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The Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment (DFFE) recently repealed regulations pertaining to threatened or protected terrestrial species and freshwater species after reaching a legal settlement with Wildlife Ranching South Africa (WRSA).

On 3 February the department published the latest Threatened or Protected Species (TOPS) regulations, the TOPS species list. This list represents the norms and standards for the trophy hunting of leopards in South Africa as well as the norms and standards for the management of elephants in South Africa. These legislative tools were published for implementation in the Government Gazette with the goal of coming into effect on 1 April 2023.

“While WRSA immediately sounded the alarm bell with the department, they did not grant us an audience with them until 27 February. By then the first road show had already taken place, which meant that we had no other option but to take the legal route and challenge the department in court,” Richard York, CEO of WRSA, told AgriOrbit.

Read more about the 2023 WRSA game farmer of the year.

Defunct participatory process

“The last time industry was able to give any form of comment on the TOPS list was eight years ago in 2015,” York said, adding that the process then ended up being a defunct process, because the list was finally rejected by Parliament.

The list was amended again in 2017, after the Conference of the Parties (CoP 17) to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) took place in South Africa.

“Apart from the fact that those regulatory changes would have a severe impact on individual species, such as lions and Cape Mountain Zebras, those regulations removed the definition of a game farm.”

This is problematic, because the idea of commercial utilisation was also disregarded in the process, York added. “Commercial gain is what makes wildlife ranching viable. If the owner isn’t able to derive an income from commercial game farming, he or she won’t be able to create a suitable habitat for the game living on the property,” York added.

Read more about the South African wildlife economy.

Concern over international interference locally

WRSA was also concerned about the fact that the new regulations would indirectly give the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) a regulatory mandate within the South African legal framework. “Previously the IUCN compiled their its own red list assessment and based its own conservation information on that research. However, if the new regulations were adopted, the IUCN’s red list would become the official norm,” York said.

The problem with this was that farmers would in future have to do risk assessments to show how their farming operation benefits conservation. “The problematic issue is the fact that the IUCN only recognised areas that were larger than 100 000ha. Even the DFFE’s own lion plan does not meet the strict criteria set out by IUCN. What chance does the private sector have to get the IUCN’s approval?”

York was also concerned over the fact that the IUCN based their red list information on outdated data that was collected in 2001. “Their information is 22 years old and they’ve deliberately excluded commercial game farmers’ information from their lists.”

The reason why farmers’ data was excluded was the fact that their animals were selectively bred, and their farms were seen as “outside of natural areas”.

York explained that it does not make sense to disqualify 99% of a species from being counted, then view the species as endangered and suddenly require that the same 99% of previously excluded animals be handled in accordance with the rules to protect the ‘endangered’ species. – Susan Marais, AgriOrbit