By Shaun Gillham
UNDERGROUND greyhound racing is exploding in the Eastern and Southern Cape where large packs of frequently abused and starved animals are exploited in a ferocious and lucrative practice known as “taxi hunts”.
While greyhound racing has been illegal in South Africa since the late 1940s, industry insiders revealed the illegal sport had experienced a dramatic spike in the Eastern Cape, particularly in Queenstown, Fort Beaufort, King William’s Town, parts of the Wild Coast and George in the Southern Cape.
The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (NSPCA) says taxi hunting has become the greatest cause for concern.
This involves the transport of packs of dogs by minibus taxi from one area to another where the dogs are released illegally onto farms – often where the occupying farmer is away – to hunt down vulnerable or endangered wildlife like oribi.
The participants place bets on the dogs involved in the hunts and the practice is believed to generate as much as R2-million “on any Saturday hunt”.
Other shocking findings revealed by the national and Eastern Cape SPCA include:
* Dogs are confined to small cages and subjected to a range of performance enhancement stimulants, including the sex drug Viagra;
* Dogs incur terrible injuries which are often left untreated, and the animals are discarded when they can no longer race;
* Discarded greyhounds are used as live lures or “bait” in the training of younger hunting dogs;
* Once a dog has been trained to hunt it is impossible to rehabilitate;
* “Reject” greyhounds circulate in informal settlements and are then used for breeding
The spike in illegal dog sports comes as animal welfare groups vehemently oppose the legalisation of formalised dog racing in the country.
Proponents of the sport are awaiting a decision by the Department of Trade and Industry on whether to remove the ban on dog racing.
King William’s Town NSPCA inspector and volunteer Annette Rademeyer said all animal organisations were united in the fight against the formalisation of the sport.
“Racing and hunting is definitely going on in our area. We have experienced a huge increase in the number of greyhounds brought into the NSPCA for treatment.
“With the greyhounds, the people who bring them in are adamant they do not want the dogs to be sterilised. This tells me immediately that they are using them for breeding,” said Rademeyer.
“Queenstown is the hotbed for this activity in the province. We know racing is going on there a lot in mealie fields or on open pieces of ground. There are individuals who are breeding the dogs in that area.”
She said people only saw the dogs on race day and that “they looked all right”.
“They do not see that these animals are kept in tiny cages for most of the day; that they get drugged and abused; that the ones that no longer run are disposed of or abandoned.
“We know the main proponent of the formalisation of dog racing, Shane Brody, addressed a standing committee in Parliament earlier this year and we were not consulted or invited to participate. We got a petition together. We are now waiting for a response.”
Brody admitted he had “formerly” been involved in greyhound racing.
Speaking from Queenstown, Brody – who the SPCA claims is breeding greyhounds and is involved in underground racing – said he “used to be involved”, but did not elaborate.
However, he admitted he maintained links with the international greyhound racing fraternity and said greyhound racing and taxi hunting were “taking place everywhere across the country”.
“There was a taxi hunt on a farm in the George area within the last month. Around 300 dogs were involved and I believe over R2-million was spent on bets,” he said.
He said if the ban was lifted, controls could be put in place, the industry could be monitored and the public and government would benefit.
This is a shortened version of an article that appeared in the print edition of the Weekend Post on Saturday, November 17, 2012.