21 February 2015
To: Wildlife Ranching SA members and stakeholders
To: All media owners and editors
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
SA HUNTERS: A RESPONSE FROM WRSA PRESIDENT: DR PETER OBEREM
I will try to avoid using unscientific, emotional and meaningless words such as ‘intensive manipulation’; ‘artificial wildlife’; ‘aberrant-coloured’ and ‘compromised animals’, as used in documentation and on the radio by the authors under discussion. I always say ‘the lion never worries about the yapping of the jackals at his heels when he has his eyes focussed on his goal’ and I have always tried to live by that code. This time, however, due to the unprecedented, intensive, sustained attack on our industry by a few ill-informed individuals, I find it necessary to waste time and energy to respond.
First, there are a few basic perceptions that must be corrected:
- Wildlife ranching does not take place on formerly conserved land. In fact, by far the greatest majority of game ranches are on formerly marginal, often badly overgrazed, denuded and eroded agricultural land, which has been converted into an economically sustainable form of agriculture with huge conservation and biodiversity spin-offs.
- On the great majority of game ranches, internal agricultural fences that were there at inception have been removed to provide as much space as possible for wildlife movement. On only a small percentage of farms has only a small portion of the whole farm been allocated for ‘small’ breeding camps, usually between 25ha and 100ha in size, leaving the remaining camp significantly larger than the camps that were initially there to fence and manage domestic stock and/or crops.
- Today, there are approximately 20 million head of game in South Africa, with private wildlife ranchers conserving roughly three times as many animals as the State does in all its parks. There are more game animals today in South Africa than there have been in the country since 1850, or over the past 165 years.
- Apart from the sheer number of game animals and apart from the massive area (20 million hectares) that has been converted from monocultures of domestic stock or crops, a number of game species have been saved from near extinction by private wildlife ranching, e.g. the rhino, sable antelope, roan antelope, black wildebeest, Lichtenstein’s hartebeest, the bontebok, Cape mountain zebra, cheetah, lion and even the African buffalo (buffalo in the Kruger National Park, our biggest publically owned herd, are infected with tuberculosis), to name a few. These have been saved from extinction, unlike the bluebuck and the quagga, which were hunted to extinction before the advent of private wildlife ranching. All this success hinges on private ownership of wildlife, which was introduced in South Africa as late as 1991. Nowhere in the rest of the world has such an amazing conservation turnaround taken place (because ownership is denied the citizens of the rest of the world). The dire conservation situation in Kenya, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Botswana – as well as most of the rest of the world, in fact – serves as clear proof of the huge benefits of our government’s sustainable utilisation policy.
- A very basic concept that seems to have eluded the detractors of wildlife ranching is that of ‘herd building’. They do not seem to understand that, in order to provide animals for conservation, hunting or meat, the rancher needs to build his herd. With so many new entrants to wildlife ranching, it is to be expected that demand would be high for some of the rare species and the rare colour morphs. Of course, as their numbers increase (which is something we all wish to see), the prices will adjust. All sensible investors understand this. But then, more of these rarer animals will become available at lower prices for hunting.
- Dealing with specific statements made to the press about:
b. The unfounded, libellous accusations that wildlife ranchers are using growth promotants: the accusers must back this statement up with facts! I have never seen nor heard of this unethical practice (which is condemned by WRSA’s code of conduct) occurring on wildlife ranches. Making unfounded, broad possibility-statements is typical of this style of communication.
i. breeding animals for longer horns. There are ranchers that do this, but they do it scientifically, using the most modern genetic monitoring tests, as part of a broader health and production selection process to rectify the negative selection against these traits by hunters of the past. The record African buffalo horn length today in SA would qualify only in position 18 in the Rowland Ward record books. Most of the records placed above it are from many, many years back, further strengthening this point.
ii. breeding of colour variants. Clearly, the authors of the campaign against wildlife ranching understand neither genetics, evolution nor the possible effects of climate change on the biomes found in South Africa (in particular when discussing the so-called ‘natural range’). This is too complex a matter to discuss in a short press release, but one merely needs to walk down the street and see the results (many, many natural colour and other variations) in insects, birds, mammals, plants and even human populations around us. We value and praise these in many ways, viz. naming the beautiful colour variants of our indigenous and other plants after our heroes and paying more for them. Similarly, thousands of tourists spend money, time and effort to flock to SA to see the Timbavati white lion, the king cheetah bred by the heroine Ann van Dyk, or the yellow crimson-breasted shrike at Nylsvley. Why, then, the exaggerated negativity about differently coloured antelope?
The attack on this country’s wildlife ranchers – and thus one of its major unique agricultural activities, wildlife ranching – by a few ill-informed and angry individuals purporting to represent the hunters of South Africa – is born from some other yet-to-be-determined motivation. This spreading of disinformation must stop! One does not punch a hole in the life raft one shares with others.