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When it comes to South Africa’s wildlife, there is no greater champion for their cause than Bool Smuts, medical doctor, conservationist, activist and founder of the Landmark Foundation.

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Known primarily for his fight against gin traps, Bool is an obvious go-to person to give comment on South Africa’s recently published Policy Position on the Conservation and Sustainable Use of Elephant, Lion, Leopard and Rhinoceros.

We thank him for his thoughts.

Animal Voice:

Overall, are the details within this Policy Position something you can work with and celebrate, especially perhaps, its underlying effort, as stated in the document, to enhance South Africa’s position as a “leader in the conservation and sustainable use of these iconic species.”

 

Bool Smuts:

No. At its very core, it is driven by the commode-fication of animals or their body parts. In fact, speaking as someone with leopard conservation as my core focus, the government has effectively reintroduced bounties on the lives of leopards.

The moment a farmer points to a leopard as being a ‘damage-causing animal’ that leopard is put out for bounty, through a trophy hunt as the means to effect the bounty.

 

From a leopard’s point of view, the new Policy Position is an absolute disaster.

Animal Voice:

Is there anything worth celebrating in the Policy Position?

 

Bool Smuts:

Yes. The move away from captive farming and breeding of lions and rhinos is worth celebrating.

 

However, there is no commitment to end hunting of lion, only captive breeding, and there are no time frame on stopping captive breeding altogether.

 

Along with lion hunting, the government intends to continue the commodification and trade of elephants and rhinos through their tusks and horns, and the trophy hunting of leopard.


When it comes to leopard, the policy states that only damage-causing animals will be hunted but at $40 000 per leopard trophy hunt, the policy creates an incentive, and every single free-roaming leopard will become a “damage-causing” animal.

 

Animal Voice:

So we agree then that the term ‘sustainable use’ is a misnomer?

 

Bool Smuts:

The South Africa government and many academics are pro the hunting industry. They call it “sustainable use”. I call it the sustained abuse of our biodiversity.

 

Wildlife is a public asset of the people and this new policy creates a mechanism to transfer these public assets to private interests. The public and future generations are being robbed.

Animal Voice:

The long history of systematic leopard hunting in South Africa started in 1656 when the Dutch East India Company paid farmers per leopard tail handed in. Classified as vermin until 1968 the leopard population was exterminated from much of South African farmland, especially the Cape Provinces, with a few taking refuge in mountainous and inhospitable terrain.

By 1975, global concerns resulted in South Africa joining the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), and a hunting permit system was introduced to prevent the complete annihilation of the species.

 

Then, in 2018, you and your Landmark Foundation team detected signs of leopard population recovery in the Piketberg area. Is this correct?

Bool Smuts:

Yes. Landmark Foundation set out to understand how an area that had experienced the local extirpation of leopards a century before, had been significantly recolonised by the species. Our research illustrated the powerful role that state policy and land management plays in opportunities for rewilding and recolonization where remnant habitats exist.

Our research in the Piketberg area resulted in a peer-reviewed scientific paper which sets up a model for human-wildlife co-existence.  https://www.mdpi.com/2673-7159/4/2/18/pdf

Animal Voice:

This paper states: “Considering the ongoing global loss of biodiversity, the successful recolonization of leopards in Piketberg serves as a timely reminder that, with informed and effective conservation strategies, nature can rebound.” 

Bool Smuts:

It shows what can be achieved when government addresses ecologically prudent management.

Sadly our government, with its new Policy Position, has once again embarked on the same folly of the past. Once again we want to monetize these animals through hunting in a policy that is masquerading as a sustainable-use fairytale.

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Animal Voice:

You believe the Animals Protection Act, currently under review, should be developed to become a visionary Ecological Protection Act.

Bool Smuts:

Yes, I feel the current effort to give more compassion to animals lacks a broader vision. For example, the earthworm should not be categorized as less than a black mamba or different from a cow or pet. In concentrating on production and domestic animals only, the Animals Protection Act is exclusionary by its very nature. It ignores the primacy of the interconnectedness of life that should be the essence of any new Act.

 

Animal Voice:

You believe that an Ecological Protection Act would prevent the fatal impediment of classifying animals as sentient or non-sentient, worthy or unworthy of inclusion, and instead, develop a holistic value to a system in its entirety?

 

Bool Smuts:

Yes, we must understand that an elephant and an ox-pecker are, each in their own right, ecological assets. While it is necessary to review the Animals Protection Act and reassign it more appropriately to the Department of Justice as opposed to its current position under the Department of Agriculture, I maintain that an Ecological Protection Act would have an impact that is in keeping with the times in which we are living. This would also align with the global Rights of Nature movement.

 

Animal Voice:

We thank you.

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In 2008 Bool Smuts’ Landmark Foundation introduced shepherds and guardian dogs to protect flocks of sheep from predation in extensive areas of farmland.

Bool told Animal Voice that using human herders achieved a reduction in predation of lambs from about 30% to less than 2%.

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