Author: Dr Wilhelm Schack — Owner, veterinarian and ecologist at Eko Wild.
Editor: Part 1 of this series was published in June 2018. Click here to read the full article. In this article, part 2 of the series, the author—Dr Wilhelm Schack—looks at the price-squeeze in the game industry today. Schack also considers whether passive capture provides a solution to the imminent ‘adapt or die’ scenario for game-ranchers.
Introduction – Adapt or die!
Adapt or die is a harsh phrase to grapple with for modern man. But in fact,
similarly to us game ranchers, our hunter-gatherer forebears, the San, also had to face the harsh realities of shifting frontiers of existence when peoples from elsewhere in Africa and Europe arrived on their turf forcing them into the cruel environs of the remote desert and semi-desert biomes of Southern Africa. Over centuries they miraculously survived the onslaught of strange civilisations by developing sophisticated and ingenious survival techniques unparalleled in the history of mankind in Africa. Evidence to this effect is well documented and enshrined in rock art on cave walls all over the subcontinent. As recently as five decades ago the author of this article was extremely privileged to have gained precious insights into these ancient survival techniques conveyed to him personally by whom it turned out to be the last bearers of true and pure San Culture in their last refuge, the Central Kalahari Game Reserve in Botswana.
Why such a somewhat disconnected introduction for an article about the ‘Passive Game Capture Revolution’ you may be asking?
The alarm bells for the game industry started ringing earlier in this decade when public game trade platforms as embodied by some glamorous auction events and equally glamorous and voluminous high-gloss-high-quality colour publications, developed into fashion shows of opulence. This is not what the San and our own industry-pioneers and wise elders had in mind when they sculpted their existence and that of future generations of hunter-gatherers, agriculturalists and conservationists on the solid and reliable foundations of the natural resources of Africa.
There is no glamour in true Africa! There never was glamour in Africa’s history. In fact, nor was glamour part of the fabric of any civilisation or culture anywhere on this planet. Glamour is a Hollywood invention designed to boggle a million minds and lure the masses into surrendering their culture—and most importantly of course—their money to the sophisticated methods of resource extraction through show-business.
Agriculture, ranching and conservation are not show-businesses. They are businesses that concern themselves with the long-term survival of humankind. Every single human-being on earth is a stakeholder and without the slightest doubt each one of us—and especially future generations who will certainly one day gather around this topic again and again—has a vested interest in ranching, agriculture and conservation being conducted in the most professional and ethical manner. Glamour should never be considered (like we have experienced over the last decade) as cornerstone of structures we hand down to the future generations of industry-builders in the game ranching world.
The current state of the game industry
At this precise moment, in the Spring of 2018, the game-industry is sucking pebbles to quench its thirst. It is pulling belts tight to suppress the hunger-pains like a San hunter does when the ‘big Eland’ disappears in a mirage over distant horizons. This is the harsh reality we spoke about and we are facing it today. The so-called ‘wildlife stock market’ in South Africa has hit an all-time low. Millions, if not billions in market capitalisation has been wiped out! The strangest phenomenon of it all is that, contrary to what happened in the aftermath of the recent Steinhoff implosion, the game-industry, which experienced comparable haemorrhaging, albeit on a somewhat lower level, never conducted any investigations and hearings into what can be called a national catastrophe.
The wildlife market at an all-time low—Citing some examples
Two game-ranchers known personally to me, confidentially revealed that they’ve suffered a combined loss of R37 million! Let it be noted that there are thousands of game ranchers and ‘second level investors’ (i.e. those who don’t own land, but who have invested in breeding schemes which suddenly mushroomed all over the show) in South Africa, Namibia and other neighbouring countries. One can only surmise what the combined losses of all who have lost in the game industry might be? The final inquest ought yet to transpire!
Game ranching, from an agro-economical perspective, is terra incognita (in unknown land). For example,
it is completely and utterly incomprehensible how buyers could blindly bid over the phone at auctions for transactions based on hearsay evidence, and similarly, for second level investors to invest in schemes of hearsay grandeur. Isn’t this telling of a massive dragon in the room? What is more, to this very day in the scorched landscape of the game-industry the deception goes on. Like some drunkards hanging around after the Oktoberfest, hoping to snatch one last sip from an empty bottle, one last draw from a wasted cigar, certain initiatives carry on punting wildlife trade objects as ‘exotic’, ‘extreme’, ‘extraordinary’, ‘exclusive’ and ‘exceptional’. The ‘Ex-Emperors’ are blatantly naked! The world is still watching in disbelief as investor-confidence continuously evaporates into thin air. It will take years for the game-industry to pick up its head again.
Practical situations—What will it take to escape these doldrums?
There are rain-clouds on the desert horizon. The Eland sucks the wind through eagerly stretched nostrils because there is promise of rain in the air. No doubt, Africa will provide again to those who understand its ways and to those who abide by its ancient wisdom.
But, enough of philosophising now! We have practical situations to deal with in Africa today. Here are the challenges:
- Human populations are growing beyond the limits of the true ecological carrying-capacity of the environment.
- Wildlife and other natural resources are under extreme threat of: overexploitation, complete depletion, mismanagement, misappropriation and the greatest extinction of species in the history of mankind.
- Human misery, unemployment and grave poverty are threatening political stability and the social fabric of almost all nations on the continent. Chaos is growing and desperation becomes the driving force of rulers and policy makers.
How can we as game ranchers contribute to the healing process? Is there a way for us to assist our communities and our industry to help design a turn-around-strategy? On a grand scale, does it make sense to consider our contribution as meaningful? Are we important enough to make a difference? The answer to all these questions is an indisputable YES! Why? Most of us understand nature (at least to some degree). We have been living close to earth and to animals long enough to value this unique relationship as the guarantee to long-term survival in a healthy environment!
Once we return to the drawing board we would need to take a penetrating look at the crucial design elements of a healthy and sound wildlife economy. The answers to the following questions will provide vital clues in our quest to find the obscured path in the marshes which could lead us to the promised treasure trove of a resurrected African wildlife-based future.
- How best can the benefits of game-ranching be guaranteed for the widest possible spectrum of stakeholders, and how can even the poorest of communities and countries start asserting wildlife as the most valuable asset it inherently is or could become for many regions in Africa and for us all?
- How can long-term sustainability and regeneration of ecosystems be ensured?
- Shouldn’t scientific parameters be the basis of growth rather than short term speculative approaches?
- Does the game-ranching industry answer honestly and truly to the demands of a market economy?
- Who are the end-users of our diverse product range, how are price structures determined and how should investments be structured to balance supply and demand?
- Does the industry answer to ecological and biodiversity principles and guidelines to enable long term relevance and attraction?
- How can conservation-ethics be reconsidered and reconciled with the challenges of exponentially growing populations of African nations?
Please understand me correctly, the best tools and techniques of the industry, like for example the latest passive game capture methods, as I would want to share with game ranchers in order to optimise the viability of their enterprises, are of no avail if our basic intentions and premises on this illustrious playing field are wrong.
That is why we have to take stock of the game-industry and our visions and wishes at the soonest possible opportunity. There is no time to lose. Economies are under pressure, wildlife resources all over Africa are dwindling at a fatal rate and the downward poverty-spiral towards complete disaster is in frightful progress!
Game-ranching is an alternative and highly creative way of dealing with the massive onslaught of the ‘modern’ world on the environment, conservation, people’s livelihoods and food security. Game ranching embodies lateral thinking in its purest form and could provide us with the same innovative means to survival as that of our much revered San forebears.
The Eko Wild mission is to concentrate and make available the best knowledge and experience in wildlife management and to guide national and international investment to the enhancement and development of assets, thereby contributing significantly to local and international economies with emphasis on the stakes of the people of Africa.
For more information related to Eko Wild and Passive Game Capture course, please contact us and we will respond to your enquiry.