Opinion: Dr. Gerhard Verdoorn On Game Ranching In South Africa
October 2014, Volume 12-5-II

It is of grave concern to myself and other conservationists and hunters to read the statements made on behalf of Wildlife Ranching South Africa (WRSA) at the recent Grassland Society of SA congress. The government (and de facto the state) has international and constitutional obligations to manage and conserve the country’s natural heritage on behalf of the nation – that includes myself, a huge number of hunters, an equally large number of non-hunting conservationists and the general population. What the WRSA fails to understand in this context – and that is evident from the statement that NEMBA [National Environmental Management: Biodiversity Act] is a pain in the a*** – is that NEMBA was drafted by scientist and conservationist with the particular objective to achieve the county’s international and constitutional obligations regarding conservation. Within this legislative framework, the government and state has to put policy into effect to ensure the sustainability and long term future of the country’s natural biota and abiota. Also pertinent in the legislative framework is the management of threats to biodiversity.

Unfortunately we all know that certain game ranchers have done things in the past and are doing things currently that threaten the genetic integrity as well as population health, and hence long term survival of species (I don’t refer to ungulates alone); the selective breeding of genetic misfits such as leucistic, melanistic and other color variants brought a new anti-predator mania that is damaging to the general ecology. The inflated monetary value of the genetic misfits generate a fear of these animals being predated upon as they should be, by predators. Intensive breeding in small camps have its own ecological impacts like changing plant ecology, resulting in over grazing just like in the good old cattle farming days.  It is rather amusing that WRSA states that all game ranches are marginal in terms economic terms and have been converted into viable economic crop (it should have been game) farms. This is a blatant lie!  The statement that the wildlife industry has restored genetic quality of South Africa’s wildlife is the biggest farce ever. Consult any population geneticist that is not in the pockets of the wildlife industry and the picture is clear: game ranch animals have a high inbreeding index. When it comes to selective breeding for excessive horn length or color variations the inbreeding index is even higher.  It manifests is physiological and anatomical challenges for the animals; adaptability is one of the main concerns here.

Certain select members of WRSA are domesticating wildlife to the point that the country’s image abroad as a wildlife destination and hunting destination is rapidly deteriorating into that of a massive zoo with domesticated animals. Namibia is already capitalizing on this and offer foreigners the real African experience. WRSA should be very careful about the statements they make: they do not even have 2,000 members of which not even ten percent participate in the intensive breeding and domestication of wildlife. Are they sure that the normal farmer with his wildlife that he sustains on well managed land often with cattle and small stock agree with what the intensive breeders do? Do they speak on behalf of all their members? According to my information definitely not! To call for a dedicated function to service a few hundred individuals who are playing havoc with wildlife is ludicrous. Must the entire nation now be held to ransom by these people? Lastly, one wonders where the government and state organs like SANBI [South African National Biodiversity Institute] are in terms of speaking out against the farce of a small select group within the wildlife industry?  Wake up, government, you are not fulfilling your international obligations in terms of the Convention on Biodiversity and in terms of the Constitution!!

Author: Dr Gerhard Verdoorn, conservationist, hunter and wildlife author. E-mail: nesher@tiscali.co.za

Editor’s note: Dr Verdoorn refers to Dr. Dry’s presentation at the Grassland Society which you can download HERE. Two articles in Farmer’s Weekly dealt with the same topic – download the July article HERE and the September article HERE. Dr Gerhard Verdoorn is a Chemistry Professor and a leading expert on raptors. He is also the Director of BirdLife South Africa, the Griffon Poison Information Centre and a Deputy President of the South African Hunters and Game Conservation Association.