BY JOHN NASH
The world’s press and social media has recently been awash with a story about Merelize van der Merwe, a South African (SA) lady hunter who shot a giraffe and held up its heart, after a hunt that was a Valentine gift from her hubby. Thank goodness she didn’t hold up the organ on the ground (see picture below).
Unsurprisingly, The Sun, our much-loved UK bastion of balanced reporting and beacon of truth, described her as a “sociopath” and helpfully highlighted a petition to have this villainess banned from Facebook, such was her heinous crime.
Bizarrely, however, her actions were in accordance with our own dear RSPCA policies. It raises a number of questions about animal welfare and goes to the heart of the conceptual discord between many townies and tweeds over hunting.
The lady in question, rather provocatively, has deposited a suitably robust automatic answering message for the thousands of kind people who send her their variously creative ideas about her demise, her mental state and her abilities as a mother. Admittedly, she clearly loves to wind up the multitudes of anti-hunting tribes that flavour social media platforms with their pseudo-puritanical hysteria. It pays, therefore, to take a brief look at this rare glimpse of an unapologetic huntress and the realities of modern animal management in Africa.
First, the hunting facts. The giraffe, an old male affectionately known as a “stink bull” in hunting circles due to a certain fragrance they develop in old age, was raised specifically for hunting and meat on a game farm in Limpopo Province, once known as the Northern Transvaal. Merelize, together with her professional guide, stalked the animal successfully and from perhaps the range of 100 yards or so, she shot it with a .30-06 calibre hunting rifle. The single high-neck shot was successful and the giraffe dropped, insensible, into its own shadow. She then quickly followed it up with a coup de grace delivered at very close range with a huge Rigby .450 rifle, capable of knocking an elephant upside down, guaranteeing an instant death. This animal had no idea what happened. One minute it was munching the tree-tops and the next moment it was in that great game reserve in the sky. You may well feel dismayed or even outraged, but those are the facts.
Now, the giraffe. It was privately owned, raised in a protected natural habitat specifically for hunting and meat, on a large farm, by a game farmer. It was one of the 1% or 2% sustainably harvested every year. A bit like deer in Scotland. It was not galloping freely on the African plains as commonly imagined – the African plains are all owned by somebody these days. It was not one of the animals in the National Game Reserves – they are not hunted, of course. It was also not endangered; although giraffes overall are red-listed as vulnerable and decreasing, there are nine sub-species and this one, the Southern giraffe, is doing very well and of least concern; there are at least 26,000 and the numbers are rising because they are raised for hunting and meat. Farmers can raise as many as the industry requires. They are delicious, if rather chewy when old.
From the dark colour of his markings, this was an old bull whose fertility would be falling, yet he was still big enough and violent enough to keep younger, more fertile bulls away from the cows. By removing him, the birth rate would go up. He could carry on for a few more years, perhaps, but wouldn’t be worth any more, so why feed him and carry the risk of disease or injury? Thus, he had reached his farm sell-by date, so he was sold to a hunter and the farmer got his income.
Raising wild animals in their natural habitat is a major industry in dry South Africa, where only 13% of the land is suitable for rain-fed crops. Because farmers can legally own the wildlife on high-fenced farms, it means that wild animals are farm assets and can be bought, sold, auctioned or otherwise harvested like any other farm stock. Over the last thirty years, some forty million acres of game farms filled with wild animals have been established there, all supported by hunting and the meat industry. Those forty million acres give a home to billions of other animals, birds, reptiles, insects, plants and trees that are not hunted, which is why the term conservation farming is preferred.
Now, policy number 5.10.1 of the UK’s venerated RSPCA states that:
“The RSPCA believes that ‘sport’ does not justify the causing of suffering to birds and other animals, and therefore the RSPCA is opposed to shooting for sport.”
However, this hunt demonstrated that shooting, done properly, does not cause suffering, and in any case, sport shooting in Africa invariably means consumption because a ton of low-carbon, free-range, organic meat will never go to waste.
Policy number 7.1.1. Requires “the upholding of The five freedoms; (1) Freedom from hunger and thirst, (2) Freedom from discomfort, (3) Freedom from pain, injury or disease, (4) Freedom to express normal behaviour and (5) Freedom from fear or distress”. It has to be said that while wild giraffes in the National Reserves, filled with predators and left to nature, do not enjoy all of these things, this wild giraffe did, since it was protected from predators and will have been watered during droughts.
Policy number 7.9.1 states, “The RSPCA advocates that, because of the serious risk of distress and suffering caused to food animals during transport, all food animals should be slaughtered/killed as near as possible to the point of production”. This giraffe was, and was subsequently eaten.
Policy number 7.10.2 states, “The RSPCA believes that fear should be kept to minimum levels prior to and during slaughter or killing. Because of their temperament, non-domesticated species are not amenable to transportation or handling within normal licensed slaughterhouse systems”. The hunt fulfilled this policy admirably – stalking involves creeping up unseen.
Policy number 9.4.1 states, “The RSPCA is concerned with the welfare of all wild animals and it deplores man-made changes in the environment which cause suffering to wild animals”. This farmer has re-wilded a huge area of natural habitat giving home to indigenous animals and plants, far exceeding this policy requirement.
Policy number 9.5.1 states, “The RSPCA is opposed to the trade in wild-caught animals and products derived from them”. This giraffe was not wild caught. It was “wild” but never caught whilst alive. Like deer in the UK, it was raised with the potential to be sold, hunted and eaten.
However, few people will have the neck to say it…
John Nash grew up in West Cornwall and was a £10 pom to Johannesburg in the early 1960’s. He started well in construction project management, mainly high rise buildings but it wasn’t really Africa, so he went bush, prospecting and trading around the murkier bits of the bottom half of the continent. Now retired back in Cornwall among all the other evil old pirates. His interests are still sustainable resources, wildlife management and the utilitarian needs of rural Africa.