In compliance with signed international conservation treaties and agreements as well as national legislation, the Government has a responsibility to ensure conservation and sustainable utilisation of South Africa’s biodiversity resources. As part of this responsibility, the Scientific Authority of South Africa, appointed in terms of the National Environmental Management Biodiversity Act, must make a non-detriment finding (NDF) to confirm that the trade, including export of CITES I listed species (such as leopard), will not impact negatively on the survival of that species in the wild.
As previous evidence was suggesting that trophy hunting was contributing to local leopard populations declining, the Scientific Authority initiated a monitoring process for leopard hunting in 2015, whilst also developing guidelines for sustainable trophy hunting of leopard. These guidelines were distributed to Provinces with the 2015 quota of 150 animals per annum for the country. The allocation of the quota for 2015 was however subject to the following conditions to be met by Provinces in 2015:
- Trophy hunts had to be restricted to male leopards;
- A hunt-return form had to be submitted for every hunt; and
- Specific details had to be supplied for every damage-causing leopard that was killed under permit.
As a result of the fact that some Provinces did not fully comply with these conditions (by not providing the detailed information required) and as a result of the NDF showing that the legal local and International trade in live animals and the export of hunting trophies at present poses a high risk to the survival of leopard in South Africa, a zero quota was recommended for leopard for 2016 by the Scientific Authority. The full NDF is available here.
In addition to the aspects mentioned above, other key aspects covered in the NDF include the following:
- There is no rigorous estimate for the size and extent of the leopard population in South Africa, but recent research has shown that several sub-populations in Limpopo and KwaZulu-Natal are declining with others stable, but no populations are increasing;
- The research further suggests that trophy hunting may be unsustainable in Limpopo, KwaZulu-Natal and possibly North West due to excessive quotas, poor distribution of hunts in the province, poor trophy selection, and the additional impact of damage causing leopards being killed, together with other forms of illegal off-take;
- Data also suggests that levels of illegal off-take (animals taken out of the system illegally) exceeds levels of legal off-take;
- Harvest of leopards is not managed consistently throughout the country and only some provinces implement effective controls and legal off-takes;
- While research has shown that hunting of female leopards can significantly reduce the long term viability of leopard populations, South Africa to date allowed export of female leopard hunting trophies (the only country of the 12 range states permitted by CITES to export leopard trophies); and
- There are no effective incentives for landowners that conserve leopards or their habitat.
With the increasing pressures on the world’s biodiversity and immense and instant public reaction to activities that are perceived to negatively impact on people’s natural heritage, government and the wildlife industry will be increasingly expected to become more responsible and accountable for their actions in future. Impacts on wild leopard populations must be reduced and monitoring measures implemented in all provinces to determine trends in the population and assess the impact of legal off-takes on the population. Illegal killing of leopards must further be curbed as this will impact negatively on the potential for future quotas for harvesting. To ensure maximum results during 2016, a concerted effort from government, landowners and the trophy hunting industry will be required.