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Buying and selling wild animals: Part 3

7 October 2015


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Animals of exceptional quality that are currently being sold at high prices on auctions will never enter the meat market. For example, a greater kudu bull that is sold for R9 million or more can never be used for anything other than improving the quality of a herd, provided that it still physiologically able to breed and is not replaced as a dominant animal in a free-ranging herd. Animals that are being held captive for a while before being transported and released also usually have higher mortality rates than those that are released directly after capture. This is makes passive capture economically attractive.

Environmental conditions play a decisive role in wildlife sales. Especially rare, wild animals that are being sold during the dry season when the veld conditions at their release site is poor are usually sold at lower prices than at other times. Drought conditions over the main wildlife ranching regions can also cause a price decline. Although more expensive wildlife can be fed artificially during a drought, mortalities among the more common wildlife will occur. This especially happened to the large-herd, meat-producing animals such as the greater kudu, blue wildebeest and red hartebeest during the live wildlife auctions that were held during the drought in the northern parts of South Africa in 2011 to 2012. By 2015, a long-term drought in Namibia has all but erased the demand for the sale of live wildlife and has forced many wildlife ranchers to cull their large-herd animals artificially at no economic gain in an attempt to save their more expensive wildlife. Elephants are especially a problem in cattle production areas in Namibia with limited underground water resources. Wildlife ranchers hesitate to buy new stock after the loss of wildlife from drought before the drought has broken. The subsequent demand then creates an increase in the prices of live wildlife.


In the past, rare wildlife were mainly sourced from national and provincial conservation authorities who sold breeding stock at relatively low prices as a conservation exercise. However, these animals are now more often being sold on auctions by well-established wildlife breeders. This has increased their prices substantially as handling of the animals, marketing and after-sale services contribute towards higher mean prices in comparison with the smaller, less well-known breeders and official conservation authorities. Moreover, the conservation authorities do not sell high-priced colour and morphological variants as long as there is a demand for them.

Political decisions involving land reforms and bans on hunting in some countries may have a positive or negative impact on the wildlife industry. In South Africa, current legislative proposals make provision for different types of land ownership which will affect wildlife ownership and production. One option is limited free-hold that is coupled to productivity and region. It will affect land size and use and could impact on wildlife production.

There is a current shift from commercial farming to wildlife production because of a continuing cost price squeeze where input costs are increasing more rapidly than output ones. The debt to fixed asset ratio has increased and some commercial farmers are becoming a security risk with input and financing costs that equal the value of their properties. The long-term viability of these strategies, especially the introduction of land caps, is doubtful. Many landowners may start to favour a higher value per hectare strategy, especially if land caps are not implemented, which could benefit the rare, colour and morphological variant wildlife market. Moreover, all the major banks and agribusinesses are investigating the future introduction financial products to wildlife producers that are similar to those for the producers of domesticated livestock, while refined insurance products could reduce the risk of an investment in wildlife significantly.

The strong wildlife hunting industry and the demand by tourists to see and hunt the Big Five of the African mammals create a large demand for a limited resource, especially given the favourable exchange rates and that tourism and hunting packages are quoted in foreign currency. This increases the value of such wildlife artificially. However, some hunter´s associations have already adopted resolutions not to hunt exotic colour and morphological variants and genetically manipulated or farm-produced wildlife, preferring to hunt free-ranging wildlife from natural populations. This may limit the market and mean prices for some high-value wildlife in the future.

Improvement in wildlife genetics have already lead to high prices for animals where the parents, ancestral origins and genetic integrity of an animal can be certified. However, even a temporary doubt about of the genetic status of a wild animal may influence it´s price. For example, the dip in the mean price of a roan antelope from 1995 to 1997 was caused by a temporary moratorium on the movement and distribution of the roan antelope because of uncertainty about the genetic integrity of certain animals. The sharp increase in the mean price of the bontebok since 2013 on the other hand was caused by the genetic development of the ability to identify pure bontebok and blesbok, and valueless hybrids.

Contagious diseases can affect wildlife prices seriously. For example, when some African savanna buffaloes of doubtful health were sold on recent auctions it created a mean price decrease. Such diseases may also affect the export market of some wildlife products, such as meat, and create a depressed demand and value. It is well known how outbreaks of avian influenza recently have harmed the international market for ostriches and ostrich products.

There are currently more than 10 000 wildlife ranches in South Africa, many of them being owned by corporations or businessmen who are mainly active in other economic enterprises. These ranches are increasingly being viewed by businessmen as investments for retirement and hence create an increased demand beyond that of the traditional wildlife rancher.

While formal live, wildlife auctions are increasing as the volume of the wildlife being marketed increases, private wildlife ranchers who have large wildlife operations hold their own live wildlife auctions. They either have their own wildlife capture units, or develop stocks of wildlife for sale through passive capture. A group of wildlife ranchers can also pool their resources to sell their wildlife on a combined private auction which can be an excellent advertising tool.

To date, the private wildlife ranching industry has made a major impact on conservation and the economy of South Africa, but some recent purely economic objectives are creating a conservation hazard within the entire wildlife industry. One important issue is the deliberate introduction and spread of exotic diseases, parasites, plants and animals and their impact on the natural biodiversity of South Africa. Another issue is the deliberate, unnatural genetic manipulation of wild animal populations because some morphological and colour variants are currently being sold at high prices.

Supply and demand will no doubt eventually affect the live wildlife market, and some evidence shows that it is already starting to happen. Purely economic incentives also often do not follow conservation ethics and are one reason why some intensive wildlife producers wish to remain outside the conservation sphere of influence. However, in doing so they may well be placed under other forms of regulation, such as veterinary, marketing, ethical and hunting restrictions. Other problems that may arise from the uncontrolled movement of wildlife include the hybridization of closely related taxa, while exotic animals can have a severe impact on native vegetation. Even indigenous wildlife in their natural habitat can become a conservation problem when purely economic incentives cause them to be kept in the wrong combination of feeding classes, or when they exceed the ecological capacity of the habitat at artificially high stocking densities. Eventually this can become a threat to the entire wildlife industry.



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article by Prof J du P Bothma



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