Poaching in KwaZulu-Natal continues to be a major concern. It has financial and ecological implications not only for livestock and game farmers, but for the grassland ecosystem as a whole. It is a multi-faceted, cross-cutting and complex issue, which has largely resulted from an ideology of preservation, while excluding ordinary communities from wildlife conservation.
Since the dawn of democracy in South Africa, there has been a strong drive for community participation in sustainable utilisation of natural resources. This drive, however, places a huge responsibility on citizens to understand the intricacies of responsible citizenry when it comes to how they relate to wildlife. Conversely, conservationists need to be sensitive in their handling of environmental issues that impact on communities, with poaching being one example. A proactive approach, that seeks to combine education, law enforcement and acceptable alternatives, is pivotal if poaching is to be addressed. Despite concerted efforts towards addressing poaching with dogs (which impacts particularly on small antelope species such as the Endangered Oribi – Ourebia ourebi), the issue continues to escalate, particularly within the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands. Weekends and holidays tend to be times at which poaching is most prevalent.
Attempts to explore alternatives to poaching with dogs have often proved futile, as illicit gambling has been the main driving force behind such acts. Many of those involved are not living in poverty, which lessens the impact of offering alternative livelihoods as a solution. It is also important to consider that some community members still view hunting with dogs as an authentic traditional practice.
Over the years, I have observed that horseracing and fishing are common interests for those that are involved in taxi hunts (poaching with dogs). One therefore needs not look too far from these interests when exploring alternatives to these gambling activities. Earlier this year, we held a meeting with 43 community members, the majority of whom are known to be involved in hunting with dogs. As an outcome of the meeting, a fishing competition was organised over the Easter weekend, which is usually a time when poaching with dogs is rife. Fifteen community members, most of whom frequently hunt with dogs, took part. The competition was a great success, and provided an opportunity to highlight the illegality of hunting without permits, the need for environmental responsibility, as well as water quality issues. The initiative has been well received by the participants and those that are directly and indirectly affected by poaching.
In a follow-up event, the participants spent a weekend at Wagendrift Dam in Estcourt, where they were able to gain first-hand experience in responsible fishing, such as being litter free, and took part in community engagement facilitation on poaching issues. As a next step, we are aiming to establish a community-based angling club for people who have in the past been involved in illegal hunting with dogs. A list of angling competitions, which are spread across most weekends and holidays, has been received and the members have already made a commitment to participate in those competitions.
During the fishing competition held over the Easter weekend, not a single poaching incident was reported at the Thurlow Nature Reserve (near Midmar Dam). Given the addictive nature of fishing, we hope that this may be seen as a viable alternative to illegal poaching of antelope, and hope for continued success, even if just on a small scale.
This work is made possible by NCT Forestry Co-Operative Limited.