Game farmers angry over drug ruling

THABAZIMBI – Game farmers are furious after the SA Veterinary Council prohibited their private use of the tranquillising drug M99, Wildlife Ranching SA said on Tuesday, 11 September.

“The new ruling was not in the interest of animal welfare,” said Leon van der Watt, chairman of WRSA’s Thabazimbi chamber.

He said game farmers had been darting their animals with M99 for decades without any incidents or accidents.

Van der Watt said game owners could not wait for up to five days for a veterinarian to arrive to re-capture or handle sick animals.

Acting Registrar of the SA Veterinary Council (SAVC) Lynette Havenga said veterinarians were now the only people legally empowered to give an anaesthetic or immobilising service to animal owners.

The amendment to the Veterinary Professions Act came into effect in June 2012.

Game industry groups such as WRSA, the SA Predator Breeders’ Association and Professional Hunters’ Association of South Africa said the veterinary council had not followed the correct steps in amending the law.

Game farmers said M99 was the preferred drug among veterinarians and farmers to immobilise animals. Other immobilising drugs were not deemed as effective.

WRSA manager Herman Barnard said they met with SAVC several times on the matter since 2009, but said their input and time had been wasted.

Havenga said interventions on free-ranging game animals were previously primarily conservation-orientated and done by the state.

The situation had since evolved into a very strong commercial interest in game farming. This development had created a greater demand for, and potentially greater abuse of, drugs for the immobilisation or anaesthesia of game animals.

M99 was also used in some local rhino poaching activities.

Havenga said it had become essential to regulate drug usage on wild animals. She said the sale and distribution of all opioids, including Etorphine Hydrochloride (M99) were also monitored internationally. There were already concerns over the excessive use of opioids in South Africa.

Havenga said if not adequately controlled, the company manufacturing the drug might consider withdrawing the product from South Africa.

WRSA argued there were not enough experienced wildlife veterinarians in the country.

Barnard said South Africa had nearly twice as many animals on private land than all the game in the country’s national parks and reserves.

“The game industry is expanding at an enormous rate. SAVC has clearly not kept up with these developments.”

He said South Africa was the world leader in wildlife ranching, yet the only country where scheduled veterinary medicines were not available on prescription to farmers.

Havenga disagreed, saying veterinary services were available throughout the country.

“There is also a standing invitation to all and sundry to report unavailability of a veterinary service to the SA Veterinary Council.”

Havenga said ongoing consultations would take place with all affected parties, including the WRSA, who were welcome to propose further solutions. – Sapa