In many ways awareness is the precursor to change. Illegal hunting with dogs, devastating as it is, is not discussed in the media very often. This is unfortunate as illegal hunting with dogs has led to a significant decline in the population of various species. Most notably, the practice threatens the existence of the oribi, blue crane and other crane species.

The problem posed by illegal hunting with dogs

Illegal hunting with dogs includes any action of an individual or a group to gain access to private property with the intent to use dogs to catch, steal or kill wildlife or cattle. Wildlife and cattle are usually hunted for food or as part of a so-called ‘taxi hunt’.

A taxi hunt occurs when a group of organised individuals unlawfully enter a farm with starving or trained hunting dogs. The dogs then chase down prey and rip it apart. Targets are also killed with knives, spears or blunt instruments such as knopkieries.

Taxi hunting is an organised and cruel sport and thousands of rand is usually wagered on the outcome of each hunt. Money is wagered on the dog that will be the first to kill its prey and on the species that will be killed first. The ‘winning’ dog is allegedly sold for between R10 000 and R24 000 after the hunt.

Illegal hunting with dogs is not only a threat to biodiversity, but also to the safety of farmers and their families. Illegal hunters often work in groups and are heavily armed.

What should I do if I spot illegal hunters?

Do not try to take matters into your own hands. There is a legal framework on which you can rely. Every encounter will be different, but generally, farmers should consider the following:

  • Contact your local farmers’ association or security force before approaching the illegal hunters. It is always better to have other witnesses present.
  • Should you reasonably suspect that someone has wrongfully and unlawfully stolen, caught or taken possession of game, you may search such a person and his or her car, if applicable. In addition you can arrest them without a warrant, in terms of the Game Theft Act, 1991 (Act 105 of 1991).
  • Should you reasonably suspect that someone has entered your farm, kraal or shed to steal stock, or if they are already in possession of the stock and they cannot give a satisfactory account of the possession thereof, you may search such a person and his or her car, if applicable. You can arrest them without a warrant, in terms of the Stock Theft Act, 1959 (Act 57 of 1959).
  • Remember, it is an offence to search or arrest someone without probable cause.
  • Contact the South African Police Service (SAPS) as soon as possible. You can lay further charges of trespassing and animal cruelty against the illegal hunters. You can also institute action against them and claim damages.

Can I shoot dogs used during illegal hunting?

The answer depends on where your farm is located. The legal position is regulated by a nature conservation ordinance, applicable to one of the four old provinces, or by more recent provincial legislation promulgated after 1994.

In the Free State, KwaZulu-Natal and Northern Cape, farmers may shoot any dogs that are not under the immediate supervision and control of their owner or any other person.

In the other provinces, only a game ranger or a member of the SAPS may shoot stray dogs. We strongly advise farmers to seek legal advice in this regard. It is always risky to shoot first and ask questions later.

Farmers should be especially careful not to shoot at dogs if their owners are nearby. It often happens that illegal hunters disperse, only to return with the SAPS in tow. The farmer is then accused of attempted murder and pointing a firearm at the illegal hunters. This is an uncomfortable situation to be in. Should you find yourself in such a tight spot, you can attempt to claim that you acted in self-defence.

Claiming self-defence

Self-defence is when you act to protect yourself, your family or your property against an unlawful attack that is imminent or threatening. However, your actions must have been absolutely necessary as a last resort.

If you doubt the lawfulness of your intended actions, rather avoid the situation. Contact the SAPS, have the illegal hunters arrested, catch the dogs and hand them over to the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA). Remember, it is not the dogs’ fault – they are only doing what their masters trained them to do.

Prosecution of illegal hunters

Illegal hunters have been successfully prosecuted in a handful of cases. This was only possible as sufficient evidence regarding the illegal hunting activities was gathered and farmers and the SAPS worked closely together.

To make the prosecution of illegal hunting with dogs easier, farmers can, for example:

  • Take photos of the dogs, vehicles and illegal hunters and take notes of where everyone was at the time of the hunt.
  • Write down the names and details of potential witnesses.
  • Ensure that no one disturbs the crime scene or removes or destroys any possible evidence until the SAPS arrives.

A final thought

In conclusion, consider implementing AgriSA’s Farm Access Protocol and support your local environmental and conservation organisations. Co-operation between the relevant role-players at grassroots level is essential. – Johan Taljaard, VDT Attorneys

This article is intended for information purposes only and is a brief exposition of the abovementioned legal position. The finer nuances as set out in the abovementioned legislation are not necessarily mentioned. This article should under no circumstances be construed as formal legal advice.