- Title: South Africa's wild game breeders count mounting costs of drought.
- Date: 11th November 2016
- Summary: AUCTION BIDDERS LOOKING AT THE VARIOUS ANIMALS ON SALE
- Embargoed: 26th November 2016 15:12
- Keywords: Drought Wildlife Food Animals conservation
- Location: LIMPOPO AND JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA
- City: LIMPOPO AND JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA
- Country: South Africa
- Topics: Environment,Nature/Wildlife
- Reuters ID: LVA0045801C9J
- Aspect Ratio: 16:9
- Story Text: 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.
Game prices are mostly down as ranchers cut herds in the face of parched grazing and soaring costs for supplements like lucerne, a protein-rich hay-like crop which has almost doubled in price the past year to 4,000 rand ($280) a tonne.
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: one of his studs has been valued at 19 million rand ($1.3 million).
"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.
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, according to industry data.
The industry is credited with lifting wildlife numbers and adding value to marginal lands previously used for cattle. It now counts 10,000 ranches.
According to industry estimates, in 1950 there were only a few dozen white rhino 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.
Those numbers have now suffered a setback, as prices fall and grazing lands shrivel, though the industry does not have precise estimates on game losses.
"We had about 500 Blesbok and we are down to 250 - so we halved them, captured them and other game farms bought them from us," 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.
"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.
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. Earlier this year a buffalo bull was auctioned for a record 168 million rand ($11.7 million).
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