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Science - Reuters - updated 3:54 AM ET Aug 3
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Wednesday July 4 6:01 AM ET South African Leopards Hunted Down by Dog Teams

South African Leopards Hunted Down by Dog Teams

By Steven Swindells

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - South Africa's endangered leopards are being killed by hunters using trained packs of dogs to help track down their prey, the country's top animal welfare body said on Wednesday.

The National Council of Societies for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (NSPCA) urged the government to stop or at least regulate commercial safari operators that have allowed teams of up to 40 dogs to root out leopards who by nature are shy, nocturnal animals.

``We are very concerned to the extent it is happening in South Africa and that it is being driven for monetary gain,'' NSPCA senior inspector Rick Allan told Reuters.

The NSPCA's warning came after South African public television broadcast pictures late on Tuesday of dogs chasing down leopards.

Dog packs were being hired by foreign and local hunters to track the scent of the leopard before chasing the exhausted animal, which usually finds temporary refuge in a high tree.

Hunters would then follow their dogs and shoot the leopard in the tree at close range.

Leopards are already listed by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) as threatened with extinction.

``It's a growing problem particularly in the Northern Province and Eastern Cape. It's unethical and really scary,'' Allan said.

``By using the dogs, the safari operator can drastically cut the time it takes to find and kill the animal,'' Allan said.

The practice of using dogs has spread from neighboring Zimbabwe, where hunters from the United States and Europe have participated in hunts using hounds, bows and arrows and handguns, Allan said.

Safari operators and farmers in South Africa have defended the use of a dogs as a legal, sporting way to get rid of problem animals. Dogs are also used by poachers.

The NSPCA said it would intensify its campaign against the use of dogs in hunting leopards and other animals.

The exact number of leopards in South Africa is unknown but their numbers are being threatened by urbanization encroaching on their environment.

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