The legalities of hunting game in South Africa

(Updated) Big game hunting has been the subject of many headlines over the past few weeks. Much of this followed the reportedly illegal hunt of Cecil the lion in Zimbabwe. While some are calling for a complete ban on hunting it is still legal in South Africa. However, information about the rules and regulations surrounding legal hunting are not easy to access, finds Moneybags journalist Jessica Anne Wood.

While researching ‘how to hunt legally in South Africa’, it becomes clear that many people from the hunting fraternity are hesitant to talk about the issue, as it is such a sensitive topic. Animal lovers and rights activists the world over went into social media overdrive after Cecil the lion was killed by American dentist Walter Palmer in Zimbabwe in an apparent illegal hunt.

It’s hard to determine whether the lack of clarity on the legalities of hunting is compounding the problem of illegal hunting and conservation in South Africa and other parts of Africa. Few are willing to talk and even those in the know are keeping schtum.

Hunting is legal in South Africa but if you want to keep within the confines of the law it is difficult to find information about how to do this. Equally, it is difficult to find out about where you can get hunting permits for the big five (African lion, the African elephant, the Cape buffalo, the African leopard, and the White/Black rhinoceros), the costs involved, and how many are available each year. Could this be one of the reasons why some are hunting game illegally?

The law

What we were able to establish was that the Department of Environmental Affairs oversees hunting legislation in South Africa. However, the department did not respond to emails or phone calls requesting comment and clarification on the laws regarding hunting the big five in South Africa. (Updated: The Department of Environmental Affairs responded to questions on 17 August 2015, to see their responses, click here.)

Proposed amended regulations to the National Environmental Management Biodiversity Act of 2004, were presented by the Minister of Environmental Affairs, Edna Molewa, in March 2015. These regulations relate to listed threatened or protected species, which include the lion, the leopard and the rhinoceros. They will also look at the permit applications and the issuing of permits.

Applications for permits

When applying for a permit to hunt a threatened or protected species, you are required to provide proof of legal acquisition, according to the new proposed regulations. In addition to this, other documentation that is required includes a certified copy of the hunters ID or passport, as well as proof of payment of the permit processing fee.

When applying for an integrated hunting permit, you will also have to submit proof of payment of “the fee relevant to the hunting of a particular species, as determined by the issuing authority in terms of the provincial legislation.”

Depending on the type of permit being applied for, you may also have to submit a risk assessment and an approved management plan.

However, the regulations state that if the permit being applied for relates to the hunting of white/black rhinoceros, the African elephant, the leopard or the lion by a hunting client, then the hunting client needs to submit the following documentation, as well as the application form according to Regulation 8:

  • A certified copy of the passport of the hunting client;
  • Proof of previous hunting experience in the country of usual residence of the hunting client;
  • Proof of previous hunting experience in African species; and
  • Proof of membership of a hunting association recognized by the relevant authority responsible for the environment in the country of usual residence of the hunting client (if applicable).

While hunting is legal in South Africa, provided you’ve gone through the right procedures to get a valid licence, Zimbabwe now has a partial ban on big game hunting. According to a report, Zimbabwe has partially lifted the ban that it had placed on big-game hunting around Hwange National Park, which was implemented after the allegedly illegal hunt of Cecil the lion.

However, the ban remains in place for two private game parks, as well as for rural communities near the park. Where the ban has been lifted, all hunts for leopard, lion and elephant must be supervised by park staff.

 Hunting permits

Stephan Potgieter, who has been hunting for the past 35 years reveals that it is not easy to get a permit to hunt one of the big five in South Africa. He explains: “Firstly you have to have hunting rights on game that is available. Secondly, you have to have the necessary authorisation and permits. [And thirdly,] the animals that you hunt must be in a free roaming state.”

In other words, the animal must not be in captivity. According to a document from the NSPCA, as of 1 June 2007 a lion must have been free to roam for 24 months on a farm before it can be hunted.

A view from within

For some who do hunt legally it’s important to keep hunting fair. “The hunt must be fair, ethical and the kill quick and accurate,” states Potgieter. When asked why he took up hunting, Potgieter adds: “I love the bush, nature, open spaces and the challenges.”

According to Potgieter, public sentiment is changing the way that hunting in carried out. When asked, he agrees that people find it more ‘acceptable’ when the entire animal is used to make clothing, food etc. However, it doesn’t sit well with most people if the animal is simply killed in a trophy hunt or if the carcass is left behind.

Potgieter adds: “Hunting has always been the sport of Princes but nowadays the commercial hunt business side is a huge economic and social attraction to the country.  We as professional hunters strive to keep our hunts ethical and legal according to the law and to our ethical code of conduct.”

It is important to note that the type of permit needed will depend on the type of animal that you are planning to hunt. Hunters will need a different permit for each of the big five, and these permits are different to permits needed to hunt other game, such as birds or buck.

Hunting permits can be obtained from the local authorities in the region where you are wanting to hunt, notes Potgieter.

The number of lion, elephant, buffalo, leopard, and rhinoceros that can be hunted in any given year will “depend on the authority and the permits in the different provinces,” he adds.

Potgieter explains that determining which animal to target on the hunt will depend on the client’s needs (i.e. the hunter), as well as the availability and quality of the professional hunter and guide (i.e. the professionals who accompany you on the hunt).

For more information on the regulations laid out by the Department of Environmental Affairs, click here.

Provincial hunting regulations

To add to the complexity of the laws surrounding hunting, each province has its own hunting regulations, as well as its own authority that approves and distributes hunting permits.

According to the provincial regulations, only KwaZulu-Natal and the North West Province permit the hunting of all (or most) of the big five, while the Northern Cape only allows the hunting of buffalo between 1 May and 31 August. In their most recent regulations, the other provinces do not make mention of the big five at all.

The KwaZulu-Natal Provincial Hunting Proclamation for 2015 states that lion, elephant, buffalo, leopard and white/black rhinoceros can be hunted with an integrated permit. The proclamation states that the permit will specify when the hunting may occur and how many specimens may be taken.

The North West hunting regulations for 2015 allow for the hunting of Cape buffalo, leopard, lion and white rhinoceros. According to these regulations the tariffs for hunting these animals are as follows:

big five tariff table

Potgieter highlights that the cost of the hunt will depend on the type of hunt, as well as when the hunt is being carried out and how it is being carried out. All of these factors will influence the price, as will the type of permit needed, which authority is issuing it, and which animal you are wanting to hunt.

To view the hunting regulations of the other provinces, click on the province below:

Eastern Cape

Free State




Western Cape

When is it illegal?

There are a number of restrictions on hunting, even when you have the necessary permits to make the hunt legal. If you violate these restrictions, the hunt would be illegal.

According to the regulations laid out in the National Environmental Management Biodiversity Act of 2004, there are a number of instances when “a person may not hunt a specimen of a listed threatened or protected species.” These include hunting:

  • in a controlled environment,
  • while the animal is under the influence of a tranquilising or immobilising agent,
  • by means of poison or darting,
  • by means of a bow and arrow, except when hunting lion, white/black rhinoceros, Nile crocodile or African elephant
  • by means of bait, sound, smell or any other luring method, expect for the hunting by means of dead bait of leopard and hyena, or lion, where the lion has not been bred in captivity and only on an extensive wildlife system with a minimum size of 150km2.

For more information on when hunts are illegal, click here (page 69-70).

Economic impact of restricted hunting

A recent article highlighted the possible economic impacts that banning trophy hunting could have in South Africa. Potgieter agrees that if hunting is banned, it could have a negative impact on South Africa. He says: “[I] think it is ridiculous because it is a huge economical boost to the country if the hunting is done legally and correctly.”

Besides the hunters who will be affected by a ban on hunting, there are a number of other people who are directly and indirectly linked to the hunting sector, including tourism.

The Department of Environmental Affairs recently revealed that “South Africa’s hunting sector is valued at around R6.2 billion a year and is a major source of South Africa’s socio-economic activity, contributing towards job creation, community development and social upliftment.”

There are a number of professions and industries in South Africa that could face financial difficulty, if hunting is banned. These professions include: wildlife traders, taxidermists, wildlife translocators, freight agents (who transport the trophies), as well as professional hunters, trackers and guides, hunting outfitters, the various hunting organisations, and the licence and permit departments.

While there are many arguments against the hunting of animals, there are others who argue that hunting can aid conservation. As the big five’s natural habitats shrink due to the growth of the human population, these animals are increasingly coming into contact with people, which leads to the death of many animals.

According to a report, more animals are killed due to clashes with humans encroaching on their habitats, as well as by poachers, than are killed by hunters. While this is a highly sensitive topic for many people, perhaps through proper communication and increased transparency surrounding hunting laws, a solution can be found that will benefit those working in the hunting industry and the conservationists.