Illegal dog hunting and associated betting syndicates are big business on the North Coast, with the sport believed to generate thousands of rands for dog owners.

The practice came under the spotlight recently when hundreds of macadamia trees were cut down in Upper Tongaat, reportedly in retaliation to farmers' attempts to stop dog hunting.

Farmers told the Courier the illegal practice was rife and landowners were being visited regularly by illegal hunters, sometimes twice in a week.

The lucrative practice known as taxi hunts, or illegal large-scale hunting with dogs – which is different from poaching for the pot – typically involves the use of abused and starved packs of dogs that are bet on before the hunt.

The name taxi hunts comes from the use of minibus taxis to transport the animals, which are then released onto farms, often when the occupying

farmer is away, to hunt down wildlife such as small buck and large birds.

Animal welfare organisations and farmers have described the practice as intimidating and an underrated form of abuse of farmers and their livelihoods.

There are reports of up to 40 people being involved in a single taxi hunt and because of the number of people and dogs involved, flushed animals stand little chance of escape.

Farmers on whose land such hunting takes place are often outnumbered and can therefore not easily deal with the culprits.

A 2018 report compiled by the South African Agricultural Industry (Agri SA) quotes a study by the University of KwaZulu-Natal that stressed that dogs are not efficient killers, ripping pieces from their victims while they are still alive.

Illegal dog hunting syndicates intimidating North Coast farmers

Hunting dogs on the back of a bakkie. Photo: NSPCA

The university found that the blue crane and crowned crane species had already declined by 90% over the previous 10 years due to the indiscriminate use of dogs.

If dog hunters are found guilty of hunting an endangered species, they could be fined or sent to jail for up to 25 years.

But this does little to deter them because arrests and convictions are rare.

The issue of farm and farmer security, disregard for private property, the effect on the game and domestic stock, and the shooting of hunting dogs are all causing increased tension between hunters and landowners.

Small stock farmer and previous chairman of the Thomas River Conservancy in the Eastern Cape, David Wardle, has been dealing with the problem for several years.

Wardle said the practice was rife in all farming communities and especially on farms where farmers were conservation conscious.

"Ever since the banning of dog racing, the taxi hunts have increased and flourished into huge weekend sports worth several hundred thousand rand on any given day. Betting on dogs in dog racing has been replaced by betting on dogs that hunt game on private land. Dogs are rated and bets are placed before the outing. Judges decide which dogs have killed or performed best and the payouts are done by the bookies.

"The hunts are well-orchestrated and are preceded and concluded with social events. In some cases, they involve up to 30 men with more than 100 dogs, which creates a dangerous situation. In some areas it has become so bad that farmers are told when hunting is to take place and threatened not to intervene as they could be killed," he said.

Wardle said the illegal hunters were not poor people hunting for the pot.

Unfortunately, authorities do not seem to take illegal dog hunting seriously. Reaction time is slow and mistakes in investigations make successful prosecutions difficult.

"Dog handlers caught trespassing claim they are fetching their dogs which have wandered onto the property in error. Farmers are therefore not able to press charges except for trespassing. Farmers also experience financial losses through extensive damage to fences when they are cut by the dog handlers, and in arson fires," said a local farm manager who asked not to be named.

According to a 2002 National Council of SPCAs (NSPCA) report, hunting dogs are deliberately starved to ensure that they are better hunters.

Dogs sometimes incur terrible injuries which are often left untreated, and the animals are discarded when they can no longer hunt.

"Reject" greyhounds circulate in informal settlements and are used for breeding.

Various provincial organisations of Agri SA have become very actively involved in trying to resolve the problem, which has escalated in recent years.

Agri SA advised that farmers' associations should involve the national prosecuting authority and sector community policing forum at their meetings, where assistance on how to deal with issues of illegal hunting should be raised.

This article first appeared on The North Coast Courier and was republished with permission.

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