The South African Hunters and Game Conservation Association (SAHGCA) wants government to implement mechanisms to regulate selective and intensive game breeding practices in the interest of protecting the country’s biodiversity and its international reputation as a leader in conservation.
Selective and intensive game breeding practices in the private game breeding sector are aimed at enhancing or altering genetic characteristics of game species for commercial purposes and include artificial and unnatural manipulation of wildlife to achieve unusual coat colors and excessive horn lengths. Although SAHGCA fully supports an extensive game farming sector and appreciates its contribution to the economy, the Association believes that certain uncontrolled practices might have detrimental effects on biodiversity and holds unwanted consequences for the wildlife industry as a whole. Dr Gerhard Verdoorn, President of SAHGCA, says the Association is very concerned about trends in the private game ranching sector where game breeders produce a growing assortment of unnatural color variations among indigenous game. “These practices of deliberately selecting and breeding animals for specific traits, similar to stock farming, to produce unusual coat colors or very large horn-lengths are not compatible with conservation principles.”
SAHGCA says this ongoing exploitation of indigenous wild animals will affect the integrity of South Africa’s wildlife and harm the country’s reputation as a leader in conservation. “We understand that the stakes in the game industry are high, but we have to be responsible in utilizing our wildlife heritage,” Verdoorn said. Variations in coat colors in game occur in low frequencies in the wild and are caused by recessive genes that result in e.g. black impala, golden wildebeest or white springbok. The reason for the low numbers in the wild is that these animals are usually not well adapted to their environment and are eliminated through natural selection processes. However, commercial game breeders selectively breed these animals to enhance and manipulate the desired traits for commercial gain. Prices of these purposely-bred animals are exceptionally high turning wildlife into a financial commodity. To protect their expensive investments, breeders put in these animals in small camps with very tight security. Some of the undesired consequences of intensive breeding include (i) fragmentation of habitats and wildlife systems; (ii) decrease in the genetic integrity of indigenous wildlife populations; (iii) reduce animals’ natural ability to adapt to environmental changes associated with climate change; (iv) Animal welfare concerns; (v) increased persecution of predators because of the threat to breeding stock; (vi) disinvestment in extensive wildlife areas which impact on the contribution that game farmers make to national conservation targets.
The demand for ordinary breeding stock for intensive breeding purposes leads to outrageous prices of huntable animals which in turn has a negative impact on the consumptive hunting sector. Animals bred under these conditions cannot be hunted because it would be tantamount to canned hunting – a reputational risk the hunting industry can ill afford. At a game auction on 13th February, ordinary impala ewes sold for R30 000 each. For hunting purposes an impala ewe would cost between R800 and R1000. “This drives the cost of hunting to unaffordable levels to the detriment of the hunting sector,” said Fred Camphor, CEO of SAHGCA. There are approximately 300,000 hunters in South Africa who contribute more than 74% of the total annual income derived from the hunting and wildlife sector. According to a recent study by the Northwest University hunting was responsible for R6.3 billion of the R8.5 billion that the wildlife and hunting sector contributed to the country’s economy in 2013.
Verdoorn said responsible wildlife utilization is the cornerstone for economic growth and sustainable development. In November 2014, SAHGCA adopted a policy position on intensive and selective breeding to enhance or alter genetic characteristics of indigenous game species for commercial purposes. The Association invited other hunting organizations and associations to adopt similar guidelines.
Sustainable Land Use Model: As part of its commitment to conservation and sustainable development, SAHGCA launched the Umfolozi Biodiversity Economy Initiative. It involves the establishment of a Biodiversity Economy node that will include Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park, eMakhosini-Ophathe Heritage Park, various stewardship sites and private and communal areas around Ulundi. Linking all these areas can create a protected area of approximately 150,000ha. This initiative forms part of an integrated land-use model that enables transformation and promotes economic growth in rural communities. The [initiative] is in line with [the] National Development Plan and will provide opportunities for partnerships among government, communities and the private sector to achieve national and provincial conservation targets [and] create business and development opportunities that will generate sustainable job opportunities, build capabilities and enhance the capacity of all sectors to address complex challenges of growing rural economies. Lizanne Nel, conservation manager at SAHGCA, says economic activities cannot be separated from its impact on the environment and people. “The Umfolozi Biodiversity Economy Initiative provides a sustainable economic development model for harnessing KwaZulu-Natal’s rich biodiversity and heritage capital to reduce poverty and inequality. At the same time it will provide an inclusive economy, protect landscapes, productive ecosystems and their associated products and services to society.”
Source: SA Hunters and Game Conservation Association (formatted for space reasons by AI editor)