will be regarded as unprofessional and will be investigated. In 2011 the Department of Environmental Affairs accepted recommendations by the Veterinarian’s Council regarding the darting of rhinos and stopped issuing permits for these so-called green hunts this past August. That new regulation makes it illegal for anyone but a veterinarian to administer medicines for the purpose of tranquilizing or anaesthetizing an animal, Only registered veterinarian or veterinary professionals, or a person authorised in writing by the SAVC, may dart an animal with a Schedule 5 and 6 substance. Scheduled medicine may thus not be used for recreational purposes or to create potential commercial activities whereby animals are unnecessarily stressed. The SAVC also informed the veterinary profession that the advertising of veterinary safaris and/or the charging of fees to have persons witness the rendering of veterinary services is not permitted.