Wildlife Ranching SA (WRSA) Auction
The record price for a buffalo bull seven years back was R165 000. Two years ago a bull was sold for a record R9million but last year this doubled! Nowadays the sky is limit. AgriTV attended an auction of various game species held in Bela Bela recently to experience and to witness what is happening in this multibillion rand industry.
Source: Extracted from Financial Mail April 6, 2012
Rural job creation, food security and scare water resources are among South Africa’s most pressing challenges. The game ranching industry is SA’s sixth-biggest agricultural sector and employs more than 100 000 people primarily in agricultural marginal rural areas. Prices for game species setting new records in recent times e.g. the R18million price tag for Senatla an African buffalo bull snapped up at an auction in September 2011. Black-faced impala fetched R550 000 and a sable antelope was sold for R3million recently. In 2010 the value of game sold at auctions was R315million compared to the R100million in 2006. The 1964 census revealed that South Africa had a mere 557 000 head of game. In 2005 a similar census found that the numbers soared to 18,6million. According to conservationists Peter Flack the main reason for this was because of leisure hunting. He said that since hunting was banned in Kenya in 1977 the country’s game numbers has fallen by 80%. This also kick started the SA game industry. In 2007 South Africa hosted more than 16 000 foreign leisure hunters who spend R2billion directly (hunting) and indirectly (travel, accommodation, taxidermy etc). The president of WRSA Jacques Malan estimates local hunters still spend R3.1billion directly into hunting in 2008 despite the tough economic times ushered by the global financial crisis.
Is game farming not agriculture?
01 November 2011
At an Environmental Affairs office in Limpopo, a frustrated farmer is trying in vain to obtain a permit to hunt a rogue leopard on his mixed cattle and game farm. “What do you mean you cannot allow me to hunt my leopard on my land?” he argues with the poor conservation official who patiently explains that the leopard in question may live on the farmer’s land, but technically belongs to the state.
The irate farmer stomps out of the office, only to return a few minutes later with an invoice for six impala lambs, a duiker and two cattle calves. “If your leopard is going to live on my land, you are going to pay its food bill,” the farmer fumes, as he slides the invoice across the desk to the conservation official.
Loosely based on an actual incident,
this story illustrates what the game ranching fraternity in South Africa
has been arguing for many years: just like domestic farming animals, game
animals have to pay their way if they are to stay on private land. While wild
animals living on conservation land are subsidised by taxpayers, private
landowners have to find ways to earn an income from the animals they harbour.
Wildlife Ranching SA (WRSA) believes this lies at the heart of the problem with game ranching resorting under the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA). “Environmental Affairs manages the sector from a conservation perspective, while a production approach is needed to run a game ranch sustainably and successfully,” explains WRSA vice president, Dr Gert Dry. He believes the industry will be better served by a production oriented approach to ranching – such as found in the Department of Agriculture – than by Environmental Affairs’ conservation focus.
Early last year, the game ranching industry formally requested that this sector be moved from the DEA to the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF).
In a proposal to the Wildlife Forum on this matter in April last year, WRSA highlighted that towards the middle of the twentieth century, South Africa had only 19 bontebuck, 2 000 blesbuck and 30 white rhinoceros. Wildlife had no monetary value and was regarded as a competitor for grazing land. Because of the production-driven approach and the sustainable utilisation of wildlife by the game ranching industry, South Africa now boasts more wildlife than it has in the past 150 years. The industry believes it can grow even more, but to do so it needs to function under the auspices of Agriculture. WRSA describes wildlife ranching as the management of game in a game fenced system, with human intervention through the provision of water, the supplementation of food, the control of parasites and the provision of health care.
“The two departments are now busy considering our proposal,” says Dr Dry,“ but there is still no indication as to when they will make a decision.”
There are signs of hope, however. In
the Western Cape,
the provincial agriculture department has approached WRSA for assistance in
drafting a plan for managing wildlife ranching under this department. Earlier
this year, the minister of environmental affairs, Edna Molewa, also wrote to
the industry, saying the proposal and implementation of such a shift is still
under consideration. “So it seems likely we will be transferred,” says Dr Dry.
However, there are also concerns about wildlife falling under DAFF. Dr Peet van der Merwe from the University of North West says it is important to remember that game ranching is affected by many government departments. The eco-tourism side of it falls under the tourism department, hunting and hunting permits are governed by Environmental Affairs, while the Department of Health has to monitor the handling of venison.
It is only the game breeding side of wildlife ranching that can be seen purely as an agricultural endeavour and that would probably benefit most from a shift from one department to the other. All these issues would have to be addressed meticulously, should the industry be transferred to Agriculture, Dr Van der Merwe warns.
To a large extent, Dr Herman Els from the SA Hunters and Game Conservation Association agrees that Dr Van der Merwe has valid concerns, but he says his organisation often receives complaints from game ranchers who are frustrated by the slow processing of applications for hunting permits. These permits are governed by the DEA, the current custodians of the game ranching industry. Many game ranchers feel their own department is restricting the full growth potential of the industry through the highly bureaucratic permit system.
To address this, WRSA advocates a structure of self-administration. Game ranchers in possession of adequate enclosure certificates (AEC) or exemption certificates (EC) and TOPS standing permits (TSP), would be allowed to issue written permissions for the hunting of listed species. A hunting permits register would then be monitored by the wildlife industry. The same would apply for relocation permits. Approvals, in turn, would then be monitored by Government. But all this does little to address Dr Van der Merwe’s concerns. Dr Dry, however, is confident that wildlife ranching can successfully be administered by one department, while it complies with the statutory regulations of other departments.
“As a rule, no industry administered by a specific department is exempt from the regulations of other state departments and we don’t expect to be any different.”
However, Dr Dry says wildlife ranching has to fall under the department that would benefit the industry most and this, he believes, is agriculture. “Currently our industry is doing well from the trade in game animals and we are earning good income from hunting, but we have to start positioning ourselves for the export of venison,” he stressed.
“The wildlife ranching industry has, over the years, transformed 20 million hectares of marginal agricultural land into thriving land use operations”
Dr Dry cites that the demand for venison in Western Europe currently amounts to about 100 000 tons per annum and while South Africa has all the potential, it doesn’t even feature as a venison export country to this market. “New Zealand, which is much smaller than South Africa and has no real edible indigenous game species, is exporting 41 times more venison to Western Europe than South Africa.”
To exploit its potential as an exporter of venison, Dr Dry believes the wildlife industry needs to be backed by DAFF. This department has the necessary know-how when it comes to marketing meat and animal products overseas. Wildlife ranching will also benefit from the veterinary research and control of DAFF, while the industry can make a meaningful contribution to the department’s drive towards establishing black farmers. Dr Dry explains that South Africa has about 12 million hectares of overgrazed and degraded communal land that could offer a sustainable revenue stream for rural communities who are willing to establish multi-purpose game ranches. The wildlife ranching industry has, over the years, transformed 20 million hectares of marginal agricultural land into thriving land use operations. “We can assist Government in establishing a mentorship system to train rural and communal farmers to get the most out of their land through game ranching.”
Dr Dry says game ranching ought to be a prime option for rural communities trapped in poverty. A typical game ranch generates about R1 500 per hectare more than conventional livestock farming on marginal soil, and 80% of South Africa’s agricultural land is marginal. “We as WRSA already throw our full weight behind Agri SA and TAU SA when it comes to matters pertaining to land reform and the economic empowerment of black farmers. As an industry formally resorting under Agriculture, we can truly help make a difference,” he adds. This does not mean that game ranches would suddenly have nothing to do with the environmental affairs and tourism departments. Dr Dry says that the industry has a very good working relationship with Tourism Minister, Marthinus van Schalkwyk and his department. “We will continue to cooperate on the marketing front and, as I mentioned earlier, would still have to comply with this department’s regulations on the tourism side of our businesses. The same goes for Environmental Affairs.”
Dr Dry concludes by saying that the most important point everybody needs to realise is that wildlife ranching is a production activity, just like any other form of farming. It has to be economically viable to be sustainable. “Regardless of what it looks like in glossy magazines, game ranches are businesses and not lifestyle farms for the wealthy.”
Jasper Raats is a well-seasoned journalist and editor/owner of the Bosveld Bulletin Northern News in Limpopo.
For more on Wildlife Ranching SA go to http://www.wrsa.co.za