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May 2015

 

After an extremely dry month in March, very welcome rain fell in many areas towards the end of the Easter weekend. This will contribute to raising the water table. Hopefully it is not the last rain of the season. Weed growth is, at last, beginning to slow down, giving one an opportunity to get on top of the problem.

This month we review the question of the contribution that wildlife ranching makes to
biodiversity conservation. An article by Andrew Taylor of the Endangered Wildlife Trust
(EWT) in the spring edition of Environment magazine highlighted this matter. The terms
“wildlife ranching” and “game farming” both refer to the management of wildlife on private
land for commercial purposes. They are often considered synonymous but “game farming”
generally refers to smaller properties (> 5000 ha) where some form of constant management
is necessary while “wildlife ranching” generally refers to larger properties (<5000 ha) where
management interventions are irregular and infrequent.

Management techniques vary widely from intensive single species production systems (such
as Sable) to extensive free roaming systems where wildlife is given very little assistance
other than protection against poachers. Wildlife ranching has grown exponentially over the
past 40 years and now incorporates in excess of 200 000 km2 of private land representing as
much as 17% of SA’s surface area.

The positive contributions made by wildlife ranching include the following:

  • Large areas formerly used for agriculture now form natural or semi-natural habitat that
    is better suited to biodiversity conservation. Indigenous vegetation is conserved; watersheds
    protected and de-graded land recovers.
  • Many more wild animals now occur in SA.
  • The distribution of these animals is now over a much wider area than would be the case
    with only state-protected areas. This spreads the risk from ecological catastrophes and
    increases the chances of long-term survival of species.
  • Numbers of many threatened species such as White Rhinoceros, Black Wildebeest,
    Cape Mountain Zebra and Bontebok, have increased
  • Substantial fi nancial benefi ts stand to be gained by wildlife ranchers with knock-on effects
    to other industries and the national economy.

This large and growing industry creates <65 000 jobs.

  • The potential negative aspects of wildlife ranching includes the following:
    Game fences prevent free animal movement across their natural ranges.
  • Electric fences with trip wires are lethal barriers to species such as pangolins and tortoises.
  • Many wildlife ranchers are intolerant of predators and control their numbers resulting in
    detrimental impacts on the natural functioning of ecosystems.
  • Intensive breeding systems that select for traits favoured by humans such as large horns
    or unusual colour morphs may promote the breeding success of weaker individuals and
    thus reduce overall fi tness of animal populations.
  • Despite high wildlife numbers on many private wildlife ranches, intensive breeding
    practices and impenetrable fencing mean that they cannot be considered “wild”. This
    can affect the conservation status of a species and can impact on the level of protection
    the species receives from government.
  • There is a perception that wildlife ranching is a playground for the rich and does not
    provide many social, economic or food security benefi ts to SA. This is not conducive to
    a positive attitude from government.

Questions about the true impacts of fencing, the potential implications of intensive breeding
and the overall contribution to biodiversity conservation need to be answered. The EWT is
conducting a study investigating the contribution that wildlife ranching makes to the green
economy of SA. They are attempting to achieve this by interviewing 1000 private wildlife
ranchers using a structured survey questionnaire.


Wildlife ranchers are encouraged to participate and can contact Andrew Taylor of the EWT
at e-mail:andrewt@ewt.org.za

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