Because of a British law… taxidermists in South Africa fear for their future

Because of a British law… taxidermists in South Africa fear for their future
Because of a British law… taxidermists in South Africa fear for their future
Inside a workshop near Pretoria in South Africa, workers are bent on decapitating antelope, bleaching the bones of buffaloes and softening the skins of zebras… but a British bill to ban the import of game animals threatens their future.

Booty hunting, a phenomenon particularly found in South Africa that attracts rich amateurs who sometimes pay thousands of dollars to kill lions or elephants and keep the animal’s head, skin, claws or horns, is a controversial practice.

British MPs passed a bill in March banning the trophy from being brought into the country, in a victory for some environmental campaigners who have denounced the practice as cruel to animals. But others saw that this decision may have negative consequences, as they expressed concern about the loss of income generated by this luxurious hobby, which partially funds efforts to preserve wild species.

Peter Swart, 58, fears that his animal tanning and stuffing company could become a collateral victim of this British bill, with the support of celebrities such as former model Kate Moss or former footballer Gary Lineker, which must still be approved by the British Council. Lords before its entry into force.

His concern is that other countries will follow Britain’s example. “The law can have a domino effect,” Swart tells AFP, with a zebra skull on his desk.

Similar bills are under consideration in Italy, Belgium and Spain, according to the Humane Society International, an animal welfare group.

Wildlife specialist Matthew Church says the UK bill, which notes measures linked to thousands of species including lions, rhinos and elephants, reflects “the beginning of a change of attitude” on the part of European countries, amid a global decline in wild animal numbers.

– Skins, skulls, horns and bones –

“Taking an animal to hang on a wall is not acceptable,” says Keshvi Nair, spokesman for the Council for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in South Africa. “There are much more ethical and humane ways” to generate income.

However, trophy hunting contributes more than $340 million annually to the South African economy, accounting for 17,000 jobs, according to a 2018 South African study.

The spoils brought in by the hunters, most of them foreign, receive the care of taxidermists who preserve the centuries-old art. The sector employs 6,000 people in South Africa and is one of the best destinations for trophy hunting, according to Swart, who is president of the National Taxidermy and Tanning Association.

In the Guild’s Forges, thousands of loot are processed every year. Piles of skins, skulls, horns and bones are turned into carpets or decorative items.

A large part of the material comes from organized killing operations within the reserves, especially to avoid an uncontrolled increase in the numbers of animals, while the rest comes from hunting.

“Hunting and killing is part of the animal management process. To waste skin like that (…) and let it decompose would be sad,” Swart says, as the animal has already been killed, pointing to a bust of a zebra on the wall.

A full stuffing of a rhinoceros costs $6,800, while a leopard sells for about $1,400.

Douglas Cockcroft, president of Splitting Image Taxidermy, which has about 100 employees, worries about heading to “an abrupt end to a large portion of our market”.

Elias Bidzisay, 45, who is called a “wizard” of whitening animal skulls in Peter Swart’s workshop, says that if “they ban this profession, I will no longer be able to feed my family.”

And some South African taxidermists began looking for new markets. “There have been breakthroughs,” Swart says, with Chinese and Russian fishermen now coming more regularly to South Africa.