Response From Wildlife Ranching SA President Dr Peter Oberem to SA Hunters
April 2015, Volume 13-2

There has of late been a lot of noise in the press about certain wildlife ranching practices that are perceived by some as having a negative impact on conservation. This noise comes from individuals with strange self-aggrandizing motivation who are clearly ill-informed about the wildlife ranching industry in southern Africa.

WRSA will in order to avoid further mudslinging refrain from focusing on the few elements in the hunting fraternity who, through their bad behavior, give both hunting and game ranching a poor image. It is a pity that the individuals mentioned in paragraph 1, who are responsible for the unnecessary noise, do not show wildlife ranchers the same courtesy.

I will try to avoid using unscientific, emotional and meaningless words such as ‘intensive manipulation’; ‘artificial wildlife’; ‘aberrant-colored’ and ‘compromised animals’, as used in documentation and on the radio by the authors under discussion. I always say ‘the lion never worries about the yapping of the jackals at his heels when he has his eyes focused on his goal’ and I have always tried to live by that code. This time, however, due to the unprecedented, intensive, sustained attack on our industry by a few ill-informed individuals, I find it necessary to waste time and energy to respond.

First, there are a few basic perceptions that must be corrected: Wildlife ranching does not take place on formerly conserved land. In fact, by far the greatest majority of game ranches are on formerly marginal, often badly overgrazed, denuded and eroded agricultural land, which has been converted into an economically sustainable form of agriculture with huge conservation and biodiversity spin-offs.

On the great majority of game ranches, internal agricultural fences that were there at inception have been removed to provide as much space as possible for wildlife movement. On only a small percentage of farms has only a small portion of the whole farm been allocated for ‘small’ breeding camps, usually between 25ha and 100ha in size, leaving the remaining camp significantly larger than the camps that were initially there to fence and manage domestic stock and/or crops.

Today, there are approximately 20 million head of game in South Africa, with private wildlife ranchers conserving roughly three times as many animals as the State does in all its parks. There are more game animals today in South Africa than there have been in the country since 1850, or over the past 165 years.

Apart from the sheer number of game animals and apart from the massive area (20 million hectares) that has been converted from monocultures of domestic stock or crops, a number of game species have been saved from near extinction by private wildlife ranching, e.g. the rhino, sable antelope, roan antelope, black wildebeest, Lichtenstein’s hartebeest, the bontebok, Cape mountain zebra, cheetah, lion and even the African buffalo (buffalo in the Kruger National Park, our biggest publically owned herd, are infected with tuberculosis), to name a few. These have been saved from extinction, unlike the bluebuck and the quagga, which were hunted to extinction before the advent of private wildlife ranching. All this success hinges on private ownership of wildlife, which was introduced in South Africa as late as 1991. Nowhere in the rest of the world has such an amazing conservation turnaround taken place (because ownership is denied the citizens of the rest of the world). The dire conservation situation in Kenya, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Botswana – as well as most of the rest of the world, in fact – serves as clear proof of the huge benefits of our government’s sustainable utilization policy.

A very basic concept that seems to have eluded the detractors of wildlife ranching is that of ‘herd building’. They do not seem to understand that, in order to provide animals for conservation, hunting or meat, the rancher needs to build his herd. With so many new entrants to wildlife ranching, it is to be expected that demand would be high for some of the rare species and the rare colour morphs. Of course, as their numbers increase (which is something we all wish to see), the prices will adjust. All sensible investors understand this. But then, more of these rarer animals will become available at lower prices for hunting.

Dealing with specific statements made to the press about:

  1. The cost of animals for hunting (and thus for cheap meat!): there are today far more animals available for hunting than ever before. As far as the price of commonly hunted game is concerned, taking inflation into account, hunting prices are lower than they were in 1991. The complainants have never said a word in the press about the inflationary increase in their other hunting costs, such as vehicles, fuel, rifles, ammunition and their favorite tipple. It is strange how a price of R1 450 for a blesbuck or an impala is said to be out of reach of the local hunter. Pricing cycles are a fact of business life. There are, however, many more game ranches for hunting today than there were, say, five years ago – with many, many more animals available for hunting or meat.
  2. The unfounded, libelous accusations that wildlife ranchers are using growth promotants [sic]: the accusers must back this statement up with facts! I have never seen nor heard of this unethical practice (which is condemned by WRSA’s code of conduct) occurring on wildlife ranches. Making unfounded, broad possibility-statements is typical of this style of communication.
  3. Much of the vitriol in the campaign against wildlife ranching is aimed at (i) Breeding animals for longer horns. There are ranchers that do this, but they do it scientifically, using the most modern genetic monitoring tests, as part of a broader health and production selection process to rectify the negative selection against these traits by hunters of the past. The record African buffalo horn length today in SA would qualify only in position 18 in the Rowland Ward record books. Most of the records placed above it are from many, many years back, further strengthening this point [and] (ii) Breeding of color variants. Clearly, the authors of the campaign against wildlife ranching understand neither genetics, evolution nor the possible effects of climate change on the biomes found in South Africa (in particular when discussing the so-called ‘natural range’). This is too complex a matter to discuss in a short press release, but one merely needs to walk down the street and see the results (many, many natural color and other variations) in insects, birds, mammals, plants and even human populations around us. We value and praise these in many ways, viz. naming the beautiful color variants of our indigenous and other plants after our heroes and paying more for them. Similarly, thousands of tourists spend money, time and effort to flock to SA to see the Timbavati white lion, the king cheetah bred by the heroine Ann van Dyk, or the yellow crimson-breasted shrike at Nylsvley. Why, then, the exaggerated negativity about differently colored antelope?

The attack on this country’s wildlife ranchers – and thus one of its major unique agricultural activities, wildlife ranching – by a few ill-informed and angry individuals purporting to represent the hunters of South Africa – is born from some other yet-to-be-determined motivation. This spreading of disinformation must stop! One does not punch a hole in the life raft one shares with others.

Source: WRSA Press Release (formatted for space reasons by AI editor)

For more information, contact Dr Peter Oberem: peter.oberem@afrivet.co.za. Editor’s Note (GRD): It is recommended that you also read the latest Wildlife Ranching Magazine (Issue 1, 2015) – almost 300 pages of material to choose from. Download the magazine HERE