Game farmers aim to unlock the economic value of biodiversity

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At the gala dinner, from left to right, are Neil Dodds of Nukamma Wildlife, Thinus Jurgens, chairperson of the Grahamstown Chamber, and Ray Parker, game rancher near Addo, who focuses on eco-tourism.

This year’s Wildlife Ranching Eastern Cape conference, gala dinner and awards ceremony took place on 2 November, at the Pine Lodge Resort in Port Elizabeth.

The master of ceremonies, Neil Dodds of Nukamma Wildlife, welcomed delegates and various stakeholders who are involved in wildlife ranching in the Eastern Cape. He also thanked the sponsors for their support – Standard Bank was the main sponsor of this year’s event.

Representing the interests of the wildlife ranching industry

Wildlife Ranching South Africa (WRSA) is acknowledged by government and stakeholders as an organisation that represents the national and international interests of the wildlife ranching industry. This year’s programme contained several topics relevant to the existing state of affairs in the country. It also included industry issues affecting all game farmers, as well as the continuing drought situation in the Eastern Cape.

The first speaker was Adri Kitshoff-Botha, CEO of WRSA, who shared feedback on the CITES CoP18, which took place in Geneva, Switzerland, from 17 to 28 August this year. South Africa was represented by several government divisions, including SANParks, the South African Predator Association (SAPA), Professional Hunters’ Association of South Africa (PHASA), WRSA, and the Private Rhino Owners Association (PROA).

Addressing international trade

Kitshoff-Botha said she was really proud of the fact that South Africa was one of four countries which proposed to CITES that the convention needs to be reviewed. She added that the original intent of CITES was to address international trade in endangered species through science-based decisions, and the promotion of the principles of sustainable utilisation.

“Although it is still the intent of CITES, it’s not necessarily what happens, since there has been a shift where decisions are influenced by emotions and protectionist groups that want to save wildlife from extinction. To my knowledge a working committee has been started for that,” she said.

Brent McNamara represented Agri Eastern Cape and tackled the question of whether game farming qualifies as bona fide agriculture or not. He also voiced his concern about the drought relief that was made available to farmers in the Eastern Cape, but which excluded game farmers.

Game farming legislation

Game farming legislation is another important issue and Jacques Malan, director of WRSA and Lumarie Game Breeders, homed in on the current scenario in the game industry and what could be expected in the foreseeable future.

He believes current legislation is outdated and based on conservation and preservation principles, which should concern only formally protected areas. It is also a cumbersome and counter-productive process for game ranchers to apply for permits through the Department of Environmental Affairs.

Malan furthermore remarked that the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries seems to be more accommodating when it comes to the game farming industry. However, there is nothing official on paper yet to prove it.

“We should start to think regenerative,” said Johan Bouwer of L’Ormarins Farms in his presentation titled ‘The Paradigm Shift’. Living by their credo ‘Healthy soils to support a healthy ecosystem, healthy animals, and to financially support our families’, Bouwer and his team are at the forefront of regenerative land use in the brittle Karoo environment.

Untapped potential

Wildlife tourism has untapped potential in the Eastern Cape and Angus Douglas, director of WRSA, provided a case study showing what could be achieved in wildlife tourism. In step with that, Nonkqubela Mayatula of WRSA Eastern Cape and WITF followed by saying that game ranchers need to re-install pride in themselves and sell quality off the beaten track.

To attract more visitors, she proposed that increased attention should be given to educational information in conservation. South Africa should also plan further in advance to sell tourist sites. “Wildlife institutions like the WRSA and WITF, as well as the government, must collaborate to tap into the potential of wildlife tourism,” she said.

International threats and policy changes

Keynote speaker, Ivo Vegter, who is an award winning journalist and columnist, engaged the audience by sharing information on environmental activism practices that can potentially undermine ranching. He said conservationists often scoff at wildlife ranchers and that eco-tourism is a minor player in generating income, while hunting contributes to revenue by, for example, securing the survival of South Africa’s lions.

Stephen Palos, CEO of the Confederation of Hunting Associations of South Africa (CHASA), followed suit with a thought-provoking topic, namely international threats and policy changes forced on the hunting industry by ‘animal rightists’.

“There are some powerful folks we are up against, such as those having links with the Rothschilds.” In saying this, Palos referred to United States (US) hunters being banned from importing trophies from captive lions. “We have to form alliances with like-minded organisations with similar values as ours,” he concluded.

Donation hunts and discount safaris came under fire when Dries van Coller, president of PHASA, drew the attention to the negative effects it can have on the value chain if it isn’t managed properly.

“Is the tail wagging the dog?” he asked, referring to the free market system and game ranchers who sometimes, desperate to make ends meet, sell discounted safaris. “We should approach donations with the correct expectations,” he cautioned. “You have the right to choose, so why donate a hunt if you can give cash instead?”

Game Breeder of the Year: Mark van Antwerp of Vaalkop Game Breeders. The Game Breeder of the Year represents top-quality rare game produced by a breeder of impeccable integrity, through management systems of the highest standard.

Wildlife Rancher of the Year awards

The highlight of the gala dinner was undoubtedly the Wildlife Rancher of The Year awards, honouring pioneering spirit and outstanding effort, innovation as well as commitment to the enhancement of the wildlife industry at large. – Carin Venter, Plaas Media

For more information, contact Margaretha Smit (executive committee secretary) on 076 908 6458, or send an email to info@wrsa-ec.co.za.