Game Industry – Quo Vadis?
December 2014, Volume 12-6

As everyone knows these days, the game industry is big news. Game breeders pay huge sums of money to acquire much sought after breeding material. Apart from scarce game and common species, color deviations (also called color variants) are being bred on an increasingly larger scale and the prices of these are even higher – saddle-back blesbok rams fetched R7.8 and R5.5 million at auctions.

At the magazine we increasingly receive letters from hunters complaining about higher prices. Even a few game ranchers who farm on an extensive basis and allow hunting, complain they are unable to buy the more common game to increase their gene pools because the prices are too high. Common impala ewes regularly achieve prices of more than R3 200 on auctions. Taking all the factors into account, how many times does such a ewe have to lamb before she has covered her cost?

Females of different common species (and splits) are purchased to be covered by color variants/bulls. Besides the now familiar black and white springbok and white blesbuck, I have counted some 20 different color deviations that are being marketed these days.

Conservation experts are seriously disturbed about the breeding of color deviations – animals which are only born in the wild in the most exceptional of circumstances and where their numbers remain extremely low.

Questions are also raised about the selective breeding of common game in small camps where like racehorses they are pumped up and receive special food. Some people are concerned because it appears that animals are being bred exclusively for horn length. According to them, the strongest or toughest animals are therefore not breeding with one another. Experts point out that it is not necessarily the animals with the longest horns or the heaviest bodies that become breeding rams/bulls in wild nature. These people therefore do not believe the statement that game breeders use only the best and strongest genes as breeding material. According to them, our wildlife’s natural toughness (the survival of the fittest) can eventually be affected.

Then there are of course those who believe that this industry is not sustainable in its present form, because there is no real end user. They believe this bubble is going to burst sooner or later and some people will lose a lot of money. In The Farmers Weekly dated 22 August billionaire Dr. Johann Rupert warns people to be carefully about investing in the game industry and not to put in their retirement funds. He mentioned that the buffalo bull which he bought for R40 million was not an investment. Furthermore, he clearly makes the point that those who got into the game industry first will make money and the last ones may burn their fingers. His golden rule is; first in, first out. When high stock prices (regardless of which industry) start to make the front pages of the newspapers, he believes it’s usually a signal to sell.

SAHGCA (South African Hunting and Game Conservation Association) watch these developments with concern and at a recent national branch meeting (where all the chairmen and representatives of the various SAHGCA branches attended) officially adopted the position that the way some game breeders currently went about their business was not desirable. The association believes that certain game farming practices constitute a danger to the biodiversity of our game and for sustainable hunting in South Africa. The first of three articles written by Chris Niehaus (Chief Executive Officer of the SAHGCA) appears in the SAHGCA section of SA JAGTER/HUNTER. His analysis of the industry has raised certain questions which many people would like the answers to.

SAHGCA wants the best for its members regarding price negotiations and also insofar as the total hunting experience is concerned. And not only for local hunters, for overseas visitors as well. South Africa has already in some ways become the skunk of the hunting world as regards some of our hunting practices. As a well-known professional hunter put it, “… South Africa has been tagged as a joke for many years by much of the African hunting fraternity. … Our clientele by and large hunt for the experience of an African safari……wildlife animals in wilder areas. Colored, line-bred, caged, corn-fed, photographed, vaccinated, catalogued and priced through ignorance (animals) are not on their radar and never will be.”

Where is the modern game industry leading us? And what repercussions will SAHGCA’s position against the selective breeding of game hold for its members, for hunters in general and for its relationship with interested parties in the game industry? Only time will tell.

Editor’s Note: This article appeared as editorial in the November 2014 issue of the South African magazine “South African Hunter/Suid Afrikaanse Jagter” which has a monthly circulation of 44,000. The article is re-published in African Indaba with permission, which we acknowledge with appreciation. We also thank Peter Flack for the English translation of the original Afrikaans version.

Author: Koos Barnard, Editor, SA Jagter/Hunter