Genetic contamination
June 2013, Volume 11-3

I am very concerned about the current developments in the wildlife industry in South Africa. There are two main areas of concern namely the selective breeding of trophy animals and secondly the breeding of colour variations.

The breeding of trophy animals for the game farm industry seems to have the noble cause of protecting the species at stake. More and more advertisements are seeing the light where the horn length is the key attribute of the animal, as if that has anything to do with preserving the genetics of said species. These animals are sold at crazy prices and then relocated to areas outside their endemic borders.  Even if it is the same species it does not mean that the genetics of the East African and West African Buffalo are the same. Yet you see the advertisements stating very proudly indeed that the bloodline of their buffalo has both lines and has been bred in isolation for a long time.  Now that statement is as far removed from a conservation viewpoint as you can get. Yet no one seems to think it matters? They are protecting buffalo aren’t they?  Not only that, they are ensuring that it is the buffalo with the biggest set of horns as if that is important for the long term survival of the species. The stone cold fact is the habitat of these animals is shrinking and there are less and less trophy animals because of that.  By artificially creating these trophy monsters the industry is cooking up a pot that will boil over in time. Eventually the canned hunting that has plagued lion hunting will become a major problem with the antelope as well.

What is the owner of the largest buffalo or sable going to do with his multi-million rand asset at the end of its life of petting and feeding?  The animal will not roam free because the risk of losing it is simply too great. No, to recoup some of the investment this animal can go to the highest bidder that will shoot it in a small enclosure. Or maybe in a larger enclosure as the animal blankly stares at the very familiar people it has grown accustomed to.  Surely a trophy obtained in such fashion cannot be compared to harvesting a naturally wild specimen?  It should not be allowed in the trophy books. Big trouble is on the horizon.

Secondly and in the same vein as the first argument is the artificial animals created for human ego. These mutations are natural weaklings that are now grouped together and sold as superior animals. In fact we are perpetuating the weaker gene of a certain phenotype at the cost of ALL the other genetic traits. Once again this has nothing to do with conservation. In fact, if allowed it should be very strictly monitored because of the possibility of genetic contamination that can occur because of these animals being kept under artificial conditions close to natural populations.  And the long term future of such an animal?  Once again the owner who invested in the golden wildebeest and paid hundreds of thousands of Rands for the animal will seek some form of return before the animal expires of age. Will this animal be released on thousands of hectares? No, it will be kept in small areas and if the willing hunter pays the right price, he will shoot it there and post his name in the book as if this animal was “hunted”.  We need to have a very serious look at these issues and mobilise against the blatant commercial genetic contamination that is driven by greed and human ego under the false pretence of conservation.