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South Africa Moves Toward Ending 'Canned Hunting'

South Africa proposed new laws Tuesday that would end the "canned hunting" of wildlife bred in captivity to be shot in closed reserves by wealthy tourists.

Breeding threatened or endangered large predators such as cheetahs, lions or leopards for any type of hunting would be forbidden. Also banned would be all hunting that causes unnecessary suffering, such as the use of bows and arrows on large animals that can take hours or days to die.

"The days of captive breeding of listed species for any purposes except science and conservation are over," Environment Minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk said.

The new laws would "close the loopholes that have allowed environmental thugs to get away with immoral activities like canned hunting," he said.

South Africa is famous as the home of the so-called Big Five animals — elephants, rhinoceroses, lions, Cape buffalo and leopards — and its flagship Kruger National Park attracts hundreds of thousands of camera-toting visitors.

But in the shadow of the Kruger — where all hunting is outlawed — a plethora of smaller, unregulated parks have sprung up, aimed at visitors who carry rifles and hunger for the thrill of a hunting safari.

In 2004, an estimated 6,700 tourists killed nearly 54,000 animal "trophies," according to a report last year that recommended a ban on canned hunting. The report did not say how many of those hunts were "canned."

Hunting of all types is an integral part of South African life because of its traditional cultural importance and contributions to the economy.

There was no immediate response to the proposed law from hunting associations, although mainstream groups have said they recognize a need for tighter controls.

The expert panel last year found horrific examples of abuse. It said some hunters were offered the chance to shoot large mammals, including rhinoceroses, with bows and arrows, condemning them to a long and painful death.

Van Schalkwyk said the new laws would stamp out practices that "have cast a shadow on our phenomenal conservation successes, and left a stain on our reputation as world leaders in protecting and promoting biodiversity."

South Africa has won international praise for its efforts to protect fragile ecosystems and conserve its rich abundance of wildlife and plants.

"Hunting will now be permitted only by humane methods, in accordance with strict fair chase principles, by hunters registered with recognized hunting bodies," said van Schalkwyk, who described himself as an avid hunter.

All hunting reserves would have to be registered under the new laws and authorities will document the number of animals killed. There would be fines or imprisonment of up to five years for any violation.

The global wildlife trade monitoring network TRAFFIC said that in 2004, 190 lions were hunted by foreign tourists, who paid reserve owners an estimated $3.3 million — or more than $17,000 per animal. Forty-five leopards worth an estimated $250,000 were slain.

The list of animals killed included baboons, giraffes, elephants, hippopotamuses, mongoose, porcupines, warthogs and zebras. Prices paid ranged from $25 for pigeons and quail to $25,000 for a white rhinoceros.

Breeders have used crossbreeding and genetic manipulation to make the potential trophies more appealing — by producing large numbers of albino lions, for instance.

The International Fund for Animal Welfare, one of the organizations campaigning for tougher controls, welcomed the draft regulations.

"Let's hope they go far enough to address unethical hunting practices and, in the words of the minister, rid this cancer from society," said Jason Bell-Leask, the organization's southern Africa director.

The proposed laws would allow a protected predator to be hunted after it is released into the wild and has fended for itself for at least two years.

Van Schalkwyk said there would be six weeks for public comment on the proposed legislation, which then would be forwarded to Parliament for approval. The regulations are considered likely to pass.