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Wildlife matters

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Meat production from wildlife

25 January 2013

The wildlife industry in South Africa until recently mainly thrived economically on hunting, but especially on the income that was generated by hunting by local meat hunters and foreign trophy hunters. However, the World economic decline is reducing the lucrative hunting market despite investments of millions of Rands into developing rare trophies. The World population is being increasingly threatened by poverty and starvation because there is not enough cropland to feed a rapidly growing population. Traditional production of domesticated livestock cannot satisfy the need for more food as many of its rangelands are only marginally productive because they occur in arid and semi-arid regions. Moreover, the domesticated livestock are largely grazers that require range that is in a good condition for optimal production. Producing indigenous wildlife that graze and browse offers the best solution as such wildlife have developed over millions of years and many of them occur in marginal rangelands. In addition, health scares involve new pandemics that are being transmitted from wildlife to domesticated livestock and humans. This and growing fears of the dangers of genetic manipulation, growth hormones and antibiotics to human health are now creating new markets for free-ranging wildlife meat that is harvested from wildlife ranches. Another major advantage of the sustainable use of free-ranging wildlife is that the meat of such wildlife has a low fat content. Moreover, the little fat that is present is interspersed with the muscle while it also has low cholesterol levels. The free-ranging wildlife of the African continent are ideal to satisfy this demand but this enterprise in our wildlife industry is still largely in its infancy.

The large, rapidly growing and mainly illegal bushmeat trade in wildlife in Africa and elsewhere in the World is one sign of the existence of this growing demand and the acceptance of wildlife meat for food. Moreover, in some of the equatorial African cultures the people are forbidden to eat cattle. Politically, the local demands of a growing population for food production will at some time begin to impact on those wildlife ranches that only tender for the lucrative trophy hunting market. While they currently form less than 10 per cent of the turnover of wildlife on live auctions, the large-herd meat-producing wildlife should be developed into an additional sustainable wildlife enterprise. This will require a mosaic approach to habitat management as these large-herd wildlife are usually browsers, mixed and short-grass feeders while the rarer and more expensive wildlife prefer sub-climax, tall grasslands.

The mean daily requirements of protein for a human being is 50 g or 0.25 kg of meat. To meet this requirement in Central Africa alone would require 2.5 million metric tons of meat for an estimated 30 million consumers. This is an unsustainable demand when domesticated livestock is the sole source of supply. The European Union is importing more and more African wildlife meat for the European market. However, they stipulate that the source must be free-ranging wildlife that are devoid of genetic manipulation, growth hormones and antibiotics. The mean weight of a slaughtered carcass of most African wildlife types is around 55 per cent of its live weight, except for the ostrich where it is 38 per cent. Moreover, the ostrich and its exposure to avian flu poses a health risk that is currently preventing the export of its meat to Western Europe at great financial loss.

It has been estimated that South Africa has to double its food production capacity in the next 15 years while food prices are expected to treble in the next three years and to double thereafter every five years. Yet, in South Africa only 16.4 per cent of the land has a high agricultural potential, with 80 per cent being regarded as agriculturally marginal. South Africa currently imports R1 billion of beef, R1 billion of mutton and R2 million of chickens per year as protein to feed its population. Yet the Waterberg district with its large number of wildlife ranches alone has the potential to produce at least 3000 metric tons of wildlife meat per year at a marketing value of R255 million. The Western European wildlife meat consumption potential is more than 100 000 metric tons per year but the current supply is only 35 000 metric tons. South Africa currently only exports less than 2000 metric tons of wildlife meat to Western Europe which amounts to 4.5 per cent of the wildlife meat exports of New Zealand, a country which ironically has no indigenous mammal herbivores.

Because of an original emphasis on exporting ostrich meat, most of the wildlife meat abattoirs in South Africa that are approved to export meat to the European Union occur along the coast or in the near-coastal parts of the East and West Cape where the supply is relatively restricted, new export opportunities exist in the northern regions where most the wildlife ranches occur, with some 50 per cent in the Limpopo province alone. The recent creation of the Waterberg Natural Produce Company will help to address this imbalance and has the potential to greatly expand the export of the meat from free-ranging African wildlife. This will introduce a wide variety of newer products for various tastes. Up to 2008, the South African wildlife meat exports relied heavily on the springbok, blesbok, greater kudu and blue wildebeest, but especially on the springbok and greater kudu. New abattoirs in the more northern parts of South Africa should introduce large numbers of impala and other types of large-herd wildlife to the market and increase the availability of the blue wildebeest and greater kudu.

Wildlife meat production that focuses on the entire wildlife resources of South Africa is still a largely untapped enterprise. It can easily be rectified by new and proper infrastructures elsewhere and by developing a vigorous national marketing strategy. In doing so, however, the term venison, which is semantically reserved for deer and related cervid animals, should rather not be used to avoid competition with well established venison production enterprise in New Zealand. It will be a key element of success to market this meat as being that of African wildlife to create a unique product.

 

References:

Bothma, J du P 2010. The use of wildlife meat in Africa. In J du P Bothma and J G du Toit (Eds), Game Ranch Management, fifth edition. Pretoria: Van Schaik, p 727.

Oberem, P 2011. Co-operation, value-adding ‘key to venison production’. Game and Hunt 17(6): 69 - 71.

Schack, W, T Bergh and J G du Toit 2010. African wildlife meat production. In J du P Bothma and J G du Toit (Eds), Game Ranch Management, fifth edition. Pretoria: Van Schaik, pp 731 - 758.

By: Prof J du P Bothma

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