There is a huge diversity of wildlife in the South African subcontinent and conservation is of paramount importance if future generations are to enjoy it.
National parks and nature reserves are home to many game species, but it must not be forgotten that a large variety of wildlife is to be found outside these reserves. This population roams privately owned land and is very often under threat from poaching, indiscriminate killing for monetary gain from skins and total disregard for their value in maintaining the balance of the whole ecosystem.
An increase in poaching activity, from the mighty rhino down to the littlest antelope, is responsible for an alarming drop in numbers. We are all aware of the current poaching of rhino and this is a serious problem but other species are suffering a similar fate. The antelope and zebra numbers are decreasing daily.
Now it can be argued that some of these animals are a food source for a hungry population. The sustainable harvesting of antelope to feed a hungry family is perfectly acceptable, but the wholesale slaughter of huge numbers of these animals, cannot be tolerated.
Various means of killing are employed, the most popular being wire snares, illegal hunting using dogs and shooting with either a gun or a cross bow.
Wire snares are particularly cruel as animals are not killed immediately and suffer a slow, agonizing death. Regular patrolling of privately owned land in search of snares has revealed many carcasses that have just been left to rot. This does not indicate that these animals were trapped as a food supply. One often finds carcasses that have been skinned and the meat left to decay. Here again is an indication that the poachers are not hungry people searching for food. Poachers who have been caught dress well and drive expensive cars and are unable to adequately explain why they engage in this activity. Many have said it is a sport. One wonders why they don’t play soccer.
Another so called sport is hunting with dogs. The screams of a small antelope crushed in the jaws of a hunting dog is a heart breaking sound. This “sport” carries a huge purse and the prize money for the owner of the first dog to bring down an antelope is often in the tens of thousands of South African Rands. The dogs cannot discriminate between a rare specially protected antelope and a more common species. I would venture to suggest that there are other gambling options that do not involve killing.
The numbers of certain game species might lull people into a false sense of security that could spell disaster. The common grey duiker, for example, is plentiful at present but this does not mean that a killing frenzy is acceptable. There was a time when huge flocks of Passenger Pigeons darkened the sky; the last one died in Cincinnati Zoo in 1916. Great herds of Quagga once roamed the South African plains; the last one died in the Amsterdam Zoo in 1888. Complacency is not an option.
South African wildlife is unique in the world and a wonderful heritage that should be conserved for future generations.