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Exploring the Role of Private Wildlife Ranching as a Conservation Tool in South Africa: Stakeholder Perspectives


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Rich in biological diversity, South Africa’s natural habitats are internationally recognized as a conservation priority. Biodiversity loss continues, however, and limited scope to enlarge the state-protected areas, combined with funding shortages for public parks, means that conservationists are increasingly turning to private landowners for solutions. The recent boom in privately owned wildlife ranches in South Africa has the potential to contribute to conservation in South Africa. This paper explores the benefits, limitations, and challenges of private wildlife ranching as a tool for conservation in South Africa through interviews with key stakeholders working within conservation and wildlife ranching, and through case studies of threatened species programs. Respondents suggested that wildlife ranches contribute to conservation positively by maintaining natural areas of habitat and by providing resources to support reintroduction programs for threatened species. However, they reported a number of limitations centered on three themes that generally arise due to the commercial nature of wildlife ranching: (1) tourist preferences drive the industry, (2) predators are persecuted to protect valuable game, and (3) inadequate resources are made available for professional conservation management and planning on ranches. In addition to challenges of combining economic gain with conservation objectives, ranchers face a number of challenges that arise because of the small, enclosed character of many ranches in South Africa, including the need to intensively manage wildlife populations. In order to enhance the role of wildlife ranching within conservation, clear guidance and support for ranchers is likely to be required to boost endorsement and minimize economic loss to ranchers.
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Copyright © 2008 by the author(s). Published here under license by the Resilience Alliance.
Cousins, J. A., J. P. Sadler, and J. Evans. 2008. Exploring the role of private wildlife ranching as a
conservation tool in South Africa: stakeholder perspectives. Ecology and Society 13(2): 43. [online] URL:
Exploring the Role of Private Wildlife Ranching as a Conservation Tool in
South Africa: Stakeholder Perspectives
Jenny A. Cousins 1, Jon P. Sadler 2, and James Evans 1
ABSTRACT. Rich in biological diversity, South Africa’s natural habitats are internationally recognized
as a conservation priority. Biodiversity loss continues, however, and limited scope to enlarge the state-
protected areas, combined with funding shortages for public parks, means that conservationists are
increasingly turning to private landowners for solutions. The recent boom in privately owned wildlife
ranches in South Africa has the potential to contribute to conservation in South Africa. This paper explores
the benefits, limitations, and challenges of private wildlife ranching as a tool for conservation in South
Africa through interviews with key stakeholders working within conservation and wildlife ranching, and
through case studies of threatened species programs. Respondents suggested that wildlife ranches contribute
to conservation positively by maintaining natural areas of habitat and by providing resources to support
reintroduction programs for threatened species. However, they reported a number of limitations centered
on three themes that generally arise due to the commercial nature of wildlife ranching: (1) tourist preferences
drive the industry, (2) predators are persecuted to protect valuable game, and (3) inadequate resources are
made available for professional conservation management and planning on ranches. In addition to
challenges of combining economic gain with conservation objectives, ranchers face a number of challenges
that arise because of the small, enclosed character of many ranches in South Africa, including the need to
intensively manage wildlife populations. In order to enhance the role of wildlife ranching within
conservation, clear guidance and support for ranchers is likely to be required to boost endorsement and
minimize economic loss to ranchers.
Key Words: conservation; private wildlife ranches; qualitative research; South Africa; stakeholder views
South Africa is internationally acknowledged as a
country rich in biological diversity. Covering only
2% of the global land area, it contains approximately
10% of the global total of plant species, 6% of
mammal species, 7% of bird species, 5% of reptile
species, and 6% of insect species (Scholes and Biggs
2004, Department of Environmental Affairs and
Tourism (DEAT) 2005). South Africa is home to
over 18 000 species of vascular plants, 80% of which
are endemic, and the country contains three of the
world’s 34 biodiversity hotspots (Myers 2003);
areas classified as such because of their high plant
endemism and extensive habitat loss.
Since South Africa’s ratification of the Convention
on Biological Diversity in 1995, there have been
considerable achievements in conservation including
the development of a national policy on biodiversity
and the expansion of area under conservation
protection (Wynberg 2002). Despite this policy and
legal framework, biodiversity is still being lost in
South Africa (DEAT 2005). Out of the 19 southern
African countries, South Africa holds the second
highest number of threatened species (those listed
as either critically endangered, endangered, or
vulnerable), including 45 plants, 42 mammals, 28
birds, 19 reptiles, 9 amphibian, 29 fishes, 10
mollusks, and 102 other invertebrates, totalling 284
species (IUCN 2002). At a regional scale (i.e,
southern Africa), an estimated 41 endemic plants
and 12 endemic vertebrates have become extinct
over the last two centuries (Golding 2002, IUCN
2002). The primary causes of species and habitat
loss are conversion to cultivated land, followed by
urban sprawl, alien plant invasion, and plantation
forestry (Scholes and Biggs 2004).
1University of Manchester, 2University of Birmingham
Ecology and Society 13(2): 43
Financing conservation has become a major issue
as state budgets and support for park management
are diminishing in many provinces (Scriven and
Eloff 2003, Botha 2001, Krug 2001, Leader
Williams et al. 2005). The traditional approach of
purchasing land for conservation, utilized globally,
is not popular or even viable in the post-apartheid
reform climate of South Africa, where 30% of land
is targeted for redistribution to historically
disadvantaged South Africans by 2015 (Conservation
International 2007). The total land area covered by
statutory protected areas, standing at around 5%
(Goodman et al. 2002), is not only too small to
protect biodiversity in the long term (Krug 2001)
but does not adequately represent all habitat types.
With little scope to enlarge the network of public
protected areas (Botha 2001) and with more than
80% of the land in South Africa in private hands
(Patterson and Khosa 2005), including much rare
habitat (Botha 2001), there have been calls for
conservation to look outside of protected areas and
involve private landowners (Krug 2001, Botha
2001, Scriven and Eloff 2003).
The recent expansion of privately owned wildlife
ranches in South Africa is thought to have great
potential to contribute to conservation in South
Africa, and it is this form of private land use that
this paper is concerned with. There are an estimated
9000 wildlife ranches in South Africa covering
approximately 20.5 million ha (approximately
16.8% of the total land in South Africa) (National
Agricultural Marketing Council (NAMC) 2006)
and another 15 000 landowners who are involved
in both domestic livestock and wildlife ranching
(Patterson and Khosa 2005). Large-scale
conversion of livestock ranches to wildlife ranches
(as a result of legislative change and the provision
of excess animals from protected areas to private
owners) led to numerous species being reintroduced
to former domestic livestock farms. In recent years,
a combination of forces, such as the decreasing
profitability of cattle farming, increased stock theft,
and the re-emergence of South Africa into the world
community, has resulted in a sector shift to wildlife
The benefits provided to conservation from wildlife
ranching seem to be well accepted by many working
within the industry (including the Professional
Hunters Association of South Africa (PHASA)
2007, African Indaba 2007, South African Hunters
and Game Conservation Association 2007,
KwaZulu-Natal Hunting and Conservation Association
2007, Helicon Services 2007, Thaba Manzi Wildlife
Services 2007). However, there is surprisingly little
literature regarding the role that private wildlife
ranching plays in conservation. The information
available often focuses on economic or business
issues surrounding wildlife ranches (Amalgamated
Banks of South Africa (ABSA) Group Economic
Research 2003, Cloete et al. 2007, van der Merwe
and Saayman 2003, van der Merwe et al. 2004) or
their nature and distribution (Reilly et al. 2003) (and
not their contribution to conservation). The same
few examples of conservation successes are
highlighted repeatedly, the most widely cited being
the case of the Southern white rhinoceros
(Ceratotherium simum simum) (see Lindsey et al.
2007, Hamman et al. 2005, Scriven and Eloff 2003).
The other species listed as being saved from possible
extinction by private landowners (including wildlife
ranchers) include bontebok (Damaliscus dorcas),
black wildebeest (Connochaetes gnou), Cape
mountain zebra (Equus zebra zebra) (Flack 2003),
and the geometric tortoise (Psammobates
geometricus) (Hamman et al. 2005). Langholz and
Kerley (2006) note the rich diversity of vegetation
types that are being protected by ecotourism-based
private wildlife reserves in the Eastern Cape,
whereas Lindberg et al. (2003) highlight their
contribution to increasing landscape connectivity in
the KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) region of the country
(Fig. 1). Goodman et al. (2002) note that two
endemic plant communities, which are not present
in the formal network of protected areas in KZN,
are being supported by wildlife ranching.
Two main forms of wildlife production systems are
recognized: extensive and intensive. This paper
largely deals with the extensive system, which can
be defined as the managed extensive production of
free-living animals on large fenced or unfenced
private or communal land, usually for the purposes
of live sales, trophy hunting, wildlife meat, or
tourism (Bothma 2002), although it should be noted
that most wildlife ranches in South Africa are
fenced. Live animals are usually sold through game
capture teams or auctions (Ebedes 1994). The
private commercial wildlife ventures dealt with in
this paper include farms, ranches, reserves, and
conservancies—names that often appear to be
interchangeable and used according to the owner’s
preference. This paper is largely concerned with in
situ conservation, which for the purpose of this
paper can be defined as “the conservation of
ecosystems and natural habitats and the
maintenance and recovery of viable populations of
Ecology and Society 13(2): 43
Fig. 1. Map showing distribution of provinces in South Africa (Source: Department of Environmental
Affairs and Tourism) and locations referred to in this paper.
Ecology and Society 13(2): 43
species in their natural surroundings and, in the case
of domesticated or cultivated species, in the
surroundings where they have developed their
distinctive properties” (The Convention on
Biological Diversity 1993, article 2).
This paper explores the benefits, limitations, and
challenges of private wildlife ranching as a tool for
conservation in South Africa, through interviews
with stakeholders working within conservation and
wildlife ranching, and case studies of threatened
species programs. These research topics are
explored in turn in the main three sections of this
In recent literature, a number of conservationists
have voiced their interest in incorporating the more
contextual analyses drawn from the social sciences
into conservation biology (see Meine et al. 2006,
Robinson 2006). This paper approaches the topic
from a social science perspective. We used a
qualitative approach to the research, drawing upon
the following sources of evidence: semi-structured
interviews with stakeholders involved in (1)
national and provincial government, (2) conservation
non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and (3)
the wildlife ranching industry. In a second stage to
the research design, we drew upon case studies of
threatened species programs. The views of those
involved in wildlife ranching and conservation are
critical to understanding the role of private wildlife
ranching as a conservation tool. The use of semi-
structured interviews also allowed the views of
different stakeholder groups to be put into play
against each other, staging an indirect dialogue that
produced more nuanced conversations. In addition,
this study offers an insight into the workings of
private wildlife ranches in South Africa and the
challenges of conservation within a private
economic setting. Research was carried out between
October 2006 and August 2007, including a total of
4.5 months in South Africa. Of that period, 4.5
months included time spent with ecologists, wildlife
experts, rangers, hunters, and management
personnel on private hunting ranches, private
wildlife viewing ranches, a number of national parks
and 1 month with a game capture team.
Respondents were selected on the basis of their
experience related to the research topic and were
targeted within the groups previously stated.
Respondents were further selected using snowball
sampling (Clifford and Valentine 2005). Stakeholders
include representatives from within the national
government (including the Biodiversity and
Conservation Branch of the DEAT, from within the
provincial departments dealing with nature
conservation (including Nature Conservation),
NGOs (including large South African conservation
organizations and smaller organizations offering
ecological monitoring services to ranches), and
representatives of the wildlife ranching industry
(including Wildlife Ranching South Africa, wildlife
managers on private wildlife reserves, professional
hunters, and game capture teams). Twenty-five
informants supplied formal information for this
paper through prearranged interviews. Of these,
eight were from within the government, 14 from
conservation NGOs, and three from within the
wildlife ranching industry. In addition, site visits
were undertaken to a number of private wildlife
ranches where numerous discussions were engaged
in and observations were made as the opportunity
arose, including discussions with those working
within the ranching industry (largely game capture,
hunting, veterinary, and management) in which
detailed notes were taken, amounting to 15 further
interviews. It should be noted that a number of
persons within the provincial government
departments did not wish to participate. This was
largely due to their feelings of not knowing enough
about private ranching and conservation.
Notwithstanding, the sample captures a representative
reflection of opinions from those involved in
conservation and wildlife ranching in South Africa
today. Anonymity of the participants has been
Semi-structured interviews were used to investigate
stakeholder opinions. Interviewing “is one of the
most common and powerful ways in which we try
to understand our fellow humans” (Fontana and
Frey 2005: 697–698) and enable the researcher to
get large amounts of data quickly (Marshall and
Rossman 1995). Semi-structured interviews
ensured a consistent range of topics were covered,
allowed a flexible approach to questioning, and
gathered opinions and behaviors in the informants’
own words (Dunn 2005, Longhurst 2003). The
interviews centered on a number of broad
predetermined themes (including contributions to
conservation, detrimental effects on or limitations
to conservation, challenges to conservation on
private wildlife ranches) although questions were
designed in view of the respondent’s area of
Ecology and Society 13(2): 43
expertise. Semi-structured interviews were largely
conducted face to face, but on a number of occasions
by telephone and email. All interview data were
transcribed and coded to identify key reoccurring
themes relating to the research area (Strauss and
Corbin 1990, Cope 2005).
The case-study approach is useful when
investigating a phenomenon within its real-life
context (Yin 1994), and provides depth and quality
of data. Case studies of threatened species programs
provided further depth of information regarding
species conservation on private wildlife ranches.
Case-study species were selected based on their
threatened status within South Africa and having a
current conservation program, and include the blue
swallow (Hirundo atrocaerulea), riverine rabbit
(Bunolagus monticularis), southern ground hornbill
(Bucorvus leadbeateri), and black rhinoceros
(Diceros bicornis).
Most respondents report that the greatest role
wildlife ranches play in contributing to conservation
is in maintaining natural areas. With limited
government funding available for conservation,
many respondents feel that the role of private
ranches is essential, for example, a representative
of the government department in Gauteng stated:
Official nature conservation institutions
don’t have the necessary budgets to
maintain all the natural landscapes and,
therefore, many private landowners have
contributed to keeping these landscapes
untransformed. (Provincial Government
official, Gauteng Nature Conservation, 2007.)
According to a conservation coordinator for a large
conservation NGO, wildlife ranches “are
maintaining habitat that another land use such as
agriculture or development would not be doing”
(NGO/Conservation Coordinator 2007). Maintaining
natural areas is obviously advantageous and protects
habitat from radical transformation. For example,
in Limpopo Province (formally Northern Province),
Selati Game Reserve (30 500 ha) protects a large
number of endemic cycad plants (Cycas spp.), and
in the North West Province “several of the private
wildlife ranches are located in areas where there are
ecologically significant habitat types” (Provincial
Government, North West Province, Biodiversity
Scientific Support 2007). According to a
representative from the DEAT, many more
vegetation types are covered by private wildlife
ranches than by formally protected areas.
By maintaining habitat, ranches are also providing
additional space for a variety of species, both
introduced by the rancher and non-introduced (Bojö
1996). This additional space, according to one
interviewee, supports formal conservation as
ranchers become “custodians of components of
meta-populations” (Representative of the Game
Rangers Association and African liaison and
representative to IUCN 2007). Mixed ranches of
livestock and game can also provide benefits to
wildlife. For example, in the central and
southwestern Karoo region, Machange et al. (2005)
found that the density of Martial Eagle (Polemaetus
bellicosus) pairs was significantly higher in game
or mixed farming areas than in areas with domestic
stock only.
Some species may already be present before
conversion to a wildlife ranch occurs, whereas
others may colonize the property at a later date. For
example, on Nambiti Conservancy (a 10 000-ha
ecotourism ranch) in KwaZulu-Natal, four blue
cranes (Anthropoides paradisea) (the national bird
of South Africa) have naturally colonized the
property since its conversion to a wildlife ranch.
This former cattle ranch now provides secure habitat
for a vast variety of amphibians, reptiles, birds, and
small mammals. The critically endangered blue
swallow and riverine rabbit (Evans and Barnes
2000, Friedmann and Daly 2004) are also benefiting
from private wildlife ranches in South Africa
according to our case-study data. A representative
involved in the riverine rabbit’s conservation at
Sanbona Wildlife Reserve (a large private ranch of
54 000 ha) thinks that the ranch could become an
important player in the rabbit’s conservation as it
already functions as a refuge for the species from
agricultural activities, hunting, and poaching. A
field survey in September 2006 sighted five riverine
rabbits on the reserve and the reserve’s management
team plan to cooperate closely with Cape Nature
and the Endangered Wildlife Trust’s Riverine
Rabbit Working Group to monitor and manage the
rabbits. In addition to this, the riverine rabbit is a
focus species for the reserve’s marketing:
At this stage, we are focusing on making
people aware of the status of this species.
Ecology and Society 13(2): 43
The reserve has also started to use the rabbit
as a marketing tool to market the
conservation efforts of the reserve—this is
a challenging project because most of the
time people look at the bigger species
tourism wise, but at this stage it’s working
well. (NGO, Sanbona Wildlife Reserve,
Wildlife Division, 2007.)
It appears that the work on Sanbona will not only
help conserve the rabbit, but also create a greater
interest in the species and raise awareness of its
The blue swallow is present on two private ranches
in KwaZulu-Natal. Highover Sanctuary (3000 ha in
the Hella-Hella area) is an important site that has
had five active nest sites in the past. According to a
fieldworker for the KwaZulu-Natal (KZN)
Biodiversity Program the outlook for Highover is
uncertain, however, as it is under land claim and its
future depends on the new owner’s intentions. The
Endangered Wildlife Trust’s Blue Swallow
Working group is currently working with the
owners and the community (including possible
future owners), and hopes to establish a mutually
beneficial partnership:
The management of this site is very good—
the birds and nests are monitored
throughout the breeding season and visitors
are not allowed to disturb the nesting sites.
In terms of ecotourism, it is in the interests
of the reserve to conserve the blue swallow
amongst other things as a good selling
point. (NGO, KZN Biodiversity Program,
The other property in KwaZulu-Natal plays a less
active role in the bird’s conservation, although the
presence of the ranch is seen as beneficial in keeping
the land use stable:
The majority of visitors to this property are
trophy hunters and are not always keen
birders. The fact that this is a blue swallow
site is more by chance/coincidence. This
said, it contributes in the sense that this
farming method is unlikely to change the
land use. (NGO, KZN Biodiversity
Program, 2007.)
Reintroduction programs have been used primarily
to increase species populations on wildlife ranches
where they were have become locally extinct or
declined significantly (Hall-Martin and Castley
2003, Scriven and Eloff 2003, Steenkamp et al.
2005). Interviewees suggest that the reintroduction
of lions (Panthera leo) has been highly successful,
with success stories in KwaZulu-Natal and
Limpopo. One interviewee, an ecologist who
monitors a reintroduced pride of lions, suggests that
predator reintroductions are important because they
“reinstate processes such as predation and
competition” (NGO, Ecological Services, Manager
2006). Hayward et al. (2007) note that in the Eastern
Cape, 11 conservation areas have reintroduced large
predators since 1996, and there is an extant
population of 56 lions. According to a representative
of a wildlife monitoring organization on private
wildlife ranches, cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus) and
leopard (Panthera pardus) are heavily persecuted
outside of protected areas and “problem”
individuals are often relocated through organizations
such as De Wildt Cheetah and Wildlife Trust to the
safety of private wildlife viewing ranches.
Increasingly, wildlife ranchers are working with
conservation groups and are providing considerable
resources in order to re-establish rare species onto
their properties, as revealed in our case-study data.
For example, the southern ground hornbill,
currently classed as vulnerable (Kemp 2000), has
been reintroduced at the 10 000-ha Mabula Private
Game Reserve in Limpopo as part of a project to
return these large, savannah-dwelling, carnivorous
birds to areas where they were previously present.
According to a representative of the Mabula Ground
Hornbill Conservation Project, second-hatched
chicks (which otherwise die of starvation) are
harvested from state land, including Kruger
National Park (2 million ha), and are then hand
reared at Mabula for eventual release outside of
officially protected areas. The interviewee
describes the eagerness and commitment of the
ranch owners:
We are invited all the time now to do site
inspections on private game farms, to see if
they are suitable, which entails considerable
commitment on the part of the landowners,
with a shepherd full time following,
protecting, and feeding them for at least 2
to 3 years. (NGO, Mabula Ground Hornbill
Conservation Project, 2007.)
Birds have been released onto a number of private
ranches specializing in wildlife viewing as part of
this program, including Madikwe East (15 000 ha),
Ecology and Society 13(2): 43
Shamwari (20 000 ha), and most recently, a new 40
000-ha conservancy next to Mabula. The
partnership appears to be of benefit to both parties:
We were approached by them a year ago.
They want the birds I suppose as they are
very dramatic in the veld and are in need of
conservation. Huge help from these people,
they are very keen to get the birds breeding.
They are doing everything we ask for, money
for transmitters and telemetry, fuel, and the
use of their workers. (NGO, Mabula
Ground Hornbill Conservation Project, 2007.)
Like the hornbill, the recovery of the black rhino on
private land has been supported by state-protected
areas and it is only in the last 10–15 years that the
private sector has become involved in black rhino
conservation in South Africa (Leader-Williams et
al. 2005). According to a representative of the World
Wildlife Fund (WWF) Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife
Black Rhino Range Expansion Project, private
wildlife ranches are extremely important for black
rhino conservation:
State-owned conservation areas are
probably close to the ecological carrying
capacity, and without partnerships with the
private or community landowners, no other
land could be set aside for black rhino
conservation and other species’ conservation.
Talking of KwaZulu-Natal Province only,
15% of black rhino are now on private land
through our project—that’s 397 on state
land and 62 on private land. (NGO, WWF
Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife Black Rhino
Range Expansion Project, 2007.)
This project aims to increase numbers of the
critically endangered black rhino by increasing the
land available for their conservation, thus reducing
pressure on existing reserves and providing new
territory in which they can breed quickly. It does
this by facilitating partnerships between neighboring
landowners in order to create large areas of land
with good black rhino habitat. Similarly, this
partnership also requires much dedication from the
In order to qualify to receive black rhino,
game ranches need to meet certain criteria
in terms of security, size, monitoring of the
rhinos, and benefits to neighboring
communities. The private landowners need
to be prepared to contribute meaningfully
in cash or kind to the protection of the black
rhino. The deal is that the founders remain
the property of the state and the offspring
are shared equally between the landowners
and the state. (NGO, WWF Ezemvelo KZN
Black Rhino Range Expansion Project, 2007.)
The project has introduced three new populations
onto private land. All three ranches (Munyawana
Game Reserve (20 000 ha), Zululand Rhino Reserve
(20 000 ha), and Pongola Game Reserve (13 000
ha)) are commercial wildlife viewing ventures that
were created by landowners combining their land
in order to receive black rhino. According to the
project leader, a future challenge for the project will
be the further distribution of rhino from private
ranch to private ranch, and their genetic
In addition to creating space for wildlife,
respondents from the hunting and wildlife capture
industry highlight the role of ranches in breeding
rare species. For example, a professional hunter in
the Free State stated:
There wouldn’t be any animals around if we
didn’t breed them for hunting. So without
us breeding animals up, many would have
gone extinct already. (Wildlife Ranching
Industry, Professional Hunter, 2007.)
This view is widely held among those involved in
the hunting and game capture industry, but some
dispute the role of breeding programs. For example,
one interviewee from a well-known conservation
organization stated:
How many recommendations are for
breeding? And how does this address the
threats? Is this not for ecotourism/hunting/
sales? It is not to say this is a problem, but
in order to be cited as a conservation
project, it needs to be addressing the threats
and following recommendations, and in
very few cases, is breeding the problem and
the solution. Black rhino need habitat not
farms. (NGO, Conservationist, 2007.)
This interviewee highlights a distinction between
simply ranching wildlife and ranching wildlife
following conservation recommendations.
Ecology and Society 13(2): 43
Despite the benefits that wildlife ranching provides,
there are a number of limiting factors that restrict
this contribution. The limitations described by the
informants generally arise due to the commercial
nature of wildlife ranching, and center on these three
themes: (1) hunter and wildlife viewing tourist
preferences drive the industry, (2) predators are
persecuted to protect valuable game, and (3)
inadequate resources are made available for
professional conservation management and
planning on ranches. The following sections expand
on these shortcomings, consecutively.
Demand-Driven Wildlife Ranching
A number of provincial government department
interviewees voiced their concerns regarding the
unstable nature of private wildlife ranching.
Ranching is largely profit driven, and if demand for
wildlife lessens, the concern is that ranches may be
converted to a more economically viable land use,
for example:
Private ownership of private nature
reserves can be very unstable and often
doesn’t have a guarantee for ecosystem
maintenance or protection over the long
term. Reasons being that competition for
more profitable land uses can easily change
the current land use to more profitable land
uses, like subdivision for smaller
agricultural units, mining of non-renewable
resources, township developments, or agro-
industries. (Provincial Government, Gauteng
Nature Conservation, Ecological Services,
In addition to the changing demands of land use, it
was suggested by a number of interviewees
(working for conservation NGOs) that within
wildlife ranching, demand for specific wildlife
species has led to an uneven representation of
biomes and species under wildlife ranch
management. According to a representative of the
Endangered Wildlife Trust Blue Swallow Working
Group (2007), wildlife ranches in South Africa
largely only conserve savannah habitats:
The distribution of game farms in South
Africa has largely been determined by the
distribution of the so-called big five, the
distribution of which is largely in the
savannah biome. For this reason, a
disproportionate number of game farms are
in the eastern and northern parts of South
Africa within the savannah biome, and not
within other biomes such as grassland. This
is also why the savannah biome is
considered to be one of the most protected
of all the biomes in South Africa, and the
grassland biome is considered to be the
least protected. (NGO, Blue Swallow
Working Group, 2007.)
This suggested bias toward savannah biomes seems
to indicate that some species benefit more from
wildlife ranches than others. As previously stated,
species such as the riverine rabbit and blue swallow
do benefit from private wildlife ranches, however,
according to a number of interviewees, this
contribution is very limited. Drawing from our case-
study data, it becomes apparent that none of the key
blue swallow locations (a grassland species) are on
private wildlife ranches, and perhaps ironically,
most nest sites are on private commercial
agricultural fields:
Game farms do not play a significant role
in the conservation of the blue swallow
purely because there are not many game
farms in the distribution range of these
birds. (NGO, KZN Biodiversity Program,
In fact, of the 55 known active blue swallow nest
sites in South Africa, 43 occur in KZN, and only
two of these are on private wildlife ranches. The
other blue swallow nest sites are in the provinces of
Limpopo and Mpumalanga—neither of which have
nests within private wildlife ranches. In Limpopo,
most of the wildlife ranches are in bushveld areas
“which are unsuitable for blue swallows” (NGO,
Blue Swallow Working Group, Limpopo
Representative, 2007). Similarly, the riverine rabbit
was said to occur mainly outside of private wildlife
ranches in South Africa:
The rabbit occurs mostly in the central
Karoo, which is a hotspot in terms of
commercial sheep farming in South Africa.
Most of the game farms fall outside the
riverine rabbit habitat distribution in the
Western Cape Province and the majority of
them have no riverine rabbit occurrence,
except two—Sanbona and Thornhill.
Ecology and Society 13(2): 43
(NGO, Riverine Rabbit Working Group,
Conservation Services, 2007.)
Further to this seemingly uneven representation of
habitats and species, a number of respondents
working within NGOs, and the provincial and
national governments suggested that the stocking
and breeding of various species on private wildlife
ranches is generally demand driven, and often not
undertaken for any clear conservation goals. One
interviewee (who works within the Eastern Cape)
does acknowledge that benefits can arise from
ranching, but also notes how they are largely
coincidental and depend on the general public’s
While in some cases, a public demand to
see (in the case of ecotourism) or shoot (in
the case of hunting) a particular species
might have positive spin-offs for conservation
as it results in concerted effort, time, and
resources being put into the habitat
protection and breeding of that species, this
is not always the case. The general public
do not necessarily know what they should
be seeing and what they should not be
seeing, and the landowner may or may not
have a conservation ethic. (NGO,
Conservation Coordinator, 2007.)
Another interviewee similarly notes that wildlife
ranch owners are “often profit driven vs.
conservation driven—if it pays they will have it”
(NGO, Game Rangers Association, African liaison
and representative to IUCN, 2007). This can mean
that species such as the endangered wild dog
(Lycaon pictus), which according to one interviewee
(who has first-hand experience of monitoring wild
dogs on private ranches), are costly to maintain, are
therefore less in demand by ranchers:
They are not quite as in demand as other
predators......everyone has got images of
wild dogs as dustbins—they devour
everything. They are very expensive
animals to maintain because they eat so
much; a pack like these four we had, they
would probably kill everyday. You really do
need something like a massive impala
population or a massive blesbok population
to sustain wild dog packs. (NGO, Research
and Monitoring Services, Operations
Director, 2006.)
Typically, it is the number of game farms, tourists,
and trophy hunters that is significant in determining
the demand and price of specific game (van der
Merwe et al. 2004) and certain species of wildlife
go in and out of fashion, impacting on their salability
and price. A manager of a game capture team (whose
job it is to buy, sell, and translocate animals between
ranches) describes the trends he has noticed:
It is getting more difficult to sell black
wildebeest now, and roan is taking a big dip
at the moment. And this red impala.....this
rare was funny for everybody
3 years ago when they just discovered it, but
now.......what do people do with it?
(Wildlife Ranching Industry, Game
Capture Company, Director, 2007.)
Novel species, which are often initially in high
demand, can become less popular with time and are
difficult to sell. It would be reasonable to suggest,
therefore, that the breeding programs of these
uncommon species may not always be managed in
the long-term interests of the species involved. One
interviewee working as a provincial government
ecologist describes their concerns over the genetic
fitness of species bred in demand-driven breeding
Breeding of a wild rare species often has a
market force behind it, and this interest rate
simply wants more numbers, so multiplying
becomes the only norm, and not the genetic
fitness of the species. The overall nature of
this practice is having a domestication
effect on the species, changing it into a
commodity like a farm animal, and thereby
ignoring its behavioral ecology responsible
for its genetic fitness. (Provincial
Government, Gauteng Nature Conservation,
Ecological Services, 2007.)
Another interviewee notes how public preferences
can drive the stocking of exotic and extralimital
species, which can be damaging not only for the
species being introduced, but also for the species
already present:
The stocking of exotic and extralimital
species may increase the species diversity
on a ranch, but it does nothing to benefit
conservation and can have negative
impacts on the natural habitat, indigenous
species, and the introduced species
Ecology and Society 13(2): 43
themselves. (In the Eastern Cape) giraffe
are often seen on private game reserves,
brought in because the game reserves claim
their visitors demand to see them—it’s
unclear whether giraffe were ever in these
areas, but a number of scientists believe that
they were not. There are cases of giraffe
dying because they are not adapted to the
habitat, and are simply being replaced with
more and more. Nyala and waterbuck are
being introduced onto game reserves where
they never occurred naturally and they are
out-competing the natural species. (NGO,
Conservation Coordinator, 2007.)
Similarly, Smith and Wilson (2002) note that the
foreign ecotourist and the hunting market have been
strong driving forces behind the introduction of
extralimital species. A number of authors (see Green
and Rothstein 1998, Castley et al. 2001, Hamman
et al. 2005) have described the negative long-term
consequences of introducing alien or extralimital
species to a ranch, potentially causing (1)
hybridization, inbreeding, and competition with
local taxa, (2) the introduction of foreign pathogens
and parasites, and (3) habitat destruction. Numerous
introductions of species outside of their natural
range were witnessed by one author while in South
Africa (JC), who also witnessed black and blue
wildebeest being reintroduced onto the same farm
in Gauteng, resulting in a potential hybridization
Many respondents spoke of the appreciation of only
a small proportion of species diversity by tourists,
largely the “big five” (buffalo (Syncerus caffer),
elephant (Loxodonta africana), leopard, lion, and
rhinoceros), leading to the stocking of high numbers
of these species. This is in accord with reports in the
literature (see Langholz and Kerley 2006). Species
such as lion and elephant are extremely popular
species, especially within wildlife-viewing operations,
and a number of interviewees whose job it is to
monitor wildlife on ranches spoke of overpopulation
problems arising with both species. In order to
maximize tourism revenue on a small ranch, it was
suggested that ranchers sometimes stock a small
quantity of a wide variety of species. However, there
is little value in having single animals, such as a
black rhino, or populations with only two or three
animals (Hall-Martin and Castley 2003).
Predator Persecution
Ranches that specialize in antelope breeding and
hunting, especially those of high commercial value,
often exclude predators. One interviewee (who has
worked within the ranching industry for the past 15
years) explains how the trapping of caracal (Caracal
caracal) and the hunting of black-backed jackal
(Canis mesomelas) on ranches such as this is fairly
Farmers don’t like them as they kill and eat
young antelope. They may be moved to
another farm or sometimes they are shot.
But jackals won’t go into traps, they are too
cunning, so you have to hunt them with dogs
or go shooting. Whereas cats, all you have
to do is put a mirror or something or tie
cans together (in the trap) don’t
even need meat because they are so curious.
(Wildlife Ranching Industry, Game
Capture Company, Director, 2007.)
One of us (JC) witnessed traps laid out for the
purpose of catching small predators, such as caracal,
on an antelope hunting farm in the Eastern Cape
Province. One interviewee noted that “free-roaming
predators are often killed without a permit”
(Provincial Government, North West Province,
Scientist, 2007) agreeing with recent literature,
which comments on the eradication of transitory
predators from wildlife ranches (Bothma 2004,
Lindsey et al. 2005, 2006).
Inadequate Management for Conservation
A number of respondents from conservation NGOs
and provincial government report that ranches are
largely managed for profit rather than the
biodiversity of the ranch, for example:
Most game farms are managed to
accommodate certain species, and not for
their ecosystem health and biodiversity.
Veld management is often to accommodate
hunting, walking, and driving, and not the
biodiversity of the farm. (NGO, Conservation
Ecologist, 2007.)
They do not appoint appropriately trained
staff to manage their biodiversity; all the
Ecology and Society 13(2): 43
attention and resources go for the
appointment of public relations staff,
marketing staff, and hospitality management
staff. (Provincial Government, Gauteng
Nature Conservation, Ecological Services,
All landowners by law must clear alien
invasive species brought in historically,
however, this is time consuming and costly,
and their removal is not always managed
effectively. (NGO, Conservation Coordinator,
This bias toward business objectives over
conservation, and an inadequate knowledge of
conservation ecology are seen by some respondents
as the most fundamental limitation. A representative
from Cape Nature Conservation voiced their
concerns regarding the lack of ecological
management plans on most ranches. Ranches
according to this interviewee are “usually managed
by trial and error” (Provincial Government, Cape
Nature Conservation, Scientific Investigations and
Authorisations, 2007). Bigalke (2000) notes that
there is evidence of poor performance on at least
some private properties in the Mpumalanga
Province, including overstocking, overgrazing, and
a lack of understanding of the necessary ecological
principles to ensure sound management (Zunckel
and de Wet 1994). Many respondents would like to
see a greater level of ecological monitoring on
ranches, leading to more informed management
decisions. An interviewee from a wildlife
monitoring organization on private wildlife ranches
noted that many introductions involving large game
receive insufficient preparation and post-release
monitoring, sometimes leading to unnecessary
deaths and/or the escape of rare and endangered
species such as cheetah. Furthermore, one
interviewee noted that game-proof fences, erected
to keep costly game within the ranch, “cause havoc
and kill many smaller species” (NGO,
Conservationist, 2007). Boone and Hobbs (2004)
describe the damage that fences can cause to
wildlife, including prevention of access to key
resources, disruption to migratory routes, injury,
and death.
The practicality of ranching wildlife for
conservation is challenging. The small size of many
ranches in South Africa exacerbates these
challenges because they need more intensive
management. Small enclosed ranches prevent
natural dispersion, emigration, and dispersal of
juveniles, and the immigration of new individuals
that create diversity in local gene pools (Hunter et
al. 2007, Lehmann et al. 2008). Furthermore, Boone
and Hobbs (2004) show how fencing parcels of land
may reduce the carrying capacity of a landscape,
thus reducing the number of game that can be
supported. Therefore, it becomes the rancher’s role
to regulate the number of specific species on the
ranch, manage their gene pool, and also regulate the
predator:prey ratio for those ranches with predators.
One interviewee, who works for a non-profit
conservation organization specializing in research
and wildlife management on small enclosed
ecosystems, spoke about how problems of
overpopulation (of species such as lion and
elephant) have been a sudden realization for some
ranchers who are now faced with deciding how to
regulate them. A lack of forethought and the
unknown consequences of fences has led, according
to a number of respondents, to species such as lion
and elephant becoming overabundant on many
enclosed ranches since reintroduction, impacting on
habitat and other species present. One respondent
described how fences have caused changes in
elephant behavior:
Small reserves especially are breaking a lot
of rules.........elephant calving intervals for
instance are between 4 and 9 years between
each calf, yet on Karongwe, we were
popping them out every 2 years and 2
months. Your population sizes are doubling
in 2 years because every cow in the
population is having another calf every 2
years. A lot of people didn’t realize the
extent of the impact of fences. Fences have
affected their behavior so much—their
breeding rates and their feeding patterns—
and only now, in the last 10 years, people
are starting to realize. The decisions that
were made were not long it’s all
gone horribly pear shaped for some people.
(NGO, Research and Monitoring Services,
Operations Director, 2006.)
Ecology and Society 13(2): 43
Elephants were repeatedly reported by the
interviewees as an extremely big problem in South
Africa, causing huge damage to the veld.
Respondents also reported detrimental consequences
of having high numbers (or even just the presence)
of lions on ranches. For example, in 2006–2007, one
adult cheetah, five cheetah cubs of various ages, and
one adult spotted hyena (Crocuta crocuta) (all
introduced) have died on a ranch in KwaZulu-Natal,
and according to the director of a wildlife
monitoring organization on the ranch, the deaths are
directly and indirectly (in the case of the female
adult cheetah) attributed to a high lion load on a
small area. There are currently four adult lions on
this ranch, with the likelihood of cubs being born in
the coming year. The damage that lions can cause
to other predators is well documented. Hayward et
al. (2007) found that reintroductions of cheetah have
been less successful where lions are the dominant
predator, although there is a paucity of information
on the impact of large predators on smaller predators
such as serval (Leptailurus serval) and caracal on
private ranches.
The management of these large mammals is a
challenge and a number of management solutions
are currently in use to control elephant and lion
numbers. However, the “correct” way in which to
control numbers is a topic of much discussion and
disagreement in South Africa. Within National
Parks and very large ranches, culling has been
employed as one option to reduce elephant numbers.
Elephant calves may sometimes be sold to elephant-
back safari companies. On smaller reserves, it is
common for both elephants and lions to be injected
with contraceptives to restrict breeding. On Nambiti
Conservancy, for example, both female lions were
given a contraceptive injection (effective for 1 year)
before they were released onto the ranch. Each year,
the decision must be made whether to administer
contraceptives or allow one or both lionesses to
reproduce. Male lions are sometimes vasectomized
to prevent overpopulation and also inbreeding. An
alternative option that is sometimes employed in
order to prevent inbreeding is “swapping a small
number of lions between two ranches with different
bloodlines for mutual benefit” (NGO, Manager,
2006). According to a number of interviewees
working on private hunting and ecotourism ranches,
it is standard practice to remove the cubs of lions
and cheetahs on enclosed reserves to prevent
inbreeding (unless it’s an exceptionally large
reserve). Cubs are sold usually by the age of 1.5
years to other ranches. In KwaZulu-Natal and
Limpopo provinces, it can, however, be difficult,
sometimes impossible to relocate them:
There are still prices for cats. I mean you
want to make sure that it goes to a good
home, I mean Paul [sic] was always very
adamant about not selling to hunting farms.
In the end, you kind of get to a point where
you have no other option, and he eventually
had to shoot two of the male lions. They got
to the age of three and a half, and they still
couldn’t find a home for them and they were
trying to mate with their aunt. In the whole
scheme of things, it was better for the
reserve (name removed for anonymity) to
have them hunted because it provides the
reserve with more money to conserve the
rest. (NGO, Research and Monitoring
Services, Operations Director, 2006.)
A similar situation was reported for elephants:
(In KwaZulu-Natal) it’s getting to
saturation point—there is no price for
elephants, you can’t give them away. (NGO,
Research and Monitoring Services,
Researcher, 2006.)
Despite these reported difficulties, predators may
still be allowed to breed. According to one
interviewee, allowing predators to breed is good for
tourism and also good for the well being of the
Careful management is required for those ranches
with predators to prevent the depletion of prey
populations. On Nambiti Conservancy, for
example, the monitoring of prey populations has
shown that the predator:prey balance has yet to be
met, and more blesbok (Damaliscus dorcas phillpsi)
and impala (Aepyceros melampus) will need to be
brought in as this popular prey species has been
depleted. Bothma (2004) notes how lion
reintroductions usually lead to rapid prey population
declines, irrespective of initial population size, and
Druce et al. (2004) state the need for both predator
and prey populations within these small areas to be
constantly monitored and managed. Preferred prey
populations need to be kept large enough to sustain
predator populations, but also to prevent inbreeding
among the prey species. According to a number of
interviewees, depleted populations can lead to
Ecology and Society 13(2): 43
inbreeding, and further reintroductions need careful
management to ensure that enough rams are
There is widespread use of large numbers of “buffer
animals” (species such as impala and warthog
(Phacochoerus africanus), which are relatively
cheap and common) with the aim of reducing
predation on more expensive and rare species. There
is growing evidence, however, that the use of buffer
animals is ineffective (e.g, Lehmann et al. 2008). In
some cases, predators may be removed with the aim
of splitting up specific coalitions in order to reduce
prey mortality, particularly in cases where
charismatic or expensive species are being targeted,
for example:
At Kapama (the reserve), it was decided that
they would remove one (lion) from the
coalition because they were pulling down
up to four giraffe a week, which is wasteful
for lions, they cannot even eat one giraffe
in a week. (NGO, Research and Monitoring
Services, Operations Director, 2006.)
A number of respondents suggested that the removal
of fences and the aggregation of ranches would
lessen the impact of ranching on wildlife and reduce
the need for intensive management. Indeed, an
increasing number of conservancies (a group of
adjoining private commercial farms operating under
a cooperative management agreement (ABSA
Group Economic Research 2003)) already exist in
some regions of South Africa such as Limpopo. The
removal of fences, however, poses challenges in
itself when economics are involved, as this
interviewee notes:
More farms should drop fences and not be
so concerned with private ownership of
animals as they currently are, but when
animals have financial value this poses a
challenge. (NGO, Conservationist, 2007.)
Further challenges of keeping large animals, such
as lions and elephants, on small ranches include
problems associated with over-habituation, which
can occur when animals are viewed daily,
particularly for example if there is only one pride
of lions on the ranch. The director of an ecological
monitoring organization described the need for
habituated animals on tourism ranches, but also
noted the problems that this can cause. Animals that
become over-habituated and a danger to humans
may be destroyed. Another balance that needs to be
found according to the manager of an ecological
services company in Limpopo is the use of scientific
language in reports produced for the ranching
industry. Those with scientific credentials want to
incorporate more science into ranching, and our
respondents felt that the science required translation
into a more user-friendly form. Those interviewees
working in the ranching industry without a science
background generally felt that they had more
practical experience than scientists, and that
academic work was irrelevant to them. Integrating
science into management will be challenging.
This paper has explored the benefits, limitations,
and challenges of private wildlife ranching as a tool
for conservation in South Africa as seen through the
perception of key stakeholders working within
conservation and private wildlife ranching. All
respondents believed that private wildlife ranches
have a role to play in conservation in South Africa.
This role is thought to be especially essential due to
the limited government funding available for
conservation. Wildlife ranches are seen to
contribute to conservation largely by maintaining
natural areas of habitat and by providing resources
to support reintroduction programs for threatened
species. It was suggested by a number of ranchers
and professional hunters that ranching benefits
conservation through breeding programs. This role
was, however, disputed by a number of respondents
working for conservation organizations. Other
possible roles, which were not identified by our
respondents, include the role of wildlife ranches as
corridors in periods of climatic shift or as
repositories for speciation from isolated populations
under slightly different environments.
A number of limitations to the role of wildlife
ranching were reported, including tourist-driven
ranching (leading to a bias toward certain biomes
and species), predator persecution, and inadequate
professional conservation management and
planning on ranches. The consequences of these
limitations include the introduction of extralimital
and exotic species on ranches, hybridization of
species, and inadequate ecological management of
ranches. These limitations largely arise due to the
commercial nature of ranches, which are essentially
businesses first and foremost, with differing
objectives to state parks. In addition to the
Ecology and Society 13(2): 43
challenges of combining economic gain with
conservation objectives, ranchers face a number of
challenges arising because of the small enclosed
character of many ranches in South Africa,
including the need to intensively manage wildlife
populations, in particular population numbers and
predator:prey ratios.
In order to enhance the role of wildlife ranching
within conservation, clear guidance and support for
ranchers (from the government, NGOs, and
academics) are needed in order to boost
endorsement and minimize economic losses to
ranchers. Furthermore, education directed toward
tourists may reduce the demands placed on ranchers
to provide specific species to view or hunt. The
recent moves to further regulate the wildlife
ranching industry, and new initiatives aimed at
supporting wildlife ranchers, are the focus of on-
going research by the authors.
Responses to this article can be read online at:
The research for this paper was funded by a PhD
scholarship in GEES at the University of
Birmingham and an NERC/ESRC grant. The
authors wish to thank all those who gave their time
to be interviewed and two anonymous referees for
their constructive comments. In addition, we would
like to thank Dr Toby Gamlen for providing his
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... This has been successful in the case of the white rhinoceros, whose numbers have increased from just a handful in the 1960s to over 18,000 today (Cousins et al., 2023). Additionally, wildlife ranching has been found to provide employment opportunities, especially in rural areas where alternative employment is scarce (Child et al., 2012). ...
... Furthermore, It is vital to remember that there are potential challenges towards ensuring the sustainability and conservation contributions of wildlife ranching in South Africa. These challenges include the potential for overgrazing, habitat fragmentation, and unsustainable hunting practices (Cousins et al., 2023). It is essential to note that the industry operates within ethical and sustainable standards and that regulations are in place to ensure it does not contribute to the illegal trade in endangered species (KKIENERM, 2020). ...
... Different mega-fauna and threatened or invasive species are discussed in relation to their tourist-recreational use on private land. Especially hunting tourism and human-wildlife-conflicts are emphasized (Cousins, Sadler, and Evans 2008;Garbett et al. 2018;Gusset et al. 2008;Lindsey et al. 2005;Lindsey et al. 2011). The tension between wildlife for recreational hunting (tourism), on the one hand, and protecting livestock from depredation, on the other, is a central concern in C3. ...
... As examples, Lindsey et al. (2007, 4) "assess viewing preferences among visitors to South African protected areas," while Garbett et al. (2018) study the effects of Pb ammunition used by recreational hunters and Gusset et al. (2008) focus on African wild dogs and the differing attitudes toward them from villagers, tourists and landowners. The focus on wildlife species and hunting tourism relates to the main geographical focus of C3 in Sub-Saharan Africa as hunting tourism represents an important industry in South Africa (Cousins, Sadler, and Evans 2008;Garbett et al. 2018;van der Merwe and Saayman 2003), Namibia (Lindsey et al. 2013;Samuelsson and Stage 2007), and Kenya (van der Merwe and Saayman 2003), and Kenya (van der Merwe and Saayman 2003). The ecosystem service approach to conservation and tourism/recreation is prevalent here too. ...
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Private engagement has always been central to biodiversity conservation. Recently, the role of private enterprises in (eco)tourism have increased, and private lands play a pivotal role in expanding protected areas within societies throughout the world. This paper contributes to discussions of private engagement in conservation and its relation to tourism (recreation generally), with novel insight on how the conservation-tourism nexus on private land is approached in different geographical contexts. We present a systematic literature review that results in five thematic clusters characterized by different conservation approaches to tourism in Global North and South. Research concerning Global South tends to emphasize (eco)tourism as a main inducement for conservation, while research concerning Global North emphasizes expansion of private protected areas where access for tourist-recreational use has to be compensated. We propose a future research agenda to exploring environmentally and socially just approaches to conservation and recreation in both Global North and South.
... CBO programs are recognized as important components of conservation strategies for endangered/ threatened game species [63,[114][115] and has the potential to act as genetic and demographic reservoirs to reinforce wild populations. In accordance with CITES Resolutions Conference 10.16 (Rev. ...
... In order for the current anti-poaching efforts to continue, significant financial inputs from external sources are required. The response to the threat has however been disproportionately high, removing much needed conservation funding from other species [27,115]. ...
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The southern white rhinoceros (SWR) (Ceratotherium simum simum) is under global threat of extinction, due to poaching in protected areas and state-owned parks. The Kruger National Park (KNP), the stronghold for SWR, has suffered a population decline of over 75.0% since 2011, and an average annual decline of-10.2% from 2008 to 2020, a remaining population estimated at 2,607 animals by the end of 2020, and 2,458 animals left by the end of June 2022. On the contrary, SWR under private custodianship on rewilded agro-sustainable game ranches in South Africa [estimated at >8,000 animals, some of which are registered Captive Breeding Operations (CBO); assessed CBOs contained 2,882 rhinos with this study (Sep 2021)], increase with average annual growth performances of 9.0%. This increase has been attributed to effective security, provision of additional habitat, dispersal, and frequent genetic exchange of rhinos between private breeding subpopulations. World conservation bodies, mostly due to misguided and prejudiced media publicity and the lack of scientific analytical assessment, have largely overlooked the conservation success of the private sector. Private rhino custodians and their bio-conservation breeding practices, with private agro-sustainable biodiversity wildlife management and/ or captive breeding, generally being perceived as either "canned" or equated to "captive zoological-gardens". Since the commencement of the International Convention on Biodiversity, global controversy exists whereby most of mankind today perceive bio-conservation of a species to be assigned in principle solely to protected areas and state-owned parks. The unique and advantageous roles of rewil-ded bio-conservation and sustainable-use conservation CBOs, being a key to green-economy and natural capital in a post-Covid-19 struggle, are mostly ignored. This study serves to assess and quantify the impact of private wildlife ranching in South Africa with specific focus on its potential contribution to rhino conservation specifically for that of the SWR C.s. simum.
... To sustain the national white rhino herd, the BMP recommends a 5% growth rate for a population as a realistic target. However, individual rhino managers on private reserves are encouraged to achieve an intrinsic growth rate of between 7 and 9% to make removals and relocations possible (Balfour et al. 2019;Cousins et al. 2008;Knight et al. 2015). If such intrinsic growth rates can be achieved, private rhino owners can contribute to rhino conservation by countering the losses experienced through poaching (Cousins et al. 2008;Knight et al. 2015). ...
... However, individual rhino managers on private reserves are encouraged to achieve an intrinsic growth rate of between 7 and 9% to make removals and relocations possible (Balfour et al. 2019;Cousins et al. 2008;Knight et al. 2015). If such intrinsic growth rates can be achieved, private rhino owners can contribute to rhino conservation by countering the losses experienced through poaching (Cousins et al. 2008;Knight et al. 2015). However, where white rhinos are extralimital, it is conceivable that resource and condition constraints (bottom-up pressure) may negatively impact upon their vital rates, leading to reduced fecundity, survival, immigration and emigration. ...
The white rhinoceros (Ceratotherium simum) is threatened primarily due to continued poaching for its horns. In South Africa, partly to promote the conservation of the species, white rhinos have been introduced into areas where they did not occur historically (i.e. where they are considered extralimital). Few studies have investigated the conservation contribution of extralimital white rhinos to the overall national herd. We aimed to determine whether the white rhinos introduced to a private game reserve in the Eastern Cape province have been successful from a reproductive perspective. We calculated inter-calving intervals, age at first calving, sex ratios of calves, and recruitment rates for white rhinos at a single site between 1992 and 2019. The average net annual population growth rate for the population was 10%, which is higher than the recommended 5% by the Biodiversity Management Plan for white rhinos. Trends in density-dependent parameters such as age at first calving and inter-calving intervals also indicated that the study population is still well below the density at which ecological constraints may manifest. We demonstrate that an extralimital white rhino population in the Eastern Cape can be successful from a reproductive perspective.
... In Southern and Eastern Africa, private and community wildlife and mixed wildlife-agricultural ranches provide one such model. They enable innovative combinations of revenue-generating activities while also 'rewilding' habitats and increasing wildlife abundance [9][10][11][12] , though these outcomes are contested in some contexts 13 . Assessing the ability of various wildlife working-land models to adapt to global shocks is key to designing policies that unlock resilient wildlife economies that benefit people and the planet. ...
... The hunting and ecotourism industries contribute millions of dollars to the national economy each year 32,34 . Some of these wildlife working lands have also been criticized, however, in cases where financial and conservation objectives are not aligned, leading, for example, to the persecution of predators to protect valuable species for trophy hunting or the stocking of high densities of charismatic megafauna in response to ecotourist preferences 13 . They are also owned predominantly by minority white South Africans and foreigners, reflecting inequities in land ownership that stem from the racially defined and ...
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The COVID-19 pandemic provided an opportunity to assess the impacts of a global disturbance on conservation land uses and learn from responses to the crisis to enable more resilient conservation systems. To understand socio-economic responses of diverse wildlife working lands to COVID-19, we surveyed owners and managers of 78 private wildlife ranches (wildlife working lands), 23 agricultural farms (conventional working lands) and six public protected areas (conventional conservation lands) in South Africa. Most protected areas lost more than 75% of their revenues during 2020, while most agricultural farms lost less than 10%. The impact on wildlife ranches was more varied. Ranches with more diverse activities, particularly mixed wildlife–agriculture systems, lost less revenue, shifting their activities from those heavily impacted (international ecotourism, trophy hunting) to those less affected (for example, wildlife meat, livestock). This adaptive capacity suggests that wildlife-based enterprises could represent key ecosystem-based adaptations, providing lessons for integrated global policies that seek to incorporate private land models in the 2030 Biodiversity Framework. Conservation efforts were impacted in varied ways by the COVID-19 pandemic. This study assessed how South African wildlife ranches, agricultural farms and protected areas weathered the pandemic, finding greater adaptive capacity among more diversified and mixed business models.
... There are approximately 9,000 private game ranches owned by 2,000 landowners in South Africa covering an estimated 0,2 million square kilometres. Private game ranches across the country carry roughly three times more wildlife than national and provincial parks [9]. South Africa is home to the "Big Five" i.e., the elephant, rhinoceros, buffalo, lion and leopard which attracts many tourists to the country. ...
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Bovine tuberculosis (bTB) was first diagnosed in cattle in South Africa in 1880 and proclaimed a controlled disease in 1911. Testing of cattle for bTB is voluntary and only outbreaks of disease are reported to the National Department of Agriculture so the prevalence of the disease in cattle is largely unknown. There is a Bovine Tuberculosis Scheme which is aimed at the control of bTB in cattle but the same measures of test and slaughter, and the quarantining of the property apply to wildlife as well. bTB was first diagnosed in wildlife in a greater kudu in the Eastern Cape in 1928 and has to date been found in 24 mammalian wildlife species. The African buffalo has become a maintenance host of the disease, which is considered endemic in the Kruger National Park, the Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park and the Madikwe Game Park. Control of bTB at the wildlife-livestock interface is difficult because of spill-over and spill-back between species. Only buffalo are required by law to be tested before translocation, but bTB has been introduced to the Madikwe Game Park probably by the translocation of other infected wildlife species. There is no national control strategy for the control of bTB in wildlife. Indirect tests have been developed to test for bTB in eight species, 6 of which can be considered endangered. More research needs to be done to develop an effective and efficient vaccine to combat the transmission of bTB within and between species. New policies need to be developed that are effective, affordable and encompassing to control the spread of bTB in South Africa.
... South Africa has an extensive captive lion sector (not included in the country's Red List assessments) of more than 7 400 individuals on at least 237 properties (Hiller et al. 2022). The sector expanded in the early 1990s with the introduction of the Game Theft Act (Republic of South Africa: The Presidency 1991) allowing for private ownership of wildlife; thus, economic value, in addition to conservation value, was attached to lions and other wild animals (Cousins et al. 2008;Taylor et al. 2016;Schroeder 2018). South Africa's captive lion sector includes a range of properties including larger game ranches where interactions with humans is minimised, wildlife sanctuaries, interactive tourist attractions where petting and walking with lions is a regular occurrence, and captive-breeding farms. ...
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South Africa has a large captive lion (Panthera leo) sector, but detailed knowledge on the origin of individuals and any potential genetic value to conservation targets is lacking. In 2021, the South African government committed to closing the sector and have since appointed a Ministerial Lion Task Team (2022) to initiate this process. Some have suggested that captive lions could be integrated into wild populations as part of the process but information on the genetic origins and diversity of captive lions is critical if this is to be explored further. Both the Biodiversity Management Plan for lions in South Africa (2015) and a High-Level Ministerial report for the South African government (2021) have called for more information on the genetic composition of captive lions. To determine the probable origin of captive lions in South Africa we summarised existing survey responses from captive facilities (collected 2017-2018) and CITES permit data (issued 1991-2019). Survey data suggest that most lions were sourced from within the South African captive sector. However, many CITES permits were also issued for the import of lions from across Africa and beyond, indicating possible mixed origins within the sector. To evaluate genetic relationships between captive and wild lions in South Africa we standardised existing microsatellite marker data from three laboratories and analysed genotypes of captive lions from 31 properties. A comparison of captive and wild lion genotypes revealed that the genetic composition of captive lions is currently comparable to existing wild South African lions. Captive lions cluster with similar probabilities to three of four regional reference populations of wild lions included in the study and no major signatures of inbreeding were identified. However, captive lions are highly genetically interconnected across properties and represent a smaller effective population size compared to Kruger National Park, the largest population of wild lions in South Africa, suggesting some risk of future inbreeding. There were also signatures of genetic drift which should be investigated further as it will likely compromise any potential conservation genetic value of captive lions in the future. The findings of this study should be considered when planning the fate of individuals within South Africa's captive lion sector and within the broader context of African lion conservation.
... Wildlife-based land uses are not a panacea for sustainable development, however, particularly in areas with high densities of people or low densities of wildlife, or in remote and inaccessible regions (Child et al. 2012;Winterbach et al. 2015). Some private wildlife ranches also intensively manage some of their species, particularly species with high live-sale prices due to trophy hunting demand (eg African buffalo [Syncerus caffer], sable antelope [Hippotragus niger]) (Cousins et al. 2008). Intensive management entails intervening in social dynamics (eg control over breeding) and resource provision (eg supplementary food, water, and shade), with managed species typically kept in confined fenced camps: the higher the management intensity, the less "wild" the population (Child et al. 2019;Taylor et al. 2021). ...
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A new path for rhinoceros (rhino) conservation is needed. Recent data signal the alarming impact of poaching on populations in Africa's rhino stronghold, the state‐run Kruger National Park (South Africa), which today supports one quarter the rhinos than a decade ago. We aggregated African rhino population data, highlighting the growing role of private and community rhino custodians, who likely now conserve >50% of Africa's rhinos. Their contribution has been enabled by a supportive policy and economic environment, but this arrangement is becoming more difficult to sustain as costs associated with protecting rhinos skyrocket and revenue‐generating options become insufficient. Some privately held rhino populations are small or intensively managed, raising questions about their conservation value. As the role of private and community custodianship becomes increasingly central to the protection of Africa's remaining rhinos, its resilience must be strengthened through implementation of adaptive policies that incentivize rhino conservation. We outline policy pathways to provide an enabling environment for rhino conservation beyond state parks.
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It has become clear that state-owned protected areas (PAs) are insufficient in preserving the world’s spatially heterogenous biodiversity. Private land conservation could contribute significantly to national conservation goals, without further burdening state resources. In South Africa, legislation has been introduced to incentivise private landowners to contribute to national biodiversity goals. In this study, we used camera trap arrays and hierarchical multi-species occupancy modelling to evaluate the impact of land-use on mammal (body mass >0.5 kg) diversity in the drylands of South Africa. Four hundred and fifty-one camera traps were deployed across a statutory PA, private PA and a neighbouring group of farmlands, covering ~2096 km2. Although trophic species richness were similar across all three land-uses, occurrence and detection probabilities of larger (>20 kg) species were low in the farmlands and highest in the private PA. In contrast, smaller species had higher occurrence probabilities in the farmlands, where large predators and megaherbivores have been extirpated. Differences in species-specific occurrence probabilities were primarily driven by land-use context, as opposed to fine-scale habitat attributes. These results highlight how a land-use matrix incorporating statutory PAs, private PAs and well-managed rangelands can benefit wildlife conservation, as long as these land-uses are included in carefully developed regional conservation planning.
Context Due to considerable declines in African wildlife populations, most large African mammals are managed inside protected areas. Protected areas come in various sizes, and have different environmental features, climates and management strategies (i.e. ‘hands-on’ or ‘hands-off’) that can influence an animals’ homeostasis. White rhinos (Ceratotherium simum simum) are found almost exclusively within protected areas where population sizes are driven by natural factors and poaching pressures. Aims Our aim was to understand the effect of natural and anthropogenic factors on the adrenocortical response of white rhinos within three protected areas. Specifically, we wanted to understand how poaching pressure, protected area size (<500 km2), season (wet and dry) and rainfall patterns were responsible for driving adrenocortical activity in white rhino. Methods To understand the relationship between rhino adrenocortical responses and different environmental and anthropogenic stressors, we quantified glucocorticoid metabolites in faecal samples (fGCM) collected from four populations within three protected areas (i.e. two small parks, one big park) during the wet and dry seasons. Key results We found differences in seasonal fGCM concentrations, with a 42% increase during the dry season, and no differences in fGCM concentrations between the high and low poaching areas. Additionally, we found fGCM concentrations in samples from the small parks were respectively 38% and 42% higher than in samples from the large park during both the dry and wet seasons compared. Conclusions Our results suggest that white rhinos may experience physiological stress in smaller parks, especially during the dry season when resources are limited. Implications By mitigating stress associated with reduced access to resources and spatial constraints, managers may better promote the viability of large mammals in small protected areas.
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A survey of the nature and extent of wildlife ranching in the province of Gauteng was conducted during 2001. The survey was an empirical investigation of game-fenced properties. These included provincial nature reserves and privately owned wildlife ranches or nature reserves as well as game-fenced properties owned by the South African National Defence Force (SANDF), and mining companies in Gauteng. Questionnaires were completed for 89 properties. This represents more than 90% of game-enced properties larger than 50 ha in the province. The properties covered a total of 115 913 hectares. This is 6.8% of the province's surface area. There is a concentration of wildlife ranches in the northern part of the province, which accounts for 70% of the game-fenced properties surveyed. Data were also collected on consumptive and non-consumptive wildlife utilization. Information on wildlife species and numbers are also presented. Wildlife ranching contributes to a limited extent to the economy of the province and, unlike most other provinces, it seems as if ecotourism rather than hunting is the primary revenue earner for the majority of Gauteng ranches. Of concern is the discrepancy between official perceptions and the facts on the ground concerning wildlife ranching in the province.
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This paper analyses key achievements, gaps, constraints and opportunities within South Africa's biodiversity sector since the Rio Earth Summit in 1992, and some of the difficult trade-offs faced in attempting to marry the country's pressing development needs with those of conservation. A suite of diverse issues is examined, including threats to biodiversity, such as those from habitat transformation, alien invasive species, overexploitation and genetic engineering; the difficulties of 'mainstreaming' biodiversity at all levels of planning and decision-making; and strategies for conservation and development such as protected area management, transfrontier conservation areas, community-based management, wildlife tourism and bioprospecting. Attention is also paid to commercializing South Africa's biodiversity, exploiting traditional knowledge, the current state of funding, and the status of knowledge, research and information about biodiversity in the country. The past ten years have witnessed profound paradigm shifts in conservation in South Africa: from a strictly protectionist approach, towards one that recognizes the need to use biodiversity sustainably and to involve the community in conservation. Despite remarkable achievements since the Earth Summit - including the development of a widely accepted national policy on biodiversity and an expansion of the country's protected areas - biodiversity loss continues, with South Africa having the highest known concentration of threatened plants in the world. Few of the priorities for implementation listed in. the 1997 Biodiversity White Paper have received adequate attention. Serious constraints preclude more effective management of the country's biodiversity: these include insufficient skills, expertise and funding, legal fragmentation, the inadequate integration of biodiversity considerations into sectoral and land-use plans, and weak political commitment. Redress requires us urgently to adopt a uniform and progressive legislative framework for biodiversity conservation and use; develop a national strategy and action plan for biodiversity; and 'mainstream' biodiversity into existing development and environmental planning. Also needed are clear, unambiguous criteria and principles for quantifying biodiversity loss in the long term against socio-economic gains in the short to medium term. Success requires political commitment and leadership.
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Lion prey selection was studied on the Greater Makalali Conservancy (140 km 2), Limpopo Province, South Africa, in order to assist with management strategies. Monitoring was carried out between February 1998 and December 2001. Lion killed 15 species, with warthog, blue wildebeest, Burchell's zebra, kudu and waterbuck constituting approximately 75% of their diet. Between 2.2% and 3.1% of the available prey biomass was killed yearly, while each female equivalent unit (FEQ) killed between 3 kg and 3.2 kg daily. Lion predation was greater for warthog, wildebeest and waterbuck and less for impala than expected. When male lion were present, a greater number of warthog and giraffe were killed, while number of females had a significant effect on medium-sized prey species and total prey species killed. Significantly more warthog, wildebeest and kudu were killed in winter than summer. More prey than expected was killed in open habitats and less than expected in thickets. Managers of small, enclosed reserves need to constantly monitor prey populations, especially medium-sized prey and may be able to reduce predation on large prey species by manipulating male lion numbers. Reserves also need to contain adequate open habitats for lion to make use of these areas for hunting.
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Proposing the use of charismatic species of large mammals as a conservation tool is often controversial, even though the Conservation of Biological Diversity promotes sustainable use as one of its three pillars. Indeed, sustainable use has been important in helping to recover southern white rhinos, the South African population of which was downlisted in 1994 to Appendix II of CITES for trophy hunting and live sales only. The Appendix I listed black rhino is now also beginning to recover, particularly in South Africa and Namibia, where how best to deal with surplus males arising from successful biological management is an increasing problem. Furthermore, black rhinos are now being increasingly moved to private land, where incentives from use may help help promote metapopulation management goals. As a result, the African Rhino Specialist Group anticipated proposals to trophy hunt black rhinos, and were concerned to recommend criteria that proponent countries would need to meet for such proposals to succeed. These recommendations address four guiding principles: •ensuring that any offtakes are biologically sustainable and based on good monitoring;•ensuring that incentives from any hunting opportunities are maximized, without discriminating between state agencies and the private sector;•rewarding good biological management and long-term commitment to black rhino conservation; and•ensuring that appropriate internal and external controls are in place.
Golding, J. S.: Southern African herbaria and Red Data Lists. – Taxon 50: 593–602. 2001. – ISSN 0040‐0262. The southern African region is facing a major information backlog with regard to compiling plant Red Data Lists. This article examines the need for synergising these attempts by enlisting the aid of herbaria. It focuses on integrating ongoing Red Data List work with herbarium activities, with particular emphasis on the network of southern African herbaria. It is proposed that herbaria adopt a means to code specimens with a known or suspected Red Data List status. This practical suggestion presents one way in which southern African herbaria can adopt a more proactive stance towards threatened plant and other conservation‐related issues to help overcome this information backlog. The southern African region has much to do, if it is to emulate the international Red Data List status quo, and herbaria are at the centre of this.
Switching from cattle farming to game ranching has become commonplace in the Northern Cape Province. The need to assess the financial implication of such a switch arose from the question of whether game ranching is financially superior to cattle farming in this province. Comparative economics was used in this case study to analyse the profitability, as well as the financial feasibility of three scenarios to determine the financial implications of such a switch. Estimations were based primarily on hunting (biltong and trophy) and live game auctions, the two pillars of the game industry in this province. Results indicate that game ranching can be more profitable, i.e. generate a higher gross margin per hectare than cattle, although not in all cases. Despite this higher profitability, the results indicate further that it is not always financially viable to convert from cattle farming to game ranching, due to the high level of capital investment required. This may have tremendous cash flow implications for the first few years of operation.