By Ron Thomson (The Chief Executive Officer of South African National Parks has wrongly come under attack from animal rights groups for allowing hunting in national parks. In fact, all extractive use has been prohibited since the passage of the Protected Area Act of 2003. Here Ron Thomson gives an example of the negative consequences of that 2003 Act.)
During the apartheid era in South Africa, Pilanesberg National Park in Bophuthatswana derived most of its income from hunting. The Park, in those days, carried 200 white rhinos, and approximately 20 were harvested every year. Ten bulls were hunted by high-fee-paying international hunters; the other 10 (mixed sexes) were captured and sold to game ranchers. The 10 white rhinos that were hunted were the backbone of 10 (senior) hunting-package deals (comprised of one white rhino, and about 10 other species), and these packages increased the value of the hunts (because many hunters came to take the rhino and they left the rest.) The hunting revenue (with very little expenditure) equated to the revenue brought in from 57,000 game viewing tourists in vehicles (with huge overhead costs).
When apartheid collapsed and South Africa took over Bophuthatswana again, the rhino population was reduced; more elephants were brought in, lions and wild dogs were introduced; and hunting was stopped. The new administration wanted “The Big Five” at any cost - for tourism. And the lions ate the disease-free buffalo (no foot-and-mouth disease and no corridor fever) which we (then) sold to game ranchers at R 250,000 each. And, in my opinion, the Park started to immediately degrade. The elephants (which in years gone by were ONLY seasonal visitors to the area) - now a permanent feature - caused the local extinction of the marula tree and Aloe ferox in the park; they opened up the thickets and woodlands considerably (to the detriment of a healthy black rhino population) and reduced the roosting and breeding places for the red-billed oxpecker (the dead fronds hanging below the heads of the forests of Aloe ferox plants that once existed there). Oxpeckers are the game animal’s greatest ally against disease - because they keep the game clean of ticks (the biggest disease vector in any game reserve). All this happened just after I relinquished my post as director of Bophuthatswana National Park’s board. So “all that glitters is not gold!” I believe that the ‘secret for survival’ of Africa’s national parks is to integrate the needs of the national park with the needs of the park’s rural African neighbors - and that select hunting in the national park should be the backbone to the scheme...and this comes from someone whose soul, for 53 years, has been STEEPED in the National Park ethos.