The South African Hunters and Game Conservation Association (SA Hunters) has proposed a number of amendments to the norms and standards for controlling damage-causing animals under the National Environmental Management, Biodiversity Act. Public comment was invited by Minister of Environmental Affairs, Edna Molewa.
Government’s draft control measures to deal with damage-causing animals focus on regulation and control rather than taking an enabling approach. SA Hunters has a serious concern with this approach.
It is common knowledge that government lacks resources, especially at provincial level, to implement the proposed control measures effectively. Secondly, these measures focus on individual incidents or single animals in conflict with landowners.
Commercial farmers with sizeable areas under cash crops, or large rural settlements where residents plant subsistence crops, suffer considerable losses from birds and bush pigs that feed on and damage their crops.
A piecemeal approach to dealing with individual damage-causing animals (DCAs) will not address these challenges.
In some areas, rural communities have been unable to plant crops for two years due to damage caused by bush pigs, which have become abundant due to the increased food supply.
SA Hunters proposes an ecological, systems-based solution to managing wildlife populations, which will address the challenges experienced by landowners and communities due to environmental changes.
The root causes of wildlife-human conflict should be assessed, followed by clearly defined interventions to address conflict in a responsible manner.
Once government has approved the DCA management plan, there will be no need for case-by-case permit applications except under special conditions, such as for threatened species.
A community-based DCA Forum, similar to the Predator Management Forum (PMF), in each area could oversee the development and implementation of the plans.
A systems-based approach
The Department of Environmental Affairs’ proposed case-by-case approach is impossible to implement, neither cost-effective nor practical, and may result in contempt for the law.
For example, where a farmer has already lost a number of livestock, it could take 30 days to evaluate the incidents and issue a permit to control a specific predator.
Due to the delay, the affected farmer is likely to cull the problem animal without applying for a permit, resulting in the problem being under control long before a permit is issued.
Even if a permit is issued in time to cull an individual problem animal, this will not address conflict resulting from systemic challenges.
Placing farmers’ needs first
The legal framework in terms of principle 2 (2) of NEMBA states that environmental management must place people and their needs at the forefront of its concern.
Principle 4(a) (i) states that disturbance of ecosystems and loss of biological diversity must be avoided, or where they cannot be avoided altogether, be minimised and remedied; (viii) states that negative impacts on the environment and on people’s environmental rights should be anticipated and prevented, and where they cannot be altogether prevented, be minimised and remedied; and 4(b) states that environmental management must be integrated, acknowledging that all elements of the environment are linked and interrelated, and it must take into account the effects of decisions on all aspects of the environment, and all people in the environment, by pursuing the selection of the best practicable environmental option.
Furthermore, a risk-adverse approach [Section 2 (4)(a)(vii)] must be followed.
At present, the lack of compliance and resources render the proposed DCA norms and standards futile, outdated and ineffective in managing wildlife-human conflict.
This situation is likely to deteriorate as the available land at the disposal of people and wildlife diminishes, due to increasing human settlement and land use.
An ecosystems approach to deal with damage-causing animals will assist landowners and communities to face the challenges responsibly, effectively, and in line with existing environmental legislation. SA Hunters recommends a best practice approach that:
SA Hunters proposes that provincial conservation authorities, in consultation with affected landowners, define a geographical area for the management of DCA at population level.
Through the establishment of wildlife management forums (WMF), landowners and the community can develop a DCA management plan that considers the impact on species and maintains the ecological and social integrity of that species.
The WMF can authorise its members through an appropriate self-administration system to control animals according to approved standards and procedures.
The DCA plan must consider prey populations, food sources, and the impact on communities, and then develop acceptable and environmentally friendly control measures that address the needs of these communities.
Experts and government officials can advise these forums on best practice models.
In higher population density areas, the forums may decide to allow commercial hunting of DCAs and use the income to fund research on better strategies to deal with wildlife management challenges in these areas.
In instances where threatened species such as wild dogs pose a threat to landowners and communities, incentives should be considered to mitigate the impact.
This approach was successfully implemented in Limpopo by empowering landowners and communities to manage DCA conflict at acceptable levels, while ensuring that the integrity of the population remained unchallenged.
A DCA management plan should address the following aspects, at a minimum:
An integrated and ecologically sound DCA management plan that complies with NEMA principles will proactively, rather than reactively, address the root causes of damage caused by animals.
Responsible community collaboration based on an approved DCA management plan will reduce the administrative burden on the state, and counteract the detrimental impact of illegal control measures such as poisoning.
Incentives for landowners and communities to absorb the impact of DCAs will motivate the protection of wildlife and increase tolerance of these animals.
This approach will empower communities to manage wildlife, generate funds, develop mechanisms to mitigate risks, and support conservation efforts.
The establishment of wildlife management forums can improve collaboration at community level to deal with other challenges at a site-specific level.
SA Hunters further recommends that the norms and standards should make provision for the appointment and training of honorary rangers to assist with monitoring and implementation. This will enhance government’s capacity to manage more important processes.
The association further recommends the use of trained gun dogs (bird dogs) in the control or shooting of game birds as part of crop protection, thereby improving the retrieval rate and minimising the suffering of wounded birds.
This could reduce permit applications for shooting rock pigeons and doves in agricultural lands.
Specific attention should be paid to the development of codes of good practice for species that require specific action, such as those listed by international environmental protection organisations.
The views expressed in our weekly opinion piece do not necessarily reflect those of Farmer’s Weekly.
Lizanne Nel is manager of conservation at SA Hunters. Phone her on 012 808 9313, or email email@example.com.
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