See Peter Flack’s response below.
Kicker: It is unfair to target game farming as an “economic bubble”. This industry creates jobs and makes a very healthy contribution to the economy.
As a game rancher and breeder of scarce game I would like to respond to the articles written by Chris Niehaus (Runaway game prices an economic bubble?) and Peter Flack (Pyramid schemes and unnatural freaks) that were published in the March and July editions of SA Jagter/Hunter.
Allow me to start with an anecdote. Gatiep was walking along the dock with a bucket full of crayfish when he bumped into his good friend Jan. Looking worriedly at the bucket which had no lid, Jan asked Gatiep whether he was not concerned about the crayfish escaping. Gatiep, however, reassured Jan that the crayfish definitely would not escape, because they were South African. “You see,” Gatiep said, “sodra een amper bo is, trek die ander hom af”.
As South Africans we have a horrible habit of doing just that; instead of mutually supporting each other and benefiting from success, we seem bent on trying to pull one another down.
As fellow custodians of our wildlife heritage we urge you to consider the consequences of your actions before you alienate game farmers who contribute significantly to the rural economy and serve members of various hunting associations, including those of SA Hunters.
The recent articles I mentioned above have tarnished the wildlife industry. Sir Isaac Newton said: “Tact is the art of making a point without making an enemy.” Hopefully some common understanding surrounding the driving forces behind the wildlife industry can be reached. It would appear that the colour variant sector is not about to collapse any time soon, and while colour variants (in the expression of the recessive gene), may not possess hides of the same colour as the standard species, cannot be described as freaks.
GAME INDUSTRY DOES NOT GEAR
Niehaus provided readers with examples of previous economic bubbles and described the various models that cause bubbles to develop. The extrapolation model in which past performance is used to justify future performance was highlighted to rationalise Niehaus’ perspective on the economic factors at play in our industry. He goes on to say, “bubbles develop when no in-depth analysis of the intrinsic or fundamental value of the asset is done”. This analysis seems to be precisely what the two authors have failed to do before publishing.
Niehaus refers to the sub-prime crisis in the US with which we are all familiar, but he challenges the intelligence of his readers when he attempts to link the wildlife industry to the sub-prime collapse, in which loans were granted to people with poor credit rating and credit was geared to such a degree that three to five properties could be bought based on the collateral of the first purchase. The game industry is debt-free with minimal lending, and gearing is by no means a factor as farmers cannot bond an individual animal through their bank to buy another animal. It’s important to remember that animals provide an annual dividend in the form of a lamb or a calf to their owners.
VALUE OF THE WILDLIFE INDUSTRY
From a one-sided biltong hunting perspective one would probably agree with the authors that current game prices are high. However, there are many market segments in the game industry that supply various types of consumers and produce a wide spectrum of products.
As game ranchers and conservationists it is our responsibility to sustainably produce a product from the natural resources at our disposal. Game ranching, the venison market and the tourism industry are all independent sectors, but where they overlap, tangible and intangible services can be provided to supply a multitude of secondary markets with a variety of demands and prices to match those demands. There is no sound rationale behind the comparison of an animal’s breeding value and its hunting value.
In 2013, Arthur de Villiers sold a Bonsmara bull for more than R400 000, while at the same time commercial beef farmers were getting less than R24/kg. Is the beef cattle industry also involved is some kind of pyramid scheme? If we are willing to accept that there are different prince ranges in the beef industry for breeding and commercial stock, why would this concept seem to strange in the game industry? Game Ranchers are willing to pay higher prices for sought after genetics, because of the breeding potential of the animal rather than its hunting or slaughter value.
In his book The South African Conservation Success Story Peter Flack said the South African conservation model has three legs; the public sector, the private sector and the free market economy. No one could argue with Flack here, as all wildlife prices are underpinned by market fluctuation and driven by supply and demand forces which form the backbone of a free market economy. Year-old roan, sable and buffalo bulls can be purchased for about R25 000 at live auctions, primarily because the market understands that not all bulls will become breeding bulls. Each species has value, determined by demand from primary or secondary industries.
Animals that don’t display the desired traits and the ordinary or common plains game species have not shown any marked price increase in the past five years which makes sense as these species don’t have value added market benefits. They have instead maintained their hunting value. What is apparent is that as breeders are forced to produce more sought after animals with specific qualities, there is a related price increase because of the relative scarcity of these animals. Once again this is subject to market fluctuation as the market rises or falls depending on the demand.
Flack seems to want to undermine the game ranching industry by focusing on anecdotes and using emotive language, a strategy often employed when there is a lack of hard evidence, and perhaps a useful way of creating a smoke screen.
It may be a fairly vivid imagination that portrays the game ranching industry as a pyramid scheme, because this implies the end user or hunter has no intention of utilising the products game farmers are producing. Dr Herman Els who served on the Executive Committee of SA Hunters released the following statistics about the South African hunting industry for 2011; this industry generated R7.7 billion that year – 0.25% of South Africa’s GDP. R3.1 billion was generated by an estimated 250 000 local biltong hunters and R2.1 billion came from an estimated 15 000 foreign trophy hunters, while the remaining R2.5 billion was generated by add-on services such as food and accommodation.
How did the game ranching industry compare? Vleissentraal is probably responsible for most of the big annual sales where the majority of record sales take place. In 2011 the total turnover of Vleissentraal auctions was R434 million, less than 5.63% of the value of the South African hunting industry. It is puzzling therefore to understand how Niehaus and Flack came to the conclusion that a major economic bubble and even stranger, a pyramid scheme conspiracy can be generated from these figures. The hunting industry has a far greater economic reach than the wildlife auctions of the game ranching industry.
I think we need clarity on what exactly a colour variant is. At the most recent Wildlife Ranching South Africa (WRSA) AGM the following definition for a colour variant was accepted: “A colour variant is a functionally efficient wild animal occurring naturally in the wild or an extensive wildlife system. It has a distinct phenotypic difference (colour and/or pattern) and is genetically similar to the original species with just a few genes that cause a difference from the common colour. The colour/variant trait must be heritable and maintain this difference for the duration of its lifespan.”
This definition is somewhat different to Flack’s description. No wonder there was a negative perception from SCI in response to Peter Flack’s written query about “unnatural crosses” and “unnatural species”. Flack appears to have been discussing cross-species hybridisation rather than colour variants, information he could have accessed by visiting numerous websites including that of SCI.
According to SCI’s hunting records they have registered 802 white blesbuck and six black impala. SCI have also registered 921 black springbok, 168 copper springbok and 699 white springbok, a combined total of virtually the same number of standard coloured springbok that have been registered. They also provide space for the golden Kalahari gemsbok (Namibia) regardless that none have yet been registered.
The picture above is of the number one ranked black impala on SCI’s website 55⅛”
Clearly there is a demand or potential demand to hunt colour variants and SCI is willing to create new categories for these animals. Springbok are hunted on a greater scale than other colour variants, because of supply and demand drivers. The current demand for breeding is exceptionally high for black impala, thus a game rancher generates a higher income from the breeding potential of his black rams then he would from hunting them. Trends will change as breeding supply reaches saturation, individual prices of less desirable animals will fall and they will become more affordable to hunt.
We have an exceptional marketing opportunity – it would seem foolish for us not to create market awareness about colour variants. The income benefit in a scenario where a foreign hunter takes four antelope instead of one needs no laboured explanation; four times the money from a single hunt.
POPULATION DECLINES AND GROWTH
“(The) SA wildlife industry was on the brink of disaster 50 years ago, when there were just over 550 000 head of game, including those in national and provincial parks,” said Flack. Recent counts estimate 18 million head of game on 12 000 game farms. What, one wonders, was the concealed genetic destruction to our wildlife population during this period? With wildlife numbers dwindling to almost half a million how much genetic diversity within each species was subsequently lost?
According to Niehaus, who represents SA Hunters, the organisation has a fundamental problem with the fact that breeding projects are established by game farmers who intend to rectify the destruction caused to wildlife. One can only hope that not all the members of SA Hunters think like this as it has the potential to plunge the industry into an economic catastrophe.
It is because of the efforts made by private game ranchers and research institutions that we are starting to realise what implications this had on the greater populations. Colour variants exist throughout the world among many species. The Siberian white tiger and Siberian golden tiger are colour variants of the Bengal tiger; the spirit bear (white), cinnamon bear (reddish brown) and the glacier bear (silver flanks) are colour variants of the black bear. Scientists have established that the spirit bear has a higher success rate than the other bears when catching salmon during the day. In the Kruger National Park adult colour variants have been seen and photographed.
A picture of a white waterbuck male was taken on the S41 near Satara by Bruce Botha (2012-07-19) and appears on the SANParks website.
Ian MacDonell took a picture of a white impala ram near the Shingwedzi camp in the Kruger. “Since it has reached adulthood in an area with many predators, its mostly white coat seems not to be a great disadvantage,” said MacDonell.
The white lions of the Timbavati are well known and have been used as a tourist attraction. What about the quagga and king cheetah breeding projects? In a similar way, game ranchers use selective breeding practices, but do not engineer the DNA to alter genetic structure. A statement that says game ranchers are guilty of genetic manipulation is similar to a member of the anti-hunting fraternity calling SA Hunters a bunch of marauding poachers.
SOLUTIONS THROUGH DISCUSSION
As the hunting and wildlife industry continues to face hostility from animal rights activists and the anti-hunting fraternity, it would surely be more constructive for us to seek common ground rather than to squabble amongst each other and publish damaging articles that tarnish reputations and fuel public misconception. Let’s resolve our differences the South African way.
I’d like to extend an open invitation to the board of SA Hunters and its members. Should any one of you want to learn more about the breeding standards game farmers use, please visit me on my game farm. I’ll gladly show you our systems and our animals, explain why we implement various projects. Let’s sit around a fire and talk about the pros and cons of breeding. We don’t need to attack one another’s integrity.
I’m a proud member of PHASA, WRSA and a full-time farmer who conserves the most majestic colour variant of them all, the golden wildebeest.