Ranchers May Overstate South Africa Animal Numbers, EWT Says

  • About six million wild herbivores estimated on private land
  • Endangered Wildlife Trust publishes study on wildlife ranching

South African privately owned wildlife farms may be using inflated numbers of animal populations in their care, according to a study by the Endangered Wildlife Trust.

There are about 6 million herbivores on private farms, said the study. Previous academic literature, cited by hunters and ranchers to bolster their conservation credentials, had said there were between 16 million and 20 million animals on ranches, EWT said.

Wouter van Hoven, an emeritus professor at the University of Pretoria who estimated the higher number, said by phone his research refers to all mammals in South Africa, including those in national reserves and not just on ranches. Wildlife Ranching South Africa, which represents breeders, stands by its estimate of more than 18 million animals, it said in a statement. That includes all animals on public and private land as well as small mammals and predators, and is based on Van Hoven’s research, WRSA said.

“It is impossible to assess the true extent of wildlife ranching in South Africa,” researchers led by EWT’s Andrew Taylor said in the report. “This makes it difficult to determine the accuracy of many statements made by stakeholders in the industry, many of which, in our opinion, use inflated figures.”

Animal Auctions

Hunters and ranchers who breed wild animals often cite the rapid growth in animal numbers since the 1960s as justification for their activities and argue that they help boost biodiversity and conservation. In addition to hunting, those activities include game viewing and breeding animals for auctions.

The six million wild animals in private ranches is still a large rise from the 575,000 large mammals living in South Africa in the early 1960s estimated by Van Hoven.

Wildlife ranching is still a “major contributor to the economy, job creation and biodiversity conservation,” EWT said. The ranches are “closer to what would be considered natural” than livestock and crop farms, which they are often converted from, benefiting the environment, it said.

The study expressed concern that some farms may be having a negative impact. “The degree to which wildlife ranches put up fences to secure their animals, and the increasing level of intensification that appears to be taking place due to the growth of the breeding of high value species and color variants, must be having a detrimental impact on biodiversity,” it said.

“The important role of private game ranchers over the past five to six decades to conserve our wildlife should not be underestimated,” said Adri Kitshoff-Botha, chief executive officer of WRSA.

There are 8,979 private wildlife ranches in South Africa covering 170,419 square kilometers (65,799 square miles), EWT said in the study. Hunting generates about 2.6 billion rand ($163 million) in revenue a year, while auctions make 4.3 billion rand and meat production earns about 600 million rand. About 65,000 people work in the industry earning a median salary of 3,441 rand a month.

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