On 12 August 2018, the Republic of South Africa, Department: Environmental Affairs (DEA) made a statement – “Minister Molewa allocates leopard hunting quota for South Africa for 2018” – this is the result of “the possibility of introducing a precautionary hunting quota in 2018” and puts a quota of 7 leopards up for formal execution in 2018 – I say ‘formal’ because there is always the ongoing misuse of ‘damage causing animal destruction permits’ of course where leopards are hunted and killed on an ongoing basis (or just killed in secrecy in ‘retaliation’ for being leopards):
“Five male leopard[s] in Limpopo Province and two male leopards in KwaZulu-Natal. The leopard must be older males –seven years or older in both cases” – “Minister Molewa allocates leopard hunting quota for South Africa for 2018,” DEA, 12 August 2018
So let’s take a look – first of all at some background. In February 2017, the Republic of South Africa, Department: Environmental Affairs (DEA) announced an intention to potentially reinstate leopard hunting in South Africa after calling a halt to it in 2016 because:
The DEA accepted in January 2016 the negative non-detrimental finding (meaning it found it detrimental) to hunt leopards from 2016. The DEA’s directive/statement concluded that “the number of leopards in the country is unknown and, for this reason, the sustainability of hunting cannot be accurately assessed” – “Leopard hunting: Restricted but not banned,” Don Pinnock, Daily Maverick, 29 October 2015
In 2017 the provisional leopard hunting quota proposed by the DEA for 2018 was given (at Table 1 below) as 88 leopards.
Appendix 1 – Table 1 – Draft norms and standards for the management and monitoring of the hunting of leopard in South Africa for trophy hunting purposes – Government Gazette, Vol. 620, 8 February 2017, No. 40601 Notice 75, Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA)
So, some might say that from a provisional proposal of 88 leopards to be hunted in 2018, 7 is not too many….but where is the independent, scientific proof that killing 7 adult male leopards for hunting trophies is not detrimental to the survival of the species? The leopard is an elusive species, hence accurate population figures are virtually unknowable:
The IUCN Red List (Pathera pardus – “Vulnerable”) considers the leopard population within “South Africa appear to be decreasing from previous estimates with Leopards disappearing from areas with increased human development and areas of intensive conflict with humans.” Furthermore, Swanepeol et al (2014) stated that “we found an unequivocal risk of population decline in South Africa as a whole as well as for several provinces.”
Guy Balme (Panthera) also reportedly said at the time in 2016 “We just don’t know how leopards are faring in South Africa. They’re secretive, mainly nocturnal, solitary and range over huge areas. Counting them requires intensive research using expensive technology such as camera traps, which can only be deployed over small areas, far smaller than the areas in which hunting quotas are determined” – “South Africa bans leopard trophy hunting for 2016,” Africa Geographic, 25 January 2016
In March 2017, the Royal Society Open Science called into question “the sustainability of additive off take through legal mechanisms of leopard removals such as trophy hunting and damage-causing animal destruction permits” noting that the “….density of leopards in the case study declined by 66% over seven and a half years.”
The DEA and the DEA’s ‘Scientific Authority’ – the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) assumed – have been asked for the actual ‘science’ behind any claim that the 2018 leopard hunting quota announced “would not have a detrimental effect on the survival of leopard in the wild“…….an informative, credible, scientific response is awaited.
UPDATE, 23 September 2018: The DEA, or SANBI failed to respond directly to a request for the ‘science’ to back the leopard hunting quota. However, a publicly available SANBI report, “Leopard Quota Review: South Africa” (AC30 Doc 15. Annex 3), does provide the background – but appears to be based on a ‘hope’:
“that the adaptive management framework recently adopted in South Africa, through which trophy hunting is limited to areas with stable (or increasing) leopard populations as demonstrated by scientifically robust data on leopard population trends, will encourage collaborative landowner participation in the South African Leopard Monitoring Project, and ultimately incentivize management practices that contribute towards the conservation of leopards” – Para 7, “Conservation incentives and benefits.”
At the same time, the report seems to casually accept the illegal and ongoing persecution of leopards:
“It is estimated that as many as 1500 – 2500 leopards are illegally harvested annually to meet the demand for skins by the Nazareth Baptist ‘Shembe’ Church; The illegal killing of putative DCAs [Damage Causing Animals, as self determined by livestock farmers in their illegal ‘shoot, shovel and shut up’ approach to leopards] is typically indiscriminate, the scale of which is currently unknown since illegal off-take of leopards is poorly monitored, if at all” – Para 3.e. “Illegal Off-take”
It doesn’t sound like a ‘legal’ leopard hunting quota has any scientific backing to counter such blatant illicit activity. The ‘hope’ that a reinstated hunting quota will increase the human tolerance of leopards and somehow deter blatant illicit leopard killings seems at best a vague, desperate deceit – not science.
“Public Hearing on the Draft Norms and Standards (2020) for Trophy Hunting of Leopards in South Africa“- Mpumalanga Provincial Legislature, IWB Submission, 22 February 2021
“Claws out over DEA ‘jumping gun’ on leopard hunting,” IOL, 18 August 2018
“#ShockWildlifeTruths: SA licenses leopard hunting,” Janine Avery, Traveller 24, 17 August 2018
“Leopard trophy hunting – let’s talk numbers,” Simon Espley, Africa Geographic, 15 August 2018
“Biologist questions science behind leopard trophy hunting quota,” Maxine Gaines, Africa Geographic, 15 August 2018