South Africa’s once-thriving game farming industry has been severely hit by the novel coronavirus with its main sources of revenue – hunting, game viewing, and sales – under lockdown.

Undoubtedly, the coronavirus pandemic has disrupted major economies of the world due to lockdown measures to contain the spread of the disease. But commercial farmers in South Africa have been allowed to get on with their businesses in order to feed the nation.

Even as farmers continue with their businesses, one of the sub-sector of South African agriculture earnings could shrink in the face of the pandemic. The game farming industry is on the “brink of collapse,” according to a presentation by Wildlife Ranching South Africa (WRSA), the main body that represents more than 1,500 ranchers in the sector.

“It is clear that the South African wildlife industry is on the brink of collapse due to the impact of COVID-19 on the industry and unless mitigation measures are introduced urgently to allow for live game trade, the production and distribution of game meat and the introduction of incremental local hunting and tourism activities, most product owners in the wildlife industry in South Africa will not survive the impacts of COVID-19,” WRSA says.

South Africa’s wildlife management, which is also under the National Disaster Management Regulations as an essential activity, has had a negative effect on the private wildlife ranching industry. It does not only include the international hunting and tourism market, but also the domestic hunting, live game trade, game meat sales, among others. It’s an industry worth around one and a half-billion dollars a year – more than half of which comes from trophy hunting.

A survey by the WRSA revealed that there was an 86 percent decline in visits to operations by game viewing tourists and hunters in March and April. It estimated that financial losses to the sector for 2020 from cancellations were up at R3.8 billion, while that of new bookings to the end of the year was up at R3.1 billion. 

According to the survey, live game sales have been predicted to lose about R1.7 billion this year, while meat sales will lose R640 million, making the total estimated losses to about R9 billion in 2020. The study mentioned that more than half of the people employed in the sector could lose their jobs or suffer a reduction in wages as the number of visitors anticipated during that period will decline.

“Respondents indicated an average staff complement as at the end of February 2020 of 15 staff members per game farm. These figures do not include the additional part-time employees during hunting season, who basically will have no income if no hunting takes place during the year,” the WRSA survey read. With over 9,000 jobs ready to be lost.

Due to the fact that many jobs could be terminated as the pandemic ravages, respondents expect to see an increase in environmental crimes such as poaching. Around half of the country’s rhino population is estimated to be in private hands, and many of those animals could be at risk if the businesses that support them collapse.

By Ahmed Iyanda.

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