Tuesday, 21 August 2012 13:51

Buffalo and rhino make big money

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MAKING SURE none of the rhinoceros herd is poached during the night isn’t something New Zealand farmers have to worry about but it is typical for an increasing number of South African farmers diversifying into the lucrative game breeding industry.

After several years of rapid growth, there are now estimated to be more than 10,000 commercial game ranches in South Africa breeding rare species for hunting, meat and conservation purposes. 

Kirstie Macmillan of Farm To Farm Tours recently returned from escorting a group of New Zealand farmers through South Africa, Victoria Falls and Botswana.

“We were fortunate to have some great wildlife encounters in the reserves but it was also fascinating to visit farmers breeding rare game such as rhinoceros, Sable antelope and buffalo alongside beef cattle and cropping operations,” she told Rural News.

The group visited a 4000ha farm in the productive agricultural region of Kroonstad, Free State, where their farm host was lamenting the returns on his 1500-head Bonsmara cattle stud. He believes it is his newer game enterprise that will see him through to retirement.  When he starts talking prices, it’s easy to see why. A South African buffalo cow recently sold for a record 20 million Rand (about $NZ3 million) and yearling bulls are fetching up to $NZ1 million. As well as buffalo, he’s breeding Sable antelope with quality hunting bulls worth around $NZ6500 and breeding bulls at least triple that.

Meanwhile he’s expanding his rhinoceros herd and hopes to get around $NZ20,000 for bulls and NZ$27,000 for two-year-old females.

As he converts more of his farm to game breeding, he is looking to move his cattle operation onto cheaper land in Mozambique where the government is trying to improve the country’s farming industry and infrastructure. He’s also bought land in Botswana, one of the few African countries exporting beef to Europe.

Although profitable, it becomes clear rare game breeding is not without its challenges. While game breeds require less land per head than domestic livestock, there is the need for specialist vet care and disease control, intensive fencing and fire breaks. Moving and handling stock is labour intensive and often involves tranquilizer darts, plus heightened security is necessary with, in some instances, 24/7 supervision of valuable stock. 

Rhinoceros poaching is a particular problem as demand for rhino-horn powder grows in Vietnam and China. The Farm To Farm group heard how recently a Vietnamese poaching ring was arrested with over $US10 million worth of horn. 

Global attention on the plight of the rhinoceros is rising, but still record numbers have been poached in South Africa this year. Some farm breeders de-horn females to reduce the risk, and provide 24-hour security for bulls. Others have given up on rhinoceros altogether.

There are calls for legalisation of the horn trade in South Africa arguing that harvesting horn, under anaesthetic, to supply what’s clearly a buoyant market, would push prices down and reduce poaching.

Such was the interest of the trip, Farm To Farm Tours is planning a return to southern Africa, in addition to many other regions of the globe, in 2013.

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