Owing to the prohibitive cost and increasing non-availability of big game hunting for citizen hunters these days, I recently purchased a few hunting videos at our local supermarket, confining myself to enjoying an “armchair safari” instead.
I was particularly looking forward to the section sub-titled “Dangerous Game Hunting” where the big four were to be hunted on a single safari in the Zambezi Valley. However, I was rather disappointed to note that both the lion and leopard were shot at night with the aid of a spotlight. In another Safari Newsreel video an elephant was also killed at night in a maize field, again using a “bulala” lamp.
Is this method of hunting now increasingly becoming an accepted practice amongst the professional hunting community? Many of the hunting videos one sees nowadays will support that.
Between 1980 and 1997 when the Z.H.A. administered the hunting rights in the Rifa Safari Area of the Zambezi Valley for local hunters, I would say that about five lion and seven leopard, on average, were shot each year - all in daylight hours. If it got too dark whilst waiting at your blind, you went back to camp to return again at first light hoping to catch your quarry. If, after the ten day safari you were unsuccessful then that was bad luck and the unshot lion or leopard was passed on to the next group of hunters. The point I am trying to make is that not only was it considered unethical to shoot at night but it was, and still is as far as I am aware, against the National Parks Act. Any member caught hunting in this manner would have been dealt with accordingly by the Z.H.A. Disciplinary Committee as well as by Parks.
Is the lure of the quick buck and the urgency to produce a result for the client, who is normally on a tight schedule, more important than ethical hunting practises? Obviously National Parks are now allowing night hunting with a spotlight - the evidence can be seen on many of these videos currently available.
One hears stories of tape recordings of squealing pigs being placed at lion and leopard baits, drums of molasses being put on the edges of National Park boundaries to entice elephant out into the hunting areas and aircraft being used to spot game which are in radio contact with hunters on the ground. Are we heading for the “canned lions” scenario that occurred in South Africa a few years back?
I am not against commercial professional hunting, nor am I bitter that I can no longer hunt big game as easily as I did in the 80’s and early 90’s, but I feel that fair chase and ethical hunting is taking a back seat at the expense of the mighty US dollar.
~ Duncan Wood
The legal position with regard to shooting with a spotlight in Zimbabwe is quite simple. Under Section 18 (2) of Statutory Instrument 362 “....no person shall, within the Parks and Wildlife Estate, hunt any animal by night or use any dazzling light for the purpose of hunting”, with night being defined as being between 30 minutes after sunset to 30 minutes before sunrise. From an ethical point of view though, there are several considerations.
The SCI African Chapter code of Sport Hunting ethics contains the following:
"Hunt only in accordance with the defined principles of fair chase.... Said animal is to be hunted without artificial light source, not from a motorised mode of conveyance and in an area that does not by its nature concentrate animals for a specific purpose or at a specific time, such as at a waterhole, salt lick or feeding station."
This is of course the ideal and there are a myriad of other factors that must be considered. e.g., no shooting at a waterpoint: what constitutes shooting at a waterpoint? Zimbabwean regulations stipulate that there may be no shooting within 400m of the said point. Where is the point at a spring? At the source or at the first big pool? In many areas it is easily possible to shoot an animal within 50m of a spring let alone a trough, and be none the wiser.
With regard to shooting predators with a spotlight, it must be appreciated that:
- Lion and hyaena are predominantly nocturnal, whilst leopard are almost exclusively so. This means that the natural time to hunt these species is at night. The Zimbabwean Parks Department prohibits night hunting on the very sound grounds that they are primarily involved with the conservation of an ecosystem as close to natural as possible. This means maintaining the predator populations at approx-imately ecological carrying capacity, and consequently the numbers available for harvesting are low (even though the density on the ground is high). It must be remembered that when a population is near carrying capacity, the majority of cubs die due to food shortages or in territorial fights, so the recruitment into the adult population each year is very low. One easy way of ensuring that you are not reducing the population significantly below carrying capacity is to prohibit night shooting. When food is limited, even normally nocturnal predators will feed in daylight.
- Outside of protected areas, landowner tolerance for predators is fairly low. Even on a game ranch, sable or eland are likely to be of considerably greater value than lion or leopard. In tribal areas or cattle farming areas, predators are universally regarded as a pest. They are tolerated so long as they generate reasonable revenue and do not kill too many valuable ungulates, domestic or wild. In order to meet this objective, it has been found that predators need to be kept at a level of between 50 and 75% of carrying capacity. At a 50% stocking rate, survival rates for the cubs is much higher than at carrying capacity, so, proportionately a far greater number can be taken off each year. Also as food is not limited, the animals grow quicker and generally produce acceptable trophies at a younger age. The down side is that it is virtually impossible to shoot your trophy in daylight.
- It is a proven fact that where predators are protected outside of national parks areas and farmers (whether they are subsistence or commercial) are legally prevented from protecting their livestock or earning a good revenue from the predators, then strenuous efforts are made to eradicate them. In most farming areas across Africa, lion were wiped out with poison, whilst leopard numbers were held in check by poisoning and trapping. The growth of the safari industry has given predators a reprieve, giving them a high commercial value, and significantly improving farmer tolerance and therefore a commendable improvement in the management of both species. In those countries where hunting is banned, such as Kenya, poisoning continues unabated.
It is a similar story with baiting. For many years Botswana did not allow the baiting (with meat or sound) of lion or leopard. Consequently hunters developed a technique of running the animals to earth using bushman trackers and/or dogs. Is baiting elephant any more “unethical” than baiting lion? Is a call tape (effectively a sound bait) more unethical than a meat one? Is hunting leopard with dogs less ethical than baiting? (Hunting lion, leopard and cheetah with dogs is banned in Zimbabwe under SPCA regulations, but a wounded animal may be followed up using them).
In short, every hunter will have his own appreciation of what is Right, Fair, Ethical. All that we can recommend for the moment is that if one is going on a hunt, make sure you know what methods will be used before you go. It is a fact that there will always be a safari operator who will go beyond the bounds of what is ethical (if not downright illegal), to provide what the client is paying him handsomely to provide... a shot at a good trophy. If there are clear cases of unethical behaviour on the part of the operator, the various professional associations (PHASA in South Africa, ZPHGA in Zimbabwe, etc.) are well placed to deal with such individuals. Fortunately the vast majority of operators fully appreciate that their future lies in conservation of the resources, and that any behaviour that threatens this, even if it is technically legal, affects tomorrow. What is equally important though, is some means by which operators warn each other about unethical clients. Clients who try to abscond without paying, bribe the PH’s to do anything from shooting their animals for them to ‘overlooking’ wounded game, or are simply bad shots and worse sports.
~ Don Heath - Editor