Game farming industry booming despite trials

Kudu File picture: Mike Holmes
File picture: Mike Holmes

Rearing, selling wild animals proving lucrative, writes Riaan Marais

The multimillion rand game industry is strengthening its foothold in the Eastern Cape, developing into one of the fastest-growing business opportunities the province has to offer.

But extended periods of drought, the limitations of hunting permits and criminal activity like poaching are just some of the challenges the booming industry faces.

East Cape Game Management Association (ECGMA) chief executive Stappie Staphorst said the growth of the industry was linked to the diversity of the game industry and the way farmers had turned regular farming into lucrative businesses.

“Keep in mind that the term ‘game industry’ encompasses various aspects. While some farmers make their money from organising hunting safaris, others concentrate more on auctions and trade of rare species and exceptional genetics.

“Tied into that, you also have the tourism aspect and international visitors who come to our shores either to view our wildlife, or pay top dollar to hunt it,” Staphorst said.

In provinces like Limpopo, the Free State and the North West, game has been bringing in large sums of money for some time. But the Eastern Cape, while known as a good hunting destination, has only started formalising game as a thriving industry over the past decade.

According to the Eastern Cape chairman of Wildlife Ranching South Africa, Gerhard Heyneke, the growth of the industry is evident in the money involved.

“Over the past few years the number of game auctions in our province has increased significantly. In 2015 game auctions made in the region of R30-million, and in 2016 the amount shot up to approximately R120-million.”

Heyneke said farmers were also looking for niche markets to expand into, for example rare colour variations in animals – a bone of contention among farmers.

“Some farmers think colour variations are unnatural or a fad that will fade away, but I believe if a farmers sees an opportunity to do business ethically and legally, he should go for it.”

One example in the Eastern Cape was a rare breed white saddleback blesbok that sold at an auction in Kirkwood in 2014 for a record price of R7.8-million.

However, like all eight other provinces, the Eastern Cape has been in the grip of a terrible drought, a challenge Staphorst and Heyneke say has caused numerous game farmers a considerable amount of damage.

Staphorst said he knew of farmers who had lost whole herds of animals.

“And that is why we have to implement hunting limitations, especially on species like kudu.

“But in some areas, on the recommendation of farmers, we have banned the hunting of kudu for this hunting season, in the hopes their numbers will increase.”

Heyneke said the drought also affected game auctions. Prime genetic specimens still raked in millions, but many sellers put whole herds on offer, while buyers showed little interest in putting large numbers of animals on already strained farms.

“Buying one animal with great genetics won’t kill your grazing, and raises the value of your stock, but everyone is trying to do more with fewer resources, and increasing your animal numbers greatly does not make sense.”

Poaching is also a concern, especially in regions where settlements are close to farms and where poverty is rife. “Look at an area like Addo for example. The citrus industry makes use of seasonal workers, leaving many people without work for half the year. Many of these people use traps to catch animals for the pot,” Staphorst said.

Agri Eastern Cape natural resources chairman Brent McNamara echoed Staphorst and Heyneke, saying legislation was lacking in the game industry. “We still need to make the shift from regulating game under nature conservation and accepting it as a legitimate business.”

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