Adri Kitshoff- Botha
CEO of Wildlife Ranching South Africa
Wildlife is synonymous with South Africa. The abundance of wildlife that sustained countless generations of indigenous people such as the Khoisan and Nguni Africans, enthralled the early European settlers. Today this natural heritage still enthrals citizens and visitors alike.
The narrative of the South African wildlife “timeline” is certainly interesting. How many people ever spare a thought to think about the abundance of wildlife which had roamed over the open range at the time of the arrival of Europeans at the Cape of Good Hope. Similar to the rest of Africa, our beautiful country was blessed with a wonderful natural renewable resource namely wildlife. One often reads of the large herds of many species of game in South Africa centuries ago, with herds so big that it sometimes took five days for a herd to pass by a camp. There are also numerous accounts of lion, leopard and buffalo which roamed in areas where we find towns and cities today.
Between then and now, many things happened which had an effect on our wildlife populations, such as urbanisation, agricultural development, diseases such as rinderpest and even social and political changes. From an agricultural point of view, wildlife was seen as a threat in two ways that lead to human-wildlife conflicts and extermination of “problem” animals. The one threat was direct hunting of easy prey and the other was more subtle and indirect: competition for grazing. Urbanisation was a further invasion of wildlife’s habitat and eventually, over many years, the once abundant spectrum of wildlife was destroyed and even led to the disappearance of certain species and habitat – a sad event. During the 1800’s to 1900’s, wildlife was under severe threat because of these developments and growth with South Africa eventually only having approximately 600,000 head of game.
During the 1900’s we saw the establishments of provincial and national parks where wildlife could once again flourish. Many of these parks are now well-known tourist destinations where the visitors can view wildlife safely and experience “Wild Africa” and the local culture.
In the mid 1900’s, the opportunities arose for private land owners to establish wildlife ranches. These slowly but surely developed into further havens for conserving wildlife and offering hunting experiences as. The hunting developed from the traditional “invitation hunts” where hunters were invited by farmers to experience hunting and reduce overstocking of game, into “paid hunts” to reduce populations and to offer hunters opportunities to specific species or types on animals. Wildlife started having a value, a good enough reason for any land owner to look after the wildlife on the land.
Today, there are more than 9000 private game ranches in South Africa, on 20.5 mil ha of marginal land converted to productive land; that equates to 16.8 % of our country’s land mass. Currently, South Africa has more wildlife than at any time over the past 100 years. Private landowners have roughly three times more wildlife in private ranches than in national and provincial parks.
South Africa is internationally recognised for our number of species and wildlife and for the fact that our country played a huge role in saving some species from extinction, such as the Cape Mountain Zebra and the bontebok. We are also well-known for our eco-tourism, with 80 % of all tourists visiting South Africa taking part in some form of wildlife tourism.
The above successes were possible because of the three pillars of responsible wildlife ranching in South Africa, namely:
a. The principle of free market economics, directed towards protecting South Africa’s natural resources and leaving a lasting legacy for future generations;
b. An enabling legislative environment such as the policy of sustainable utilisation as enshrined in the South African Constitution and the Game Theft Act (1991), which allowed for the private ownership of wild animals;
c. The significant investment from the private sector in wildlife ranches and game.
For sustainability, the four pillars of the wildlife industry namely breeding, hunting, wildlife related tourism and game products, are interdependent with the one pillar unable to function sustainably without the other. Responsible, ethical, sustainable utilisation of wildlife as a renewable natural resource, remains the backbone of the wildlife industry. As a management tool, it provides a financial viable alternative in rural areas considering trends in some other African countries.
With international World Wildlife Day celebrated recently on the 3rd of March, WRSA embarked upon a social media awareness campaign to remind us how far we have come as a nation. It was also a reminder not only to wildlife ranchers, but to the full value chain of the wildlife industry and citizens to build an inclusive and sustainable wildlife industry. WRSA promotes protecting our natural resources and leaving a lasting wildlife legacy for future generations.
(Wildlife Ranching South Africa: www.wrsa.co.za)