Hunters are appealing to Government to open the hunting season for the sake of their dogs, and livelihood.
More than 100 hunters, from Toco in the east to Moruga in the south, assembled in the carpark of the Caroni Bird Sanctuary, on Wednesday morning, with empty dog cages to symbolise their plight.
The hunting season usually runs from October 1 to February 28 but no permission was granted for this year because of the covid19 pandemic.
The hunters made the case that they should be allowed to hunt as they go out in small numbers and were unlikely to spread the virus.
Hunters Association of TT member Simon De Freitas said since sports and in-house dining are among the public activities that have resumed, hunting should too.
“We are here to plead with the Minister of Health, Terrence Deyalsingh, to please open the hunting season. They are allowing people to hike, they have opened beaches, gyms, cinemas and restaurants and we cannot understand why they are still not allowing hunting to open up," De Freitas said.
"Hunting is a healthy exercise and it is in the open forest. There is no congregation in hunting packs, maybe six to eight people and they are spread out. There is no real reason to have the hunting season closed. Congregation does not happen in hunting. Hunting is good exercise, great for the mental health and a good brotherhood."
The hunting dogs are also affected, he said.
"Our hounds cannot exercise because they are locked down. We cannot exercise either because that is our gym. We are pleading (for the minister) to hear our cry. There are approximately 10,000 to 12,000 registered hunters that buy permits ever year."
A hunter is allowed three permits, at $100 each, every season.
De Freitas said several hunters associations wrote to the ministry asking for a meeting but they did not receive any reply.
“There are about 12 or more registered hunting associations. The last time there was a meeting with the Minister of Health it was a laughing matter for them. Even the rural hunters who would catch a little food and provide for their families will suffer. We are asking (Prime Minister) Rowley, when you are having your talk on Saturday, say something to the hunters. Don’t laugh at us, like the last one.”
At the last Prime Minister's media conference on November 7, Deyalsingh laughingly said hunters were allowed to exercise the dogs but not to hunt. He said the Agriculture Minister, Clarence Rambharat, wrote to him on the issue and he agreed to this exception.
After Deyalsingh's comment, Rowley said the hunting season remained closed.
"Normally it would have been open from October 1, so we have not opened the hunting season and so that exercising of the dogs is one of those nebulous activities but we trust it will serve the purpose for the moment."
The hunters, however, hope the Prime Minister would change the policy when he hosts another covid19 briefing which is expected this Saturday.
"One thing we have been asking for, in the past, is that hunting be recognised as a sport. It is not a fly-by-night thing. Just how the men who play golf invest in their clubs and gear, we invest heavily in our equipment year-round," said Top Gunz Hunting Association vice president Keith Steele.
"The Government can benefit from the sport but they keep ignoring us and it is a joke to them. Come Saturday, whether we get the permission to go ahead and hunt, we want to put things in place that come next year, they don’t do us the same thing. We will stand strong for what we love, just how they fight for what they love.”
In a response via WhatsApp to questions about the hunters' appeal, Rambharat said the decision to open the season would be made by the ministries of health and national security.
"When they give the go ahead the Forestry Division will take the necessary steps. I am supportive of hunting and the opening of the season once the MOS (Ministry of Health) and MONS (Ministry of National Security) give clearance," he said.