What exactly does illegal hunting with dogs entail, you ask? Read on, brave soldier!
The illegal hunting with dogs includes any action by an individual or a group to gain access to private property with the intent to catch, steal or kill wildlife or cattle with dogs. Wildlife and cattle are usually hunted for food or as part of a so-called “taxi hunt.”
A taxi hunt is when a group of organised individuals illegally enter a farm with dogs that are starving, or with trained hunting dogs. The dogs are then used to chase down prey which is usually ripped apart by the dogs or stabbed or bludgeoned to death with knives, spears and knobkerries.
Taxi hunts are an organised and cruel sport and thousands of Rands are usually wagered on the outcome of each hunt. Money is wagered on the dog that will be the first to kill something and on the specie that will be killed first. The dog that first killed an animal is allegedly sold for between R10 000 and R24 000 after the hunt.
Illegal hunting with dogs is not only a threat to the biodiversity of South Africa, but also to the safety and security of a farmer and their family. Illegal hunters often work together in groups and are heavily armed.
What should I as a farmer do if I spot illegal hunters?
Don’t be Rambo.
There’s a legal framework you can rely on. Every encounter will be different, but as a general rule, farmers should consider the following:
- Contact your local farmers’ association or security force before approaching the illegal hunters alone. It is always better to have other witnesses present.
- Should you reasonably suspect that someone has wrongfully and unlawfully stolen, caught or taken into possession game, then you may search such a person and his/her car, if applicable, and arrest them without a warrant, in terms of the Game Theft Act 105 of 1991.
- Should you reasonably suspect that someone has entered your farm, kraal or shed with the intention to steal stock, or if they are already in the possession of the stock and they cannot give a satisfactory account of the possession of same, you may search such a person and his/her car, if applicable, and arrest them without a warrant, in terms of the Stock Theft Act 57 of 1959.
- Remember, it is an offense 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 the dogs which were used during the illegal hunt?
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 in the 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, stray dogs may only be shot by a game ranger or by a member of the SAPS.
We strongly advise farmers to seek legal advice in this regard. To shoot first and ask questions later, will always be risky.
Farmers should be especially careful not to shoot at dogs if their owners are nearby. What often happens in practice is that the illegal hunters disperse and at a later stage return with the SAPS in tow. The farmer is then accused of attempted murder and the pointing of a firearm at the illegal hunters. This is an uncomfortable situation to be in. Should worst come to worst, and you find yourself in such a tight spot, you can always attempt to claim that you acted in 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.
Your actions must, however, have been absolutely necessary, and leave you with no other option.
Should you however doubt the lawfulness of your 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) to be taken care of. It is not the dogs’ fault. They are only doing what their masters trained them to do.
Prosecution of illegal hunters
There have been a few cases where illegal hunters were successfully prosecuted. This was only possible as sufficient evidence regarding the illegal hunting activities had been gathered and because 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 possible witnesses; and
- Ensure that no one disturbs the crime scene or removes or destroys any possible evidence until the SAPS arrives.
In closing, consider implementing AgriSA’s Farm Access Protocol and support your local environmental and conservation organisations. Co-operation between the relevant roleplayers on the ground is essential.
Contact us should you require any assistance in this regard.
firstname.lastname@example.org • www.vdt.co.za • 012 452 1300
This article is intended for information purposes only and is a brief exposition of the abovementioned legal position. Mention is not necessarily made of all the finer nuances as set out in the abovementioned legislation. This article should under no circumstances be construed as formal legal advice.