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In all industries it is always good to have choice. It matters not what your choice is, as long as the fundamentals that embody the industry in question are at the core of that choice.

Professional Hunting is an industry that in a sense is dissimilar to most run of the mill industries. For in most industries there are fundamentals that drive that particular industry and they are by and large based on economics, business ethics, public service and their frame works are far easier to manage and to control, nor are they scrutinised to uphold the high standard that Professional hunting is required to uphold. This is primarily driven due to the nature of what professional hunting comprises of and that is the taking of life of a wild animal, an act that does not sit well with many of those that are oblivious to the positives it drives as a building block in the world of conservation.

Professional hunting has to meet very different challenges, although similarities will obviously be there, it is a far more complex industry to manage and to acquire the same “brand” familiarity, social acceptance, trust and the largest and single most difficult task that lays before us, convincing the general public that what we do, is a conservation driven industry and that the future of most of Africa’s wildlife biodiversity hinges on our actions and our actions alone.

Custodians of Professional Hunting and Conservation – South Africa, was born out of the knowledge of what we needed to do to help place our industry at the forefront of conservation hunting and why we needed a choice within an already established industry here in South Africa.

Custodians was not created overnight, over many years a number of like-minded individuals ran with a mantra that they needed to be different. It was not a case of being “better than” it was a case of being open minded to the changes that we were seeing globally. It was a known fact that hunting was getting attacked by many, often those whom were ignorant and not necessarily anti-hunting minded. The attacks became far more concentrated and in all this, social media was born. This changed the way people acted, it suddenly exposed that which was wrong and often that which was right and yet portrayed as something evil, to millions of people in one single click of a button. We were losing the fight for what we knew was the only way African wildlife could survive and that was through controlled, regulated, conservation hunting.

Change was imminent and to do this we needed choice and the choice was to create a second professional hunting association, one that recognised two critical ingredients, the first being that something legal, does not necessarily equate to something right and the second was to enable dialogue with those that were regarded as our arch enemies. We knew that these two fundamental drivers would enable the overall professional hunting industry to benefit and to grow. Without them, we would remain an island surrounded by hate, mistrust and an anti-hunting sentiment that would only grow.

On the 6th December 2017 a collection of like-minded men and women met in Fourways, Johannesburg. It was the inaugural meeting of what would become Custodians. On that day a new professional hunting association was born.

As we look back over the fledgling years, Custodians is making its mark in the world of professional hunting, our membership is approaching the 200 mark. It was never the desire to become the largest association in an industry that is so multi-faceted but to become a voice of reason, responsibility, to have an active membership which will always supersede numerical lethargy and to create partnerships with those that in a different time would have gladly seen the back of us. So too to create and build, not to divide. Certain changes were required and yet we firmly and unwaveringly needed to stand by all that drove the fundamentals that are the core of professional hunting. Custodians will always reach out and work with all professional hunting, amateur hunting associations and conservation bodies that share our vision in the quest for the security of biodiversity within South Africa and abroad.

Over the short years that Custodians has been in existence, we are a financially sound and respected association around the world. We have engaged with those that we once could not, our recent acceptance into the membership of SATSA (Southern African Tourism Services Association) bears testimony to shift in attitude towards professional hunting. Custodians will build on this and ensure that we honour our mission statement and ensure that our code of conduct is adhered to in every way possible. The responsibility that comes with membership is understood and proudly defended.

Noteworthy events that have helped shape Custodians in our short yet eventful history is:

The contribution certain members made on the High-Level Panel report reviewing policies and regulations on hunting trade, captive keeping, management and handling of elephant, lion, leopard and rhino.

An invitation from The Conservation Lab for a first ever debate with the photographic tourism industry held at Spier in the Western Cape, was a highlight in our initial dealings with those whom decried our past, followed up by an invite to attend the following year was met with huge support, these engagements lead to new relationships that we build on today.

A campfire chat between an Exco member and certain board members of SATSA at their annual general meeting led to the acceptance of membership with SATSA sometime later.

The acceptance of membership to the TBCSA (Tourism Business Council of South Africa).

A recent meeting arranged by Custodians to improve ties and future commitments between OPHAA and SCI was a huge success.

The first Professional Hunting Association to offer apprenticeship programmes to its members.

The attendance by members and the financial support to Custodians over 3 AGM events needs to be mentioned. In times like we have never seen before, our membership came to the plate in numbers and contributions.

We thank all. As 2021 comes to a close, we look back on a year or more the has had and still holds, massive repercussions for our industry across Africa. If ever there was a time to move forward with relationships, it is now. The divisions of the past need to be buried and common ground needs to be tilled into fertile pastures for the sake of our wildlife heritage and the combined African biodiversity that is under threat through lack of travel and tourism. The various building blocks of conservation need cement between them and now is the time for like-minded bodies to unite like never before. As Custodians of Professional Hunting and Conservation – South Africa, we reach out to all in good faith and with a vision for #ONEVOICEFORCONSERVATION

Paul Stones

Exco member 2021

19th August 2021