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The Science Of Nature Conservation: In 1960 There Were Less Than 600,000 Head Of Game In SA.

Updated: Jan 9

Today that figure is at least 25 million. How was that achieved?

Hunting, number one - and that had the ripple effect of a planned and also a natural return of the original wilderness habitat. Original habitat is the trigger for a natural explosion in wildlife numbers. Wild game used to be a threat to commercial ranching. When this natural resource was given a commercial value when South Africa declared itself independent from the British Empire in 1961 was when the turnaround for declining game numbers was created. This return to the original Africa landscape as opposed to miles and miles of corn fields and unnatural cattle grazing re-created the Africa habitat. Game numbers increased to what they had been 250 years earlier. This quickly attracted wildlife tourism and very soon the word was out all over the world and South Africa became the goto international destination for eco tourism.

Today hunting comprises 20% of the total number of international tourism visitors to South Africa and it is growing at an average rate of 10% per year - more than 3x faster than the general tourism industry. The wildlife industry based on scientific hunting also grows at a yearly rate 3x as fast as the general economy. 8 billion US Dollar is the annual turnover of the South African wildlife sector. All that is supported by the foundation of high ethics scientific hunting. While the foreign hunter numbers are only a small fraction of game hunted by South African hunters it is an important sector - and foreign hunters are the VIPs of tourists coming into South Africa.

The average visiting hunter spends about $17,000 on a hunting trip - equivalent to what 10 non-hunting eco tourists would have spent. That figure of $17k is however misleading as for as little as $5,000, all meals and accommodation included a first time visitor can experience the best hunting of his life up till then on a management hunt that would entail 8 animals of four different species - a hunt which in Texas or Colorado would cost him around $40,000.

The vast majority of game ranches are privately owned and hunting ensures jobs and accommodation and food and income to untold numbers of people who would otherwise have eeked out a subsistence living (or more likely failed to do so). It was hunting that brought an economic value to wild game, and having an economic value is the only basis for anything to survive and be sustainable for future generations. (see a previous blog about sustainable biodiversity). It also assured the "rescue" of species that were on the brink of extinction - not only endangered. This includes the white rhino (from only 12 animals in the 1960s to 30,000 today), bontebok, black wildebeest, Cape mountain zebra, while the numbers of roan and sable have increased at an even higher percentage. Simply put, stopping cattle ranching combined with scientific hunting on privately owned land created the regrowth of the natural habitat and that triggered the explosion in wildlife numbers.

Compare the above figures to erstwhile hunting mecca Kenya - the land of hunting that Robert Ruark put on the map for USA hunters: Since Kenya banned all hunting in the 1970s that country has lost 85% of its wild game. If the greenies get their way this is what will happen to wildlife anywhere in the world.

Because South Africa presents wide open spaces of quiet, pristine wildlife habitat and many, many species combined with a safe infrastructure, more and more visiting hunters bring their families along. Good food, very affordable, comfortable accommodation, sophisticated medical facilities and the national culture of good manners and hospitality of the land and its people are the foundations on which this success story has been built.

Impala females at a watering place.


Leopard with cheetah in the background, Londolozi Private Game Reserve

Giraffe in the last rays of the sun

Hippo bull warning me to move off. Moments later when I still sat on my haunches steadying my long lens they both came at me at speed

Tsessebe bull - the fastest ungulate in Africa

Andries, the site owner, tracking Cape buffalo

Springbok in the Kalahari

The end of another beautiful day with the sun setting over 500 miles of uninterrupted pristine wildlife habitat.

(The facts in this post were from research done by the

Professional Hunters Association of South Africa (PHASA)

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