Canned Killings And Other Unnatural Behavior In The Game Ranching Industry
October 2014, Volume 12-5-II

Why do I and my amateur and professional hunting friends detest the increasing number of incidents involving the killing of canned or put-and-take animals?  Why do we also dislike so intensely the domestication of wildlife and the manipulation and intensive breeding of unnatural color variants and freaks?

In my case, the answer lies partly in the subjective reasons why I hunt. I hunt because it satisfies something deep within me. It is part of my culture, who I am, just as it has been part of the culture of other peoples such as the Bushmen, Pygmies and Inuit since time immemorial. Something that has been acquired and ingrained over the 200,000 years we have been recognizable as human beings on earth and during which time men were obliged to hunt to provide for and protect their families. If you think about it, agriculture was only invented about 10 000 years ago and, for many of us, the last five per cent of the time we have been on earth has not eradicated that which was inculcated over the previous 95 per cent.

As such, anyone or anything which threatens my right and/or ability to hunt legally, ethically and sustainably is a cause for grave concern as it attacks something of critical importance to me and, I believe, the country as a whole but more about that later.

Partly the answer lies in the manner in which I like to hunt.  My favorite hunts are fair chase ones for wild, free ranging game animals in their natural habitats where they can feed themselves, breed naturally and escape their predators (of which I am one), in the way they have done for tens of thousands of years.  I have also enjoyed hunting on big, fenced properties – those where you only see the fence when you arrive and leave through the front gate – and where the animals there are capable of and do, in fact, live as they would in their natural, free range habitats.

Therefore, for my friends and me, shooting an animal in a small paddock into which it has been recently released and where it has little or no chance of feeding itself, procreating and escaping its predators, can never be considered hunting.  It may be culling, killing, slaughter or shooting but it can never be hunting.  There is simply no hunting involved despite the fact that animal rightists and the uninformed or ill-informed insist on calling it “canned hunting”!

And I detest the fact that this type of thing gives animal rightists the ammunition to tar my friends and me with the same brush. After all, are we not also hunters?

When this disgusting practice is compounded by drugging the animal, domesticating it so that it loses its natural fear of man or depriving it of food and/or water so it remains at the only spot in the paddock where this has been provided, it merely exacerbates the reprehensibility of the act and those who have staged and orchestrated the slaughter. People who offer these canned or put-and-take experiences and those who knowingly partake, often justify it on the following grounds:

  1. It saves an animal in the wild and therefore contributes to conservation.
  2. The animals have lost their fear of human beings and are, therefore, more dangerous.
  3. Conversely, because they have been drugged or are tethered by their hunger or thirst, they can
    be quickly found and safely approached on foot or in a vehicle and shot from close range.
    The end result is guaranteed.
  4. It provides an affordable, legal experience as it is too expensive, difficult, dangerous,
    time-consuming to hunt these animals on a fair chase basis in their natural environment and
    one should not be deprived of this experience or, alternatively, are entitled to have this experience.

Firstly, conservation does not enter the picture.  All the money goes to the people providing the animals and the “experience” and none of that is invested, directly or indirectly, in the conservation of wildlife or wildlife habitats.  These animals have been bred for the sole purpose of being killed and there is little or no difference to this and an abattoir except the transport and killing methods. Secondly, those hunters who want the experience of a fair chase lion hunt, for example, will always want the genuine article and will not knowingly substitute the one for the other.

I keep on using this word “knowingly” because South Africa has the unfortunate and unenviable reputation of cheating more hunters more often than any other African country and it is clear that a number of overseas recreational trophy hunters have been duped into thinking they were participating in a fair chase hunt when this was not the case. It’s not that everyone in the South African hunting industry is a crook. Far from it. It just seems at times as if every crook is in the South African hunting industry.

Point two – I do not understand how danger provides justification for this disgusting practice.  It is analogous to arguing that murder in Afghanistan is acceptable because it is dangerous to go there. The third point is so ridiculous that, although it is used as a marketing and sales tool by the purveyors of this immoral practice, I will not bother to address it. The last point is similar to arguing that everyone has the right to experience driving at over 300 kilometers per hour, therefore Formula One racing cars should be provided at a fraction of the cost to all those who have an interest in motorsport.

At the end of the day, however, can it not be argued that the opposition of my friends and me to these practices is based purely on a personal point of view?  That everyone is entitled to his own opinion and that, as the constitution effectively guarantees the right of everyone to make a legal living, our objections have no more weight than the contrary view?

I want to digress for a moment.  Some years back, after two fruitless fair chase hunts for free range cheetah in Namibia, I booked a hunt on a property along the Limpopo River.  What impressed me, initially, was the landowner’s statement that, “You should have a 50/50 chance.  They are definitely here, but they come and go.” So I not only booked the two week hunt and paid my deposit but also booked a hunt for some of the small cats on his Free State property.  About two weeks before the hunt I was called by one of his employees who informed me that, as his boss had sold the land along the Limpopo where I was due to hunt cheetah, I would not be able to hunt there.  “Never mind” he said, “You can hunt cheetah on our Free State property.”  In response to my immediate cancellation of the hunt – as I knew there were no free range cheetah in the Free State – he argued that the hunt would be completely legal.  To bolster his argument he added, “An official from nature conservation will be there because we will be doing a lion hunt on Monday and your cheetah on Tuesday.” I patiently explained why this was completely unacceptable to me and drew his attention to my initial correspondence in which I stated it was a material term of the hunting contract that it be conducted both in accordance with the law and fair chase ethics.  He eventually accepted my point of view but then said, “But what about the small cats?  They are completely fair chase.”

My answer was what you would expect.  I explained that I could not hunt with him or his outfitting company under any circumstances as it was clear, by his own admission, that they conducted canned killing operations which, therefore, tainted whatever else they did.  I could never be certain, therefore, whether the other “hunts” offered were not also canned killing operations and I was not prepared to take the risk. Bear with me if you will and I will try and explain the relevance of this experience later.

If you accept that the quiet conservation revolution which has swept across South Africa over the last 60 years or so has been funded almost exclusively by hunting as has been empirically established time and time again, then you should also accept that anything which damages or abuses hunting is going to have a negative effect on conservation in this country.  I mean examine the issues, the numbers are clear.  From three game ranches that existed in the 1960s, there are some 10,000 today.  From the 557,000 game animals which existed in 1964, there are some 18.6 million today.  From all but zero land under game in private hands then, some 21 million hectares or almost three times the land covered by all the national and provincial parks put together exists today. From all but zero money that was generated by hunting in the 1960s, nearly R2 billion is generated, directly and indirectly, for the economy by overseas recreational trophy hunters alone and most of it is spent in the poor rural areas where it is needed most.

In other words, as was demonstrated in the documentary, The South African Conservation Success Story, hunting has driven the biggest conservation movement this country has ever seen. Not only has this already provided tens of thousands of decent jobs in a growing “industry” but the movement has the capacity to provide opportunities for all in perpetuity and anyone or anything which puts this at risk should be cause for close scrutiny by everyone including the authorities given that there is so much at stake.

Let us pause there for a moment. CIC – the International Council for Game and Wildlife Conservation, one of, if not the, most prestigious hunting organization in Europe, with 38 country members and others including IUCN, CITES, TRAFFIC, FAO and the Boone and Crockett Club, recently passed a resolution confirming its support for fair chase hunting.  The latter club is the most prestigious hunting organization in North America and, if members of these bodies feel as I and my friends do, they will not want to come and hunt in South Africa for fear of being tainted by the unsavory practices of a number of game ranchers who seem prepared to do anything for money, regardless of the consequences.  Should this attitude become part and parcel of the rules and regulations of these bodies, we can expect a dramatic reduction in numbers of overseas recreational trophy hunters visiting the country and, as their contribution of some R2 billion per annum represents roughly a quarter of the entire revenue generated, directly and indirectly, by all hunting in this country, the effect of this on conservation will be catastrophic as many game ranches will go under and, in all likelihood, revert to crops or domestic livestock.

The breeding of animals for canned and put-and-take killing practices goes hand in hand with the manipulation and intensive breeding of unnatural color variants and freaks.  This comparatively recent phenomenon has also been heavily criticized by overseas hunting and conservation bodies, not the least being CIC again. In 2006, the so-called Limassol resolution was passed by them, which stated that the CIC (1) condemns the unethical manipulation of game animals in order to produce trophies; (2) confirms its support for fair chase hunting and (3) urges all hunters and hunting associations to oppose such unethical, manipulative practices.” This was followed in 2011 by the much more comprehensive Wildlife and Commercially-Bred and Formerly Wild Animal Recommendation in which it opposed “artificial and unnatural manipulations of wildlife including the enhancement or alteration of a species’ genetic characteristics (e.g. pelage color, body size, horn or antler size)”.

While many overseas recreational hunters have participated in the canned and put-and-take operations, knowingly and unknowingly, I am not aware of any hunter who has shot any of these unnatural color variants or intentionally cross-bred freaks. To date, it would appear as if these animals are being sold from breeder to breeder and few, if any, from breeder to hunter and even here suspicion has been caste that in certain instances the record prices have not been paid.

As many hunters, particularly those from North America, like to enter animals they hunt that qualify into the two main, international record books, Rowland Ward’s Records of Big Game and SCI’s Record Book of Big Game Animals, should either refuse to create categories for or allow the entry of these new animals, this would detract significantly from the attraction of these animals from a hunting perspective. In conversation with the owners of Rowland Ward, the oldest of the record books (1892), they stated categorically that they will neither create separate categories nor allow the entry of these animals. In response to my written queries, Chris Emery, the Chief Master Measurer of SCI wrote, “SCI’s Record Book Committee has no intention of accepting any color variations or unnatural crosses of species into the SCI Record Book and will not be creating any categories for these unnatural species.”

Seeing as the huge prices paid for these animals by game ranchers and breeders can ultimately only be under-pinned by what a hunter would pay to hunt them, if a majority of European hunters were to abstain from hunting them or, worse still, from hunting in South Africa at all, then this would be a major blow to any hope these breeders might have of generating a financial return on the high prices they have paid for these domesticated, freakish and manipulated animals.  If this movement then to spread to North America via the Boone and Crockett Club and SCI, it would be the death knell of this type of business, which would follow in the well-worn path of other pyramid schemes, not least the least being the tulip boom or mania in Holland.

In Charles MacKay’s book, Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds, he describes how many investors in tulip bulbs were ruined by the precipitous fall in prices and how Dutch commerce suffered a severe shock as a result.  He defined the term, “tulip mania” as any large economic bubble when asset prices deviate from intrinsic value.  During the tulip boom one bulb was exchanged for five hectares of land and the prices of others reached 10 times the annual income of a skilled craftsmen or $300,000 in today’s money.  While this is a far cry from the nearly $4 million paid for a buffalo bull last year, if you compare the relative sizes of the items in question, then the comparison becomes more understandable.

And who are these manipulators and breeders? Who is driving this new variation of what I perceive to be an old fashioned kubus (remember it?) or pyramid scheme? From what I can tell, a few rich businessmen and politicians with no discernible track record in conservation are the main protagonists and beneficiaries of this boom. How long can the current sky high game prices be self-sustaining and defy gravity? I do not know but I predict that, within ten years, the boom will have become a bust. It is always so. When things sound too good to be true it is usually because they are, particularly when so much time and effort is spent persuading the unwary and uneducated that this is the next best investment thing.

Partly the answer to the questions posed at the start lies in the objective reasons why I hunt. While I do not hunt solely in order to conserve wildlife and wildlife habitats, it is by far and away the most important of the objective reasons behind hunting.  Having hunted for the last 59 years, in 17 African countries, on literally hundreds of safaris, for virtually all the game animals available on license, it is my confirmed and sincere belief and conviction that, without hunting, neither of these two key sustainable natural resources – which, if maintained, could provide opportunities for all on this continent in perpetuity – will survive in any significant form in 50 years’ time.

Those offering canned and put-and-take killings, those offering domesticated wildlife and manipulated, intensively bred, unnatural color variations and freaks for sale are putting hunting at risk and, by definition, conservation. No-one who cares for the conservation of wildlife and wildlife habitats and all they have to offer the citizens of South Africa, can stand by idly and watch this happen so a few greedy people can make a short term profit, which benefits only them while being at such a high cost to the country.

Reluctant as I am to suggest that the government should become involved in any private sector initiative, is it not time that they follow CIC’s example and ban these reprehensible practices if they want hunting and conservation in this country to continue growing and provide opportunities for all.

This article first appeared in African Outfitter, a South African magazine aimed at the hunting outfitter and his clients as well as local hunters. We republished with the kind permission of African Outfitter and the author Peter Flack.