Table of Contents

1. Overview

The decades since conditional private ownership of wildlife was granted in 1991 saw a significant shift from cattle farming to game ranching. Owing to this expansion, the total area covered by these privately owned ranches exceeds that of all national parks and provincial nature reserves put together. Limpopo has around half of the country’s game farms, followed by the Northern Cape and Eastern Cape.

Wildlife ranching incorporates various subsectors, ranging from extensive wildlife ranching (with minimal human intervention) to intensive wildlife ranching (with supplementary feeding). It provides consumable activities (such as recreational hunting, trophy hunting, biltong and game meat) as well as non-consumable activities (such as accommodation, breeding material, wildlife viewing, adventure and tourism). Other sub-sectors are the wildlife capturing/translocation industry and taxidermy.

In addition, the wildlife sector makes a large contribution towards conservation because it is in its interest to preserve wildlife. South Africa is one of the few countries in the world where the number of animals of rare or threatened species has increased in recent years, and native wildlife numbers are at their highest since the past 100 years. It has played a role, and continues to play a role, in saving species (e.g. white rhino, bontebok, Cape mountain zebra, black wildebeest), as well as protecting the rich diversity of vegetation types. The wildlife ranching industry has “transformed more than 20 million hectares of marginal agricultural land into thriving game ranches, thus enhancing food production units, attracting tourists, creating jobs and developing rural communities”, reads a Wildlife Ranching pamphlet.

The industry makes an annual contribution of some R20 billion to the GDP and maintains 140 000 sustainable jobs (Dry, 2015).

Sources: "An analysis of market potential of game meat" by Dr G. Dry (2015); North-West University article “Acknowledging the contribution of the South African Wildlife Industry” prepared by Dr PC Cloete; ; Wildlife Ranching press release 19 March 2010


John Hume, “The Man Who Bred 1000 Rhino”. See the blog "When decisions are placed in the hands of people who pay no price for being wrong". Photo used courtesy of Quintus Strauss.


2. Acknowledging the contribution of the South African wildlife industry

When conditional private ownership of wildlife was granted in 1991, many livestock producers switched to extensive wildlife production. On the back of the economic and ecological advantages of extensive wildlife production, the industry experienced an average annual growth rate of 5.6% up to the mid-2000s. However, an increase in intensive breeding practices, especially of high-value animals since the mid-2000s, resulted in a further acceleration at a growth rate of 6.75% per annum. As a result, the wildlife industry is the fastest growing agricultural sector in South Africa, with over 10 000 game ranches using in excess of 17% of the total land area. This industry is globally recognized, resting on several consumable and non-consumable pillars (i.e. recreational hunting, trophy or biltong hunting, venison production, live game trade and eco-tourism), with hunting and eco-tourism being the main contributors towards the economy of this industry.

Despite the growth and transformation experienced within the industry, several discussions remain with regard to the current, or potential, contribution of the wildlife industry towards overall economy growth, poverty reduction and ensuring food security. It is often argued that the expansion of the wildlife sector has taken productive land out of the system, causing higher levels of food insecurity and poverty. In disparity to this view, it can be argued that the wildlife industry is making a significantly contribution towards the economy by adding significant value to wildlife, by creating considerable skilled and semi-skilled employment opportunities, and by providing an alternative food production system.

Moreover, benefits from growth within the wildlife industry stretches beyond the economic scope as the sector also contributes towards conservation and wildlife management. South Africa is one of the few countries in the world where the number of animals of rare or threatened species has increased in recent years. Native wildlife numbers are at its highest since the past 100 years.

The growth of the wildlife industry may be hampered due to the present speculative market dynamics as well as several proposed changes in legislation. These have created uncertainties and apprehensiveness about the direction and sustainability of the sector. This will subsequently impact its socio-economic contribution as long-term and structural investments are put on hold.

It still remains very difficult to estimate the impact of these dynamics without reliable data; which is one of the largest backdrops of the South African wildlife industry. Therefore, to ensure the sustainability and viability of the wildlife industry, adequate information systems are a necessity. The Agricultural Economists at the Unit for Environmental Sciences and Management of the North-West University are directly involved with the sector; conducting data collection and research in order to maintain a comprehensive information system for the wildlife industry.

Source: Dr PC Cloete, Eenheid vir Omgewingswetenskappe en –Bestuur, North-West University (Potchefstroom). Write to Flippie.Cloete [at] or call 018 299 4245