Everyone wins with game

A new study confirms that not only do private game reserves in the Eastern Cape contribute to conservation and development, they can also beat traditional farming in income per hectare and support more jobs. Roelof Bezuidenhout reports.
Issue date 17 August 2007

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Supporting the results of a 2004 study on the Eastern Cape’s private game reserves (PGRs), new research by the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University’s Centre for African Conservation Ecology confirms that provide a desirable alternative to traditional ways of using land, even though setting up such ecotourism ventures can cost anywhere between R15 million and R124 million. A PGR specialising in wildlife tourism is usually created by buying up smaller farms, consolidating them into larger holdings ranging from about 3 000ha to 30 000ha. The 10 PGRs taking part in the survey are mainly owned by registered companies with multiple shareholders.

Some individual landowners formed partnerships with their neighbours through conservancies. One leases land within a national park. Based on data provided by seven of the PGRs, revenue climbed steadily from R270/ha in 2002/2003 to R810/ha in 2004/2005. Including data from an eighth that recently started operating, gross revenue per hectare was projected to continue increasing through 2005/2006 to more than R1000/ha (follow-up study confirming or refuting this figure is set to be published in six months time). A socio-economic boon T he reserves also support an average of 107 full-time employees, with 375 dependants each. Conversion from agriculture to ecotourism also resulted in annual salary increases per full-time employee ranging from R6 157 to R29 930. Part of this difference may stem from the relatively high salaries of senior staff. Taking into account the multiplier effect, the R105,8 million in revenue generated by the participating PGRs translates into an estimated total infusion of nearly R180 million into the Cape economy. H owever, the reserves claim government isn’t recognising their contribution to job creation and conservation.

While government policies weren’t a major hurdle when the PGRs were established, they are now a dominant concern.Worries include a possible moratorium on foreign land ownership, a wildlife policy on the translocation of non-indigenous species, and lack of municipal support. U nfortunately, say the researchers, criticisms of will probably continue to increase. They advise the reserves to draw up a code of ethics similar to that of other industries to strengthen their long-term credibility. As well as allegations that PGRs are putting farmland out of production, they’ve been accused of driving farmworkers out of work. However, the study found the overwhelming majority of staff members on converted farms were either employed by the PGR or moved with their original employer to other farms. Only 260 people were employed on the farms before they became PGRs. Afterwards this increased to 1 172. The truth, say the researchers, is that PGRs blend business with biodiversity. The way they use land reconciles resource protection with profits. Respondents were engaged in a wide variety of social development projects in and around their reserves. South Africa’s future hinges on developing ways of using land that are socially just, economically viable, and ecologically appropriate, but balancing all three is difficult to accomplish. Non-indigenous animals One problem with PGRs is that many of the reserves still insist on keeping extralimital animal species (that is, species not indigenous to the area), because they believe these attract visitors. However, the researchers found that 40% of visitors’ to the Addo Elephant National Park felt the presence of extralimital species, such as giraffe, diminished the quality of their wildlife experience.

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The researchers suggest removing extralimital species would allow PGRs to market themselves as undertaking conservation at the highest level, on par with state conservation agencies. At the same time, they might benefit from possible tax rebates. Other findings The PGRs provide lodging ranging from six to 110 beds and charge from R1 500 to R4 750 per person per night. This indicates the average tariff has risen 37% since the 2004 study. PGRs are moving away from diverse accommodation types such as guesthouses, chalets, suites, and wagon camps. Instead, they are focusing on luxury lodges. Although the total number of overnight tourists to PGRs per year has risen dramatically, the average has stayed relatively stable at around 6 000 per PGR. Most likely, newer PGRs with fewer beds offset the increased capacity of older, more established reserves. Given their high prices, PGRs’ marketing primarily targets the foreign market and upper income groups, with most visitors coming from Europe and the UK. The second largest group comes from within South Africa, but outside the Eastern Cape (13%). This group may primarily originate in the affluent populations in Pretoria and Johannesburg. The US accounts for only 5% of visitors.

Land purchases constituted the highest proportion of total expenditure (33,6%), followed by constructing buildings (23%) and purchasing game (12,5%). There’s no indication the market is becoming saturated. Source: Report No 56 by Jeffrey A Langholz and Graham IH Kerley.