That the vast wide-open spaces of Africa – and certainly those of South Africa – no longer exist as such, has long been recognised. Wild creatures are no longer free to roam at will, but must live their lives behind some sort of fence, whether it be vast game reserve or a private game ranch. This, sadly, is an inescapable fact of life. It is also a hard fact of life that running a game reserve is a very costly business – a fact which introduces money into the equation.
We’ll start the ball rolling by discussing the Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife model. Way back in the early years of conservation in South Africa (the late 1940s in fact), a commission toured the provinces and engaged the administration of each province in discussions about how they wanted to manage their conservation portfolios. Of the four provinces that existed at that time three elected to have their conservation responsibilities managed through a provincial department. The fourth province, Natal, elected to have a semi-autonomous, parastatal body perform this function, subsidised by the province but also free to earn its own additional revenue as well. This recognised that conservation was a direct responsibility of the State while the associated tourism operations such as accommodation, were seen as the responsibility of the affected organisation. Thus, the so-called Natal Parks Board model came into being.
Everyone quickly realised that the accommodation offered could in no way replace the provincial subsidy, but the income from it, and other business operations, did provide some very welcome additional funding, while providing the means for visitors to enjoy a visit to the area.
Enter another fact of life. Wild animals will do what comes naturally and will multiply. Scientific surveys, research into carrying capacities, and game counts quickly established how many head of the various game animals each protected area could safely carry, if the integrity of the veld and forests was to be maintained. And here arose a terrible dilemma for the managers of these areas – what to do with the surplus game animals?
In the early years game capture was an unknown art, but knowledge of it was growing rapidly as innovative people designed and implemented new methods and equipment. The Natal Parks Board had a very well run game capture unit, and was rapidly becoming very skilled at catching and relocating some of its surplus animals. Culling remained, however, one of the main methods of managing one’s game stocks, with the meat being sold at ridiculously low prices.
And then, in 1988 the Natal Parks Board held its first game auction. It was a major breakthrough in game management for the NPB. Game auctions were nothing new in other parts of the country, but were unknown on Natal. The Natal Parks Board was the first formal conservation agency to hold one, offering top quality animals for sale, and which called in top prices. This not only boosted the genetic strength of game populations in other parts of the country but created a growing realisation of the value of wildlife as a commodity.
Today, game capture and relocation is a multi-million rand industry, and through the movement of top-quality animals between properties, the genetic strength of our national game stocks has been hugely improved. Wildlife has achieved a value unheard of before and it is this value that is making the future of wildlife more and more secure.
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