Pretoria, 1 June 2015 – The Professional Hunter’s Association of South Africa (PHASA) said today it was hopeful that South African Airways (SAA) would reverse a decision to impose an embargo on the shipment of certain hunting trophies and elect instead to place more stringent requirements on the requisite paperwork for transporting animal products.

On 21 April this year, SAA implemented an immediate embargo on the transportation of rhino, elephant, lion and tiger trophies on the carrier’s services worldwide. While no reasons were given in the notice, it later emerged that the decision was prompted by a shipment of elephant tusks misdeclared as machinery parts.

PHASA chief executive Adri Kitshoff, who has been negotiating with SAA to reverse its position on the shipment of trophies, said she believes the airline now has a better understanding of the government’s policy of sustainable utilisation, which is enshrined in South Africa’s constitution and includes trophy hunting.

“Legal, responsible trophy hunting has been a cornerstone of South Africa’s flourishing wildlife industry and the headcount of game under private ownership now exceeds that of all the state parks combined by a ratio of three to one,” she said.

Kisthoff expressed her thanks to the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) for their intervention in the matter as well as to SAA for the opportunity to meet with the carrier’s executives and to explain to them the importance of hunting to South Africa’s economy and conservation programmes.

However, she raised concern over the decision by Emirates Airlines to also stop the transport of certain hunting trophies irrespective of the CITES appendix which allows for the transport of these trophies and Lufthansa to stop the shipment of hunting trophies from “all Africa origins”. “If other airlines were to follow suit, it may have unintended consequences for conservation programmes across Africa,” she said.

Kitshoff said it becomes hugely problematic when commercial enterprises believe they can do a better job of conserving wildlife than CITES, the most authoritative institution on this subject. “This is especially so when it is quite clear that some subjective, unscientific considerations have crept into the decision-making without due considerations of the facts.”

“There is a clear distinction between illegal wildlife products, such as poached rhino horn or ivory, and legitimate hunting trophies. The export of trophies is strictly regulated by both the country of origin, the country of import and, where applicable, CITES. No trophy may be exported without a relevant permit and while abuses of the system may happen, these are extremely rare.”

While the trade of rhino and elephant products is currently prohibited by CITES, it allows a set amount of permits each year for the hunting of these animals, the number for which is determined by scientific research into the health of the population of that species.

“CITES supports the sustainable and controlled hunting of listed species because hunting has proved to assist with that species’ population recovery. This was the case of the Southern white rhino in South Africa, where landowners realised the commercial potential of keeping rhino and marketing them to hunters resulting in an unprecedented growth of the species outside of state parks. Hunting forms part of many wildlife management programmes across the continent and any attempt aimed at curbing it could negatively impact conservation funding in Africa as well as communities and industries such as the taxidermists and specialised freight forwarders who depend on hunting for their livelihoods,” she said.