What is the Law on Poaching Wildlife in South Africa?

Poaching has long since been a crime in South Africa but as concerns about wildlife and the environment mount and as a growing number of animals are added to the endangered species list, the punishments related to this violation have changed to match the modern era. This may have left many people asking questions. What does the law really say about poaching in the country and what kind of penalties could you face for it?

Poaching is a serious crime that carries some pretty steep penalties along with it. That being said, not everyone may know exactly what constitutes poaching and therefore, it’s a good idea to first define our terms.

Types of Poaching

Poaching is usually defined as hunting or catching an animal illegally. By ‘illegally’ we mean when no permission has been given by the appropriate authority, there are, however, some exceptions to the rule. The main types of poaching are –

What is the Law on Poaching Wildlife in South Africa?
What is the Law on Poaching Wildlife in South Africa?
  • Hunting without the land owner’s consent – Normally, permission to hunt is granted by the owner of the land and/or animal. This is needed in addition to the state-issued hunting permits. Both the owner and the hunter must sign a form that should identify which animals can be hunted, how many, and that the owner consents to this action.
  • Hunting exempted animals – As mentioned, some animals have been listed as endangered. While this doesn’t always mean that they can’t be hunted at all, it does usually restrict the amount that can be killed as well as the times at which they may be hunted. This may also include more common animals during times of drought or famine to ensure that their numbers do not dwindle too much.
  • Hunting in exempted areas – Certain farms and reserves have been restricted from hunters either at the request of the owners or due to their value as tourist attractions. Hunting within 500 meters of a water hole is also considered poaching.
  • Plant poaching – Many readers might be surprised to learn that there are various plants that fit into the protected category and as such may not be removed or tampered with, doing so will also constitute poaching and will carry with it a suitable penalty.

It should also be noted that even when you are in possession of all the appropriate permits and permission notices, you may still not engage in certain types of hunting or trapping.

Illegal Types of Hunting What is the law on poaching in South Africa?

The National Environmental Management: Biodiversity Act (NEMBA) has outlawed certain types of hunting even when permission to hunt is given, these include hunting with – 

  • Poison
  • Drugs
  • Automatic Weapons
  • Darts
  • Airguns
  • Traps

Now that we have figured out the legalese of hunting, it’s time to find out what happens when you break the rules

What are the Penalties for Poaching in South Africa?

In an attempt to crack down on poaching within the country, the punishments for violations have become increasingly severe over time.

What is the Law on Poaching Wildlife in South Africa?
What is the Law on Poaching Wildlife in South Africa?

According to the NEMBA regulations (specifically the amendment of section 55 of Act 39 of 2004) poachers will be subject to an appropriate fine and in some cases even a prison sentence.

But what is an appropriate fine? Well, the fine is generally set depending on the violation in question. If, for example, you get permission to hunt on a farm but you end up killing the wrong type of buck, you might expect a fine of up to 3 times the value of the animal. It should be noted though that fines are usually dependent on the province in question as well as the abundance of the animal in question.

If, on the other hand, you end up killing a critically endangered species like a black rhino with the intention of trafficking, you might be looking at an R 5 000 000 fine and/or a 5-year prison sentence if you’re a first time offender.

If you do it again, you could face a R10 000 000 fine and/or a 10-year prison sentence.

What is the Law on Poaching Wildlife in South Africa?
What is the Law on Poaching Wildlife in South Africa?

In special scenarios, the penalties can be even higher, in 2019 the prison sentences for rhino poachers and traffickers were as follows

Prison SentenceNumber of individuals sentenced    
2 – 5 years75
6 – 10 years32
11 – 15 years32
15 + years6

As you can see, the fines for poaching are largely dependent on the animal in question. While hunting without the proper permits is always a crime, being caught with a common, non-endangered animal is usually going to result in a small fine whereas hunting protected species can really hurt your bank account and might even land you in a prison cell.

How to Get a Hunting License in South Africa

Hunting licenses can be obtained, usually for a small fee at one of the many offices listed here. Due to the fact that regulations differ from province to province, it’s difficult to say what exactly you’ll be allowed to hunt and how much a licence will cost you. It’s vital then for hunters to find out about the rules of the province in which they will be hunting before going out.

What is the Law on Poaching Wildlife in South Africa?
What is the Law on Poaching Wildlife in South Africa?

The Issue with Corruption

No doubt, many people will be willing to go through the extra steps of obtaining proper authorization before embarking on a hunting trip. The issue is that many South Africans have begun to notice how easy it is to avoid these steps if you know who to pay. A BBC study highlighted allegations of bribery within the legal system to avoid sentencing. There is concern that many poachers simply hunt until they are apprehended and then proceed to pay off individuals at court to make the problem go away.

More worrying still is that some incidents of poaching have occurred that show involvement by police and military personnel. Sadly, this kind of corruption can negatively impact the abundance of wildlife available to the rest of the populace and thus make it harder for law-abiding hunters to operate.

How much does Hunting Cost in South Africa?

As previously mentioned, you’ll need permission from the property owner before you can hunt on their land. This normally isn’t free though and most areas will charge you based on the animals you hunt. Add to this the cost of hunting equipment, travel and accommodation and this particular hobby can be quite pricey.

What is the Law on Poaching Wildlife in South Africa?
What is the Law on Poaching Wildlife in South Africa?

Although the price of the animal in question will differ depending on where you choose to go, we can gather a rough estimate of the prices by looking at a few different available safaris.

Trophy Animal    Average price (2021)
Baboon  R100 – R400
Wildebeest  R1000 – R5000
Eland  R2200 – R2400
Elephant  R35 000 +
Ostrich  R400 – R550
Lion  R7500 – R30 000
Hippo  R10 000
Zebra  R1500 – R2500

As you can see, the prices can vary wildly, this is due to the different types of each animal and their availability at each location. For example, depending on where you are, the colour of a Springbok might change it’s value from R400 all the way to R1200.

In Conclusion – What does the Law say about Poaching in South Africa and what kind of Penalties can you Receive?

Poaching is often seen as a very serious crime in South Africa. It doesn’t just involve hunting without the relevant authorisation but can even extend in scope to hunting certain animals at certain times in certain locations.

To ensure that you don’t accidentally end up poaching an animal, it’s important to pay attention to the government mandates regarding which animals are protected, the extent to which they are protected, as well as the news regarding any recent changes to the climate as droughts and famines can severely hamper the list of animals available for hunting.

The punishments for poaching are usually determined by the animal which is hunted. Hunting ‘common’ animals such as bushpig without a permit will most likely lead to a moderate fine. This fine is normally around 3 times the price of the animal’s estimated value.

If however, you are caught poaching more valuable animals such as elephants or rhinos, or if you are labelled as a repeat offender you can expect much more severe fines and potentially a lengthy prison sentence. It’s also important to remember that hunting licences are needed in most provinces along with the permission of the landowner.

Disclaimer LAW101: All of our posts are for research purposes only. Law 101 aims to assist its readers with useful information on the laws of our country that can guide you to make decisions in line with the South African Governmental Laws currently in place. Although in many instances, our posts cite the constitution, they are intended to assist readers who are looking to expand their knowledge of the law. Should you require specific legal advice we advise you to get in touch with a qualified legal expert.

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1 Response

  1. May 24, 2022

    […] set off. Permission – Even when a licence is not required, you will normally need to receive the permission of the landowner to hunt in a specific location.Bag Limits – As noted, provincial gazettes usually feature the […]

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