The article below, written by Mr Barry York, an intensive breeder of golden wildebeest, was sent to me for reply by Andre Degeorges, an American who has worked extensively in Southern African as an administrator and university lecturer in the conservation field.
Our wildlife industry continues to grow and expand, despite the economic downturn in the general South African economy. We see game values rising and new record prices being paid for select animals, at almost all of the major game auctions.
There are certain hunters and arm chair conservationists, who view this growth in a negative manner. They criticize the breeding of trophy quality animals as well as colour variants such as Black Impala and Golden Wildebeest, as having major conservation risk. The use of camps or semi extensive systems to facilitate the rotational grazing of wild herbivores, such as wildebeest, for sound veld management and disease control purposes, is condemned as being artificial (not natural) resulting in genetically inferior animals that are a risk to wild populations? Only trophies from animals hunted on those South African game ranches, where animals exist naturally, (without the hand of man) are considered by certain individuals to be authentic?
It is time to put the record straight.
Natural areas, that have not been modified by man, DO NOT exist in S. Africa. Kruger National Park, for example, is an extensive wildlife management area but is not natural. Game ranchers that enclose their properties with high game proof fences, may obtain a certificate of adequate enclosure , that allows the capture or hunting of listed animals at their discretion. Listed animals on fenced game ranchers do not occur in their original or natural state. They cannot exist naturally, no matter how far you stretch your imagination.
An ever expanding human population places increased pressure on natural resources and appropriate management strategies will need to be implemented in order for wildlife to survive.
The management objectives of a full time, game rancher, who’s livelihood depends on the sustainable use of natural resources are very different from those of our state funded parks as well as wealthy land lords who are not financially dependent on what they produce off the land.
South Africa and Namibia are the only countries in Africa, where private ownership of wildlife and the trade in many species is permitted , hence the expansion of game ranches in these countries. Wildlife is decreasing in the rest of Africa. This creates an increase in demand for wildlife in S Africa and Namibia, causing the ever increasing game prices that we are currently experiencing.
The vital role that ethical hunters play in the the conservation of our wildlife heritage because they add financial value to the industry, cannot be over emphasized. Have hunters however, always behaved in a manner that benefits the sustainable, long term health, viability and trophy quality of our wildlife? Can hunters all be trusted to shoot only the smallest, weakest or oldest bulls, leaving the finest and best to pass on their superior genetics before they are selectively killed and taken out of the system? Those who condemn selective breeding as a form of genetic manipulation must also condemn the selective killing of animals, as this is negative genetic manipulation.
The high, free market, price currently being paid for top quality, breeding animals tells us that the wildlife industry is in a growth phase. There is a shortage of quality breeding animals, to stock more land and thus an increase in their value, following normal supply and demand principals. All hunters and conservationists who have an interest in the long term growth in the wildlife industry should welcome this development. For every pregnant female that is not killed but allowed to breed, means that there will be more surplus males to hunt or harvest in the future.
The most important, underlying or intrinsic value of the finest animals within a species, is not in their meat or trophy hunting price but in their breeding value. Genetic scientists believe that the herd bull may contribute up to 80% of the genetic improvement within that population. Leading game ranchers understand the value of using the very best animals to breed and thus are no longer allowing hunters unrestricted access to shoot breeding animals.
The positive effect of breeding with superior bulls is illustrated below.
(Positive Bell shaped curve)
I am proud to be a part of the generation of hunters that have returned wildlife to the land. I am also proud to be one of the original people involved in the conservation of this magnificent, adapted, valuable, gift from nature, known as Golden Wildebeest. The conservation of these beautiful , tough, fertile, disease resistant, highly productive animals with unrivaled mothering ability and calf survival rate has resulted in the following benefits on our properties:
BIODIVERSITY CONSERVATION BENEFITS FROM BREEDING GOLDEN WILDEBEEST
The breeding of golden wildebeest has resulted in the massive increase in the conservation of the more common variant of this species known as blue wildebeest and other wildlife that is now to be found on what was often degraded, marginal agricultural land.
Previously blue wildebeest were of little commercial value to farmers. They were seen as a threat to the cattle farming industry and were persecuted, shot or destroyed as unwanted vermin. Prior to 1990 the movement of Wildebeest was extremely restricted, with only a few game farms having the required permission to keep them. There was little or no demand for wildebeest and their numbers outside of protected areas were extremely limited and diminishing. Veterinary fences were erected to restrict their movement and wildebeest could not be introduced to new game farms without the written permission of often uncooperative neighboring cattle farmers. Today the boot is on the other foot as beef production is less profitable and wildebeest breeding stock have experienced a significant increase in value because of the demand for breeding golden wildebeest. Blue Wildebeest are now regarded as a most important, valuable, game ranch animal, their numbers are increasing as they are replacing domestic livestock and crop farming as a more viable land use option. The breeding of high value golden wildebeest are in no way a threat to the more common, colour variant of the species but has resulted in a major conservation boost for blue wildebeest in general.
The conservation of genetic diversity , within the blue wildebeest species (as prescribed in the Biodiversity Act) has been achieved by game farmers, despite the prohibitive regulations, double standards and negative attitude of some, so called conservationists.
Large areas of over exploited , eroded and leached, infertile crop land has returned to well managed native pasture, resulting in a :
- Significant decrease in the use of potentially dangerous and harmful chemicals.
- Huge reduction in soil erosion or leaching, with increased soil fertility, water holing capacity, humus content and soil biodiversity.
- Improvement in effective rainfall, water conservation and provision of clean, clear, un polluted surface as well as underground water.
- Vast improvement in the diversity as well as, numbers of, plants, microorganisms, insects, birds, reptiles and mammals to be found in the area.
Increased economic returns from the sale of high value Golden Wildebeest and more efficient and effective production of blue wildebeest has resulted in :
- The creation of more sustainable jobs , in the poor rural areas, with better pay and benefits.
- The development of more value-ad business in the area ie vets, auction companies and facilities, game transport, helicopters capture teams, insurance companies, abattoirs , meat processing, fencing, and feed manufacturing, to name but a few.
- A positive contribution to food security, both in quantity and quality of healthy meat, through optimal wildlife production.
- Alternative and diverse income to farmers and increased farm prices.
- Additional tourism and hunting opportunities that are affordable to both the trophy and biltong hunter.
- The investment in and support of more extensive, conservation and hunting areas.
- The conservation and covering the cost of protecting our Rhino.
- Funding of meaningful research within our industry including ” snot- siekta vaccine.”
- The education of young South Africans re wildlife management.
- A positive contribution to Transformation and Land Reform in SA.
- A positive benefit to the rural green economy of our region and alleviation of poverty.
- The development of rotational grazing systems for both wildlife and cattle farmers to prevent the spread of disease resulting in reduced conflict between cattle and game farmers.
- Shown how Biodiversity is Good for Business and Business is Good for Biodiversity.
The efficient production of healthy, natural protein, from wildlife that is well managed, will also have an ever increasing benefit to the food security of our country. Poverty is the greatest threat to conservation and wildlife will only survive and be conserved , outside protected areas, if their value to rural people is greater than other land use options. The breeding of high value game has made a significant impact on poverty relief in these rural areas.
The vibrant game industry that attracts both local and international hunters and investors is a major boost to the green economy and the reason why more and more marginal agricultural land is being converted to game ranching each year. High game prices that are paid for animals of exceptional quality including including unique colour variants,that exist mainly in South Africa, are certainly not a risk but a major boost to the conservation of our wildlife heritage , our biodiversity and the rural green economy.