• author
    • Neil Heron

      Nature guide, author and environmentalist
    • May 20, 2013 in Kruger Park Tales

    Hunting, poaching and culling – Why should we give a damn?

    If this was an ‘outcomes based’ educational note, the outcome would be exactly the same. Hunting – the animal dies! Poaching – the animal dies! Culling – the animal dies!

    No argument can change that outcome from these three activities. The debate is what has made two of these activities legal, and the other one illegal. This note, (albeit a cameo that introduces a much larger controversy), aims to provide perspective on the challenge of trying to interpret the rationale rather than ethic or principal between these three activities.



    The process of cropping or managing animal populations in confined, and protected areas for the greater good of that area. The mandate for culling is often related to arguments on the protection of biodiversity.



    The process of breeding or farming an animal for the purpose of utilizing the meat, skin or other body parts of that animal. Both hunting and farming activities are conducted in a legal and controlled environment.



    The illegal version of hunting; in other words, the hunting, farming or culling of animals and plants outside of a legal mandate to do so.

    Our laws, influenced by international and local society, are a system of rules and guidelines, normally enforced through a set of institutions that shape our politics, economics and social behaviour in many ways. Our laws also try to mediate the relations between people, and in context, try to provide a platform on which general ethics, standards and principles are applied.

    The law surrounding these three activities is often vague and cross-pollinated, ambiguous in their intent and riddled with incomplete legislation, and subject to huge moral debates. Hunting is often seen as ‘an economic guise and legal loophole for ‘poaching’ in private reserves. Culling is often conducted by hunters and farmers under the auspice of ‘problem animal management’ or ‘property protection!’

    “The uselessness or dynamic significance of our laws is often only unraveled when an individual perpetrates a disregard for the law but ‘current society’ believes the action is ethical or good. Unraveled also when an individual conducts a legal activity that is perceived as unethical by general consensus” Neil Heron

    “My family and I were staving. I killed that animal to survive!”

    “I made a mistake, and killed that animal outside of the ‘hunting’ season!

    “I killed that animal because the value of that animal is not equitable, and I want my fair share of that animal’s worth!”

    “I killed that animal because I did so within the legal framework to do so, and I don’t give a damn whether or not it is perceived ethical or not!

    “I killed that animal because it became an immediate threat to my life!”

    “I killed that animal because it was threatening my livelihood; i.e. eating my crops, predating on my domestic animals, spreading disease, endangering my safety, etc!

    “I killed that animal to gain financial wealth!” (Legally or illegally!)

    “I killed that animal because my religious or my traditional laws and beliefs demand that I kill that animal!”

    I don’t want to debate ethics or principles – or rights or wrongs. I do want to point out that in my humble opinion, there are a few pillars of wisdom that should control this debate, and may identify the reasons the three activities are different.

    The first is a question we should all be asking – about all three of these activities.

    Did the activity result in a ‘greater good’, and beneficial outcome for the local community, our country and the world as a whole? In other words did it contribute to our economy, did it provide a sustainable resource for future activities, and did it protect, nurture and add value to our combined sense of what South Africans, and South Africa stands for? Or did the activity solely benefit the individual(s) that conducted it?

    The second is an eye-opening reality; the illegal trade in plants and animals takes billions of rand out of our economy each year, and provides a few syndicated people with revenue topped only by the illegal narcotics trade in the world. Besides the money – the actual removal of these plants and animals threatens thousands of employment opportunities to South Africans.

    The third is a questionable challenge. Will an increase in structured and legal hunting activities decrease the need to kill animals illegally? Alternatively, will a ban on legal hunting activities increase the need to kill animals illegally?

    Is the ‘legal kill’ industry guided securely by laws that shape the ethic of the activity. We are all told that the hunting industry injects billions of rand into our economy. We are told that killing animals legally benefits the local community, our country and the world.
    We are told that hunting is responsible for much of the conservation of the elephant, the lion, the rhino, and the leopard. Are we sure of these facts, and are the laws surrounding ‘legal killing of animals’ as aggressively enforced as they are when it comes to poaching?

    Whatever happens during the next few years – every South African should actively get involved in this debate, and every South African should explore his/her own sense of emotion, ethic, principal and awareness of the impact our current laws, rules and guidelines are having on our wildlife as a whole.

    A single mistake or omission in writing legislated law about the killing of our wildlife can wipe out entire South African species populations in as little as 20-30 years.

    We should all ‘give a damn!”