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South Africa's wild game breeders count mounting costs of drought

South Africa's wild game breeders count mounting costs of drought

South Africa

A drought that has hit crops and economic growth in South Africa is also causing pain for specialist game ranchers who breed animals like antelope and buffalo to cater for tourists and hunters.

Ranch game farmer, Pieter Ernst Jr, whose family raises game 250 km (155 miles) west of Johannesburg, said the costs of feeding his prized sable antelope have doubled the past year but he can leave nothing to chance.”

“Our feeding costs went up with 65 percent and we are feeding now for 24 months non-stop and our numbers is still growing. We try to grow inland also, but it’s not also possible with the prices that went down… so yeah,” he said.

Our feeding costs went up with 65 percent and we are feeding now for 24 months non-stop and our numbers is still growing.

According to industry data, game ranching is big business in South Africa. Catering to the ecotourist and hunting sectors, and investors who see prize breeding animals as an asset, it has been growing 20 percent per year for the past 15 years.

Industry estimates, in 1950 there were only a few dozen white rhinos left in South Africa. Now there are close to 18,000, with about 30 percent on private ranches.

Over the same period, the population of blesbok, a white-faced antelope, has grown from 2,000 to 250,000, with 90 percent on private land.

“At this stage we are buying up till January that we know we have feed ready for the animals. So yeah, we hope for good rain in December and then yeah the feeding costs will drop a lot after six to eight weeks from when we had good rain,” said Ernst.

Rains have returned to parts of South Africa, giving some relief after a severe dry spell triggered by an El Nino weather pattern, but the national weather service said in late October that much of the country remained firmly in drought conditions.

Ranchers say record prices are still being fetched for iconic species such as buffalo, highlighting the resilience of this asset class at the luxury end.

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