State vs. Wildlife Industry (Article by Werner Booysen)

Several years ago the State called its department "Nature Conservation" and the officials were called Conservation Officials. It was a sigh of relief when finally the name of the department was changed to Environmental Affairs. It looked like the State finally moved away from the very old idea of conservation and accepted that the Environment must be looked with at a holistic approach. For one the Wildlife Industry thought it would be recognized as stakeholders and serious role players. What a noble thought. although the name changed the "old" ways of the public servants certainly did not and the conservation approach is still very firm in place. The Wildlife Industry saw very little in terms of a progressive approach and it looks and sounds like the majority of officials are still not accepting that there is a booming Wildlife Industry out there with very unique requirements and specialist activities happening at all times.

The public opinion is one of animosity and the trust in the Department of Environmental Affairs is at a all time low. Meetings are ending up in "blaming exercises" and the State is not building any confidence. While all the mud slinging is in process very little constructive and usable criticism surface and as we all very well know the public servants will go into "do nothing" mode.

So what is the real problem:

Stakeholders are saying that the processes are influenced by the animal rights organization who operate largely on donor funds and seldom know what they are talking about and very seldom do own any property with wildlife on it. In short the animal rights activists are seen as screamers without first hand knowledge of the Wildlife Industry. I personally witnessed a number departmental workshops and witnessed first hand blatant lies of so called "scientists" employed by the department. "Experts" telling stories as fact on hear say from officials know to be lying about a subject. While regulatory development is conduct in this fashion, all will agree that no cooperation can be expected from any stakeholder.

The public servants simply must accept the fact that there is a bigger picture out there and a demand for certain products that would not necessary fall in the "fines and fences", conservation approach. Landowners will not only keep wildlife for the purpose of conservation per se. Surely it will be argued that intensive breeding projects are making a huge contribution towards conservation. So what is the problem then? The Wildlife Industry is blamed for a number of issues and the department has a number of concerns. A managed to categorize these concerns into 5x groups namely:

1.     Gene pool protection.

2.     Hybridization.

3.     Translocation into unknown demographic area’s.

4.     International Conventions must be obeyed.

5.     Conservation principle vs. Production principles.

How will a solution to the attitude of the public servants be established?

I truly believe the Wildlife Industry must take more responsibility and work towards a number of solutions. There will not be a "quick fix, one solution" but the solution will come after several events. The following will provide a step in the correct direction:

1) Census - only when solid facts are presented the public servants will be convinced of an approach. The Wildlife Industry must show the correct numbers for all species and be in a position to quantify the numbers with proper demographic analysis and mapping strategies.

2)  Stamp out clause - when there is a demand for a product, a producer will strive to provide for the specific demand and collect a reward for his effort. That is a normal economic principle. The public servants must ensure that these demands are taken note off and the responsible activities surround these demands and activities. The excuse " we are short on staff and resources" does fly anymore. It is the State's duty to provide manpower and resources, period. Get the job done and stop complaining! I suggest a 3x fence system, with a stamp out clause. Issue a permit for the restricted activity and ensure at all times that the scenario is safe and managed in a responsible manner. If an animal or product that could cause genetic threats indeed escapes from the enclosure, destroy it with immediate affect if the owner / responsible person is not acting expediently. But if we think the producers will go away and the problems will fade away we must are in for a very big surprise.

3) Lead by example - the state must lead by example and manage their conservation area's with integrity and scientific proof of a successful venture. On Municipal, Provincial and National Levels there must be checks and balances, control mechanisms and above all accountability amongst these land use systems. Adequate benefit sharing programs must be in place and the State must at all times live up to the Constitutional Mandate. Only when these compulsory measures are in place and the results shown in a transparent fashion will the Wildlife Industry start to believe in the public servants again.

4) Encourage Production and Utilization - one would easily get the impression that the public servants are not interest in the prosperity of the industry when a permit application must be waited for 8x weeks. Even more so when documentation gets lost 3x times during the process and the applicant is send from port to starboard on every enquiry. The Wildlife Industry contributes to the GDP of our country and must be "nursed" and catered for on the highest level. Tourists are not ignorant and want to know that their visit will be accommodated in a fair and non discriminative manner. Products bought in this country must be exported swiftly and efficiently through customs with out fear of confiscation by corrupt individuals.

Africa is plagued with bad examples and it is up to every single in South Africa to make a difference!



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