I have written to the publication before about the alarming current state of affairs in the game ranching industry. It seems as if there is a feverish activity around the creation of as many mutant animals with abnormal horn size or coat color as [possible]. Where all these mutants suddenly come from boggles the mind, but it is certain that their numbers are increased as fast as possible to cash in on the fad. [Here] is a summary of my thoughts that I deem important and that needs urgent consideration by conservationists, authorities and other stake holders.
From a genetic point of view the current freedom of breeders to mix different genetic pools from populations that had been geographically removed by many thousands of kilometers is a serious threat to long term biodiversity. Certain subpopulations are unique in their ability to survive in marginal habitat and have evolved over thousands of years to succeed. The traits the breeders claim to “conserve” are exclusively phenotypical like hide color and horn size. It has absolutely nothing to do with the overall genetic make-up of a specimen and how it enables it to better survive in its habitat. White or black impalas are genetically weaker than their natural cousins and have therefore not multiplied to become the predominant color form in the wild. Now we take populations of these animals and multiply their numbers. I feel strongly that the conservation authorities failed in their duty to regulate the indiscriminate breeding of game. They should be the gate keepers of sustainable wild biodiversity and it is shocking to see how little is done to ensure that the genetics of wild populations of animals are protected.
Breeding mutant animals for bigger horn size and odd coat colors is no different to breeding plants with new and unique colored flowers. The evil in the game ranching though is that these animals are marketed as “wild” trophies. These rare specimens are kept under artificial conditions and habituated to humans. Even the normal colored specimens with massive horns bred in this fashion can never be entered into the trophy books. They simply do not fall into the same box as a wild, free roaming specimen. Let’s use the flower analogy again to bring it into perspective. Some rare color hybrid of one of our aloes is created under controlled circumstances. Some bloke with enough money buys this and then submits this specimen as if he has discovered it in the wild. Sure enough the rare specimen has value in the industry but no one can register his/her name next to it in some trophy book stating that it has harvested a truly unique specimen of a species. Maybe it will be better to enter these artificial bred animals into the Guinness Book of Records. Or open up more categories in Rowland Ward and SCI for the other animals we are manipulating artificially like Brahman or Sussex cattle. Both can develop spectacular horns and have as much right to be in there as the game growing up on lucerne bales in a Bonnox enclosure. “Hunting” any of these animals is the true form of canned hunting and should never be allowed.
Because of this dilemma the trophy bodies like Rowland Ward and SCI should give their criteria a serious look. Maybe it is time for them to accredit only certain pieces of land they have inspected and found fit to the description of wilderness where free roaming trophies can be hunted. If the hunter can only enter animals hunted in these areas we will be moving closer to the crux of the matter and that is conservation of habitat. The only reason less and less major trophies are taken is because their natural habitat is diminished by the day. Breeding 50 inch buffalo bulls will never bring back the thickets and streams that now sport Tuscan villas in the bush. True conservation of the biodiversity starts with conserving the soil and plants that form the habitat of the animals we hunt.
Author: N F Alberts is a long-time subscriber to African Indaba, email firstname.lastname@example.org