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Don’t Worry, Big Game Hunters: South Africa’s Hunting Organization Has Your Back

A South African hunting group hopes to challenge government data that led to a ban on hunting leopards.

MALELANE, SOUTH AFRICA - DECEMBER 08:   in the Kruger National Park in Malelane, South Africa.  (Photo by Warren Little/Getty Images)
MALELANE, SOUTH AFRICA - DECEMBER 08: in the Kruger National Park in Malelane, South Africa. (Photo by Warren Little/Getty Images)

A hunting group in South Africa is trying to make sure that hunters traveling to the country will continue to be able to bring home their very own leopard-skin rugs.

At issue is a January ban on leopard-hunting that came after a government agency called the South African National Biodiversity Institute said it could not determine whether there were enough leopards for the species to survive another hunting season.

Tharia Unwin, the chief executive of the Professional Hunters Association of South Africa, told Reuters Sunday that that the agency had not sufficiently supported its case for the ban by only counting leopards in protected areas and national parks. “There are lots of leopards on private land,” she said.

Unwin also emphasized that South Africa’s recent drought — the worst on record — would likely have increased the leopard population, as the animals thrive in dry conditions. Her group is providing the government with data on the number of leopards on private land, which could push up the total number of leopards significantly.

The January ban represents the first time that hunting a “big five” game animal — a group that also includes elephants, rhinos, lions, and buffalo — has been banned in the country since the 1980s. Big game hunters, mostly Americans, pay up to tens of thousands of dollars for a hunt, contributing to an industry that Reuters reports brings in 6.2 billion rand or roughly $410 million per year.

The agency that recommended the ban was quick to point out that the measure was not meant to be permanent. “There is uncertainty about the numbers,” John Donaldson, the director of research for the organization, acknowledged to Reuters. In January, conservation groups emphasized that leopards’ secretive, nocturnal, and wide-ranging nature make them difficult to count.

Big game hunting caused international controversy last year with the illegal killing of Cecil, a beloved lion that was a resident of a national park in Zimbabwe, and a widely circulated photo of U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump’s son holding the tail of an elephant in December.

Photo credit: Warren Little/Getty Images

Megan Alpert is a fellow at Foreign Policy. Her previous bylines have included The Guardian, Guernica Daily, and Earth Island Journal. @megan_alpert

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