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Wildlife matters

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The futuristic wildlife producer

2 February 2015

Because of its rich wildlife resources, South Africa offers a variety of opportunities to wildlife producers. However, the type of land-use differs markedly between individuals. Whereas the initial wildlife producers concentrated on indigenous wildlife to restock their wildlife ranches, there is no longer a single image of a modern wildlife producer. Partially the problem is that most wildlife producers still believe that the habitat and all wildlife will remain in a natural balance and that effective management of fenced land of limited size is not necessary for success. In addtion, the wildlife industry is purely structured and many wildlife producers follow a hit and miss policy instead of establishing the best approach scientifically.

There is no doubt that South Africa has a widely divergent and vibrant wildlife industry. However, the nature and scope of various activities have changed with time, and will continue to do so in the future because of economic and ecological pressures. Wildlife ranches were initially established purely from a need to own a piece of wild land as a refuge from life. With increased urbinisation, a need developed for access to a wildlife ranch, especially for recreation and meat hunting. With time, hunting for meat and trophy animals became the main sources of income for wildlife producers. Tourism, the commercial production of meat and other activities currently make a smaller contribution.

Wildlife ranchers initially concentrated on producing and marketing the indigenous wildlife of their region. However, with time a diversified extensive and intensive wildlife production industry has developed. When marginal land under livestock production was being converted to wildlife production, the more common types of wildlife were initially sourced from nature conservation agencies for re-establishment on these new wildlife ranches. Wildlife were orginally legally the property of the state (legally res nullius) until the Game Theft Act of 1991 and its later amendments granted wildlife ownership and exemption from some conservation ordinances to those wildlife producers who complied with certain specifications. This legislation became the catalyst for the development of the modern wildlife industry.

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Although live, wild animals were already sold on a public auction by Vendu-Afslager on 28 April 1874 in Bloemfontein, this enterprise has developed rapidly in recent years with a turnover of R1 875 133 871 for the 28& 733 animals that were sold on 83 official live wildlife auctions in South Africa in 2014. However, this enterprise did not show sustained periods of growth over the years and the most recent growth phase is based on the sale of rare colour and morphological variants at exorbitant prices which is not expected to be sustainable as increased availability is eventually expected to lead to a decrease in demand and a reduction in the current high prices. Moreover, colour variants only represented 5 per cent of all the animals that were sold live in 2014, while 6 per cent of the animals sold were rarer indigenous animals which yielded 40 per cent of the total turnover for the year. Common wildlife still formed 89 per cent of all the animals being sold in 2014 and consequently forms the backbone of this enterprise in numbers but not in turnover.

From 1991, the turnover and number of animals being sold on live wildlife auctions initially increased rapidly to 1997, with so many wild animals being re-established on wildlife ranches that there are now many more wild animals present on wildlife ranches than on official conservation areas. This conservation contribution conferred such a positive image to the South African wildlife producers that hunting on wildlife ranches became a major source of income and was accepted globally as a legitimate form of conservation. This created an exuberant trade in live wildlife on auctions. However, the development of limited canned hunting has eroded some of this image with time.

www.leopard.tvThe current new trend among a limited number of wildlife producers to breed exotic, colour and morphological variants intensively and extensively through genetic manipulation and sell them at exorbitant prices has also tarnished the conservation image of the South African wildlife producers further and has the potential to harm the entire wildlife industry in South Africa. Botswana is currently considering to develop its own wildlife ranching industry as a buffer to protect conservation areas and create a new income stream as hunting would be allowed on these wildlife ranches. They will wish to avoid the mistakes that have been made in South Africa while benefitting from the knowledge gained. Namibia and Zimbabwe already have a vibrant wildlife industry.

As the South African wildlife ranches approached their stocking density and fewer former livestock production units became available for conversion to wildlife ones, the number of animals being sold and the annual turnover started to decrease. This placed financial pressure on the wildlife producers and created a shift towards the extensive and semi-intensive production of rarer and more valuable indigenous wildlife such as disease-free buffaloes, black and white rhinoceroses, sable and roan antelope wherever there was suitable habitat. However, this approach was still based on conservation principles and created a new growth phase for the wildlife industry. This trend lasted until 2004 when supply and demand again started to decrease the prices per animal and the annual turnover for live wildlife sales. The latest trend then became the intensive and extensive production of genetically manipulated colour and morphological variants and stud breeding of wildlife. However, this is usually being done without considering genetic, veterinary and ecological implications.

This new demand for exotic, colour and morphological variants, especially those which were being produced intensively through artificial genetic manipulation, started to gain in popularity in 2010 with the erroneous belief that these wildlife producers can expect to continue excessive financial gain. However, it is likely to be limited to specific habitats, unless being produced intensively, for a limted time. It has also caused some international trophy hunters to shun South Africa as a hunting destination because of doubt about the genetic integrity and free-ranging nature of some wildlife, while such trophies are already not being recognized as bona-fide hunting trophies.

By following this new trend, some wildlife producers have lost the protection of their former conservation umbrella and they are flaunting the regulations as set out in the Biodiversity Act of South Africa. To escape this Act, some wildlife producers now wish to reject falling under the umbrella of the conservation authorities and wish their wildlife production to be regarded as a form of agriculture. Should this approach have any merit then success will still depend on the suitability and quality of the habitat. In addition, they would then become regulated by an array of agricultural legislation such as the Meat Safety Act, the Animal Diseases Act, The Consumer Protection Act and even some of the regulations on Civil Aviation, while they will still be subjected to the Biodiversity Act.

The danger and implications of the transmission of diseases and parasites between wildlife and livestock are real. Another question will be what will happen to the private ownership of wildlife, and the culpability for any damages that may stem from the escape of a genetically manipulated, intensively produced animal which may pollute the genetic purity of the wildlife of a neighbour? It is therefore a trend which can expose the wildlife producer to a whole new range of unknown restrictions and as yet untested claims for compensation based on ecological, agricultural and veterinary factors.

Because of the limited demand and suitable habitat when these wildlife producers start to market their own surpluses of these expensive, rare animals, the principle of supply and demand will also influence the income that can be obtained and the profitability of buying expensive breeding stock at exorbitant prices. On a provincial basis, most of the wildlife ranches are in the Limpopo province where most of the exotic wildlife, colour and morphological variants are also being produced and sold. This limits the possible target market.

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The semi-intensive breeding of rare, indigenous wildlife such as the buffalo, bontebok, roan and sable antelope which can later be used to establish free-ranging populations will remain valuable provided that they originate from stock that are genetically pure. Nevertheless, it remains a mystery why so few wildlife producers are giving attention to proper habitat management which is the basis of success for the effective management of any wildlife on a free-ranging basis.

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The wildlife industry has already become mature and has diversified into different enterprises that at times have opposing objectives. Yet, most of the wildlife producers are still not members of organisations that cater for their own specific needs. It has therefore become necessary to re-evaluate the objectives and marketing of each type of enterprise and to create different representative bodies. The first differentiation should be between intensive and extensive wildlife producers. The production of meat and tourism opportunities are also major enterprise opportunities.

Every futuristic extensive wildlife producer should determine what type of indigenous wildlife his habitat and region will be able to support. By focusing on the uniqueness of each region, a wildlife product can be produced that is adapted, competitive, ecologically and veterinarily acceptable. The willfull actions of some wildlife producers to produce wildlife variants artificially purely for short-term financial gain can harm the soul of Africa as a wildlife paradise and a popular hunting destination. The futuristic wildlife producer should therefore follow an approach which will show that he is totally aware of the social, environmental and financial implications of his actions. Above all he must seek the advice of honest, well-trained professional people to reach his objectives.

 

References:

Bothma, J du P. 2014. Die stand van die wildbedryf in Suid-Afrika. Game & Hunt 20(12): 72 - 75.

Bothma, J du P, H J Sartorius von Bach & P C Cloete. In Press. Economics of the wildlife industry in southern Africa. In J du P Bothma & J G du Toit (Eds), Game ranch management, sixth edition. Pretoria: Van Schaik.

Niehaus, C. 2014. Runaway game prices an economic bubble? S A Hunter, March: 68, 70.

Niehaus, C. 2014. Chris Niehaus antwoord. Letters, S A Hunter, April: 10.

 

article by Prof J du P Bothma

 

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