The apartheid legacy in wildlife conservation
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, October 2003:
The apartheid legacy in wildlife conservation
by Chris Mercer, co-director, Kalahari Raptor Centre
Twelve years after Nelson Mandela walked to freedom, South
Africa is still struggling to overcome the crippling legacy of
apartheid in environmental affairs.
Affirmative action appointments are intended to transform and
democratize nature conservation, but the awaited transformation is
slow in coming–and one of the most unfortunate aspects of the delay
is that some of our most ruthless people are meanwhile exporting the
canned hunting industry, which is a legacy of apartheid, throughout
Desperately poor nations are too often seduced by the promise
of the money to be made from hunting, demonstrated by some of the
same South African entrepreneurs whose involvement in gun-running and
ivory and rhino horn poaching helped to uphold the apartheid regime
by destabilizing much of the black-ruled portion of the continent.
The apartheid regime instituted three goals for wildlife
management, each directly contributing to the growth and
profitability of the hunting industry, to the detriment of almost
everyone else. These goals were:
a) Excluding the public from participation in environmental
b) Exterminating predators in the name of problem animal control; and
c) Enslaving and exploiting those forms of wildlife which
could be used as alternative livestock by the hunting industry.
These goals were pursued behind a facade of “conservation.”
The South African nature conservation establishment became,
in effect, a protection racket supporting the landowner
Five decades of cruel apartheid rule in South Africa poisoned
everything, and nature conservation was no exception. Animal welfare
considerations were omitted from all aspects of wildlife management.
Our conservation regime today perpetuates the policies of one
of the worst governments in modern political history.
Critical to realize is that economically motivated
destruction of wildlife, as exemplified by the South African hunting
industry, represents not conservation but colonialism.
Organizations such as Safari Club Internation-al export U.S. dollars
and colonialism to Africa, and they import misery and bloodshed in
the form of trophies.
Similar entities export similar pollution from Europe and the
Their dollars are a corrupting influence, perverting
conservation policies away from the preservation of authentic natural
cycles, toward cruel exploitation.
The colonizers are not all rich whites. The forests of Indo
Asia are looted to procure tiger bones for the Chinese traditional
medicine trade. The African lion is already being used for the same
purpose. The fate of the tiger will be the fate of the African lion
if we do not act now to stop it.
Speaking of lions, the South African philosopher and author
Credo Mutwa wrote:
“No one in their right mind would ever travel to India to
massacre the white Brahmin cattle that roam the crowded streets of
India’s cities. No one in their right mind would travel to Siam and
there murder the rare white elephants that we find in that country.
But people come to my motherland, people come to South Africa, to
brutally murder lions in the name of manliness and in the name of
sport. The sacred icons of other races and nations in this world are
respected, revered and protected. But the icons of Africa are
massacred with cold impunity, sometimes with the connivance of some
of Africa’s own children.
“In the past 200 years or so, the human race has lost much
which is of importance in Africa. And it continues to lose much.
But what is most terrible, what is most tragic, is that it does not
realize what it has lost.
“One day, in the dark valleys of the future, people will try
to turn back, people will try to investigate, to look into the past
of African humankind with wide open eyes, but they will find very
little because much has been obliterated.”
Jackals & caracals
Few people in South Africa know what hideous cruelty lies
behind the placing of meat and milk upon the supermarket shelf. As
well as the ongoing cruelty to animals raised in unnatural
conditions, we should recognize the unspeakable cruelty practiced
routinely upon so-called problem wild animals, such as jackals and
The Problem Animal Control Ordinance of 1957 is a chilling
reminder of the days when all laws and policies were framed to
protect the narrow commercial interests of the white
livestock-farming community, at the expense of all others.
The ordinance specifically excludes blacks. Twelve years
after apartheid officially ended, our government continues to enforce
a law which begins: “Any six persons who are not black may form a
The Problem Animal Control Ordin-ance of 1957 declares war
upon any species of wildlife which affects the farming community.
Whole species are arbitrarily and unscientifically positioned outside
the boundaries of moral and legal concern. Hundreds of thousands of
animals, mostly non-target species, have been slain in the hunts
that the ordinance authorized. Targeting bat-eared foxes, the
Orangjejag hunt club alone killed about 106,000 other animals,
including 65,415 harmless Cape foxes, 4,892 equally harmless little
African wild cats, and 56 brown hyenas.
In what other sector of South African society would such a
blatantly racist and destructive law continue to be enforced? What
kind of mentality framed such a law? And what kind of democratic
government continues to enforce it?
The treatment of problem animals by farmers, facilitated and
approved by conservation officials, involves lifting all controls on
inhumane hunting. Leghold traps, snares, and indiscriminate
poisons are used routinely. A favorite method of getting animals out
of burrows is to feed barbed wire into the hole and then twist it
until the barbs catch in the coat of the trapped animal. The
twisting continues until the animal’s coat has been rolled around by
the barbs. Once impaled in this manner, the animal is hauled out of
the burrow, into the jaws of waiting dogs.
The public never sees the cruelty behind the euphemism of
“problem animal control.”
In our whole approach to problem animals, we are morally
depraved and environmentally delinquent. There is no such thing as a
problem animal–only problem farmers, as I can testify from my own
history of 11 years as a sheep farmer who found no need to kill
wildlife in order to maintain my own profits.
Let us examine the most extreme form of trophy hunting to see
how ethical illiteracy about wildlife manifests itself.
Canned lion hunting is not an event, but a process, in which
wild animals are taken out of their natural environment and bred in
close confinement like broiler chickens for slaughter. It is a
process through which our wildlife heritage is transferred out of the
public domain into the hands of hunters for business purposes. It is
the privatization of our national heritage for cruel profiteering.
Consider the <www.africancats-hounds.co.za> promotional web
site. J.S. Safaris announces that it will hunt any predators, large
or small, with dogs. Photos show a leopard being savaged by dogs.
Photos also show lions who have been shot with bow and arrow, after
being hunted with dogs.
What has conservation come to when tame lions can be turned
out after a life of imprisonment to be set upon by a dog pack and
then used for archery targets?
Our government has swallowed the arguments that “Hunting pays
for conservation,” “If it pays it stays,” and “Give it a value and
it will be preserved.”
Big game hunting will save the safari parks of Africa, so
the hunting industry says–and some of their international political
allies also expect us to believe that only whaling will save the
Giving animals a cash value merely intensifies commercial
exploitation until wild populations can no longer support the
industry, which then turns to captive breeding to meet the market
The end is inevitable: we lose our wildlife heritage, while
the hunting industry whacks the animals and stacks the profits.
Do decent Africans like visits from foreigners whose sole
purpose is committing grossly inhumane acts that often they could not
legally commit in their own countries?
The present conservation regime in South Africa represents an
unholy alliance between some of the worst elements of the previous
government and a new government which continues to demonstrate a
deplorable lack of compassion.
A stupefying indifference to the suffering of animals may be
acceptable in Kimberley and Nelspruit, but it is not acceptable to
hundreds of millions of people. It will become unacceptable to even
more as awareness of the cruelty of predator control and canned
[Adapted from Mercer’s September 24, 2003 address to the
All-Africa Humane Education Summit in Cape Town. Contact Mercer c/o
Kalahari Raptor Centre, P.O. Box 1386, Kathu, Northern Cape ZA
8446, South Africa; <email@example.com>; <www.raptor.co.za>.]