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Why are cows not endangered?

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South Africa has been rocked over the last two years with rhino poaching soaring to unheard of levels in South Africa. This is having a very negative effect on the private game ranching industry. Whereas the sale of live rhino (both black and white) has been vibrant three and more years ago, live sales have virtually come to a complete standstill. Land owners are now just too scared to invest a lot of their money on an animal that stands a good chance of being poached.

This is going to have a very negative effect on rhino population numbers in the medium to long term. I have thought long and hard about this problem.

Sometimes the answer to perplexing problems stare us in the face and we fail to recognize them. We tend to fall back on ways we have tried to address a problem in the past and continue in the same old way knowing inherently that it will not solve the problem or make it go away.

A few months ago a rather strange thought came to mind. Why aren’t (domestic) cows on the endangered list? Or domestic pigs, goats, sheep or chickens for that matter. All of these species are in huge demand. Millions – literally – of these animals / birds are consumed worldwide on a daily basis yet they are not in danger of becoming extinct! Why then are black rhino, wild dog, ground hornbills, and thousands of other wildlife species teetering on the brink?

The answer was immediately apparent – it was so obvious that most of us miss it! It is all about that old age business principle of supply and demand. If a "commodity" is in demand and is supplied a lively "economy" is put into effect. As long as the commodity is produced in a sustainable way there will always be a market for it. The "penny dropped" – because domestic livestock is in worldwide demand people produce cattle, sheep, pigs, goats and chickens to satisfy (even if it is only partially) the demand. Because there is a demand they do not now decide that it is economically unwise to carry on producing these species and stop farming with them.

But that is exactly what conservations and game ranchers are doing! I like to think of it as a "lager mentality". Because we are losing rhino (the same would apply to other species as well) we decide to stop producing rhino because they are being poached. This logic or lack of it is apparent once we realize what we are doing. Cows (pigs, chickens, sheep, goats) are produced because there is a demand for cows – so more are produced to meet the demand – not less! That is why these animals are not on any list of endangered species.

I understand that landowners are reluctant to invest large sums of money in animals that do stand a good chance of being poached. But this is where official conservation agencies like the provincial parks authorities and SANPARS could come to the party if conservation is high on their list of priorities as we expect it should be.

Some provincial and national parks have fairly large populations of rhino. A recent survey in the Kruger National Park indicated that there are ……. white rhino and …. black rhino. I am not going to divulge exact numbers because game counts are at best estimated but suffice to say there are significant numbers of these two species in the Park. One of the ways that we can counter poaching is to "not have all our eggs in one basket" – and to distribute assets.

The rhino in the Kruger Park are being heavily poached at this point in time. So heavily in fact that section and field rangers have been unable to contain it and the help of the SADF has been called in to assist. One of the reasons that poaching will become more focused on the Park is that the number of rhino on private game ranches is decreasing. Because of the size of the Park it is very difficult to police effectively and its location bordering on Mozambique in the east and Zimbabwe in the north make it particularly vulnerable to poaching.

One way in which SANParks could effectively contribute towards the long term conservation of rhino as well as other species is to distribute their assets, not only to other Parks, but to private game ranches as well. But what must SANParks do if no one wants to buy rhino any longer because of the fear of losing the investment?

The answer is to think innovatively. Give the rhino to game ranchers who have proved their commitment to conservation. By now all the SANPark financial and conservation managers are having apoplectic fits. Calm down and pick yourselves up off the floor.

Give the rhino away but under certain conditions. What conditions? Well they may come up with other suggestions but here are some to begin with.

  • There are enough rhino in the KNP to remove some to other locations without negatively impacting on the populations themselves. In fact it is sometimes advisable to reduce population densities in the interest of increasing population productivity.

  • Landowners, to whom an adult pair of rhino are donated, must cover the capture and translocation fees.

  • An agreement is signed whereby the first calf born to a breeding pair is donated back to SANParks – if they want it. All calves born thereafter become the property of the landowner. SANParks to cover the capture and translocation fees back to a national park of their choosing.

  • No rhino of a donated breeding pair may be hunted until the pair have produced two calves.

  • The original breeding pair may not be sold or translocated until they have produced two young.

  • An agreement is signed whereby the landowner undertakes to implement a comprehensive security plan to protect the rhino and may be subject to a periodic security audit.

What are the benefits of this sort of cooperative agreement? Well it is a win win situation.

  • Assets are distributed. Having breeding populations of rhino (or any other species for that matter) spread around the country is a better and ultimately safer option than having populations concentrated in one spot. Not only in terms of poaching but also in terms of disease control.

  • SANParks can replace rhino from donated populations, in the future, if it becomes necessary. There will be no cost charged for the animal itself.

  • We will get out of the "lager mentality" and start producing more rhino – not less. It will therefore benefit rhino in the long term.

  • Only older animals that have already produced at least two young will be hunted.

  • Landowners will not be able to exploit the situation for pure financial gain in the short term but will earn this privilege by first putting back into conservation before taking out of it.

  • Smaller reserves are easier to police. In some well managed private reserves rare or endangered animals are "shadowed 24/7". This means they literally have an armed guard looking after them 24 hours a day ever day of the week. This is impractical on large reserves.

The bottom line is that it will be disastrous at this stage to implement conservation strategies which will reduce the incentive to increase wildlife populations and everything should be done by conservation agencies – provincial and national as well as private game ranching enterprises – to STEP UP production. If there is a demand for more cows to eat the answer is to produce more cows – not less. If rhino are being poached we should not decrease production we should increase it. If this means a relaxation of some of the laws pertaining to private game ranching then so be it. The more restrictive conservation agencies are with regards to ranching with wildlife the less motivation there will be for private landowners to go that route or to continue farming with wildlife.

Something else we should guard against is allowing the price of game to spiral out of control – whether it be for live sale or for hunting. We are beginning to see the consequences of this.

Landowners not being prepared to pay high prices for game for fear of it being poached or caught by predators. This is also negatively affecting predator populations. Landowners that have expensive animals on their properties don’t want predators.

Cleve Cheney is a wilderness trail leader, rated field guide instructor and the author of many leading articles on the subjects of tracking, guiding, bowhunting and survival. Cleve has unrivalled experience in wildlife management, game capture and hunting, both with bow and rifle.
Click here to visit his site

Asking too much for animals to be hunted is now also negatively impacting on the hunting industry as, fueled by the slump in the world economy, there are more hunters both domestic and foreign, showing a resistance to paying high hunting prices. Greed has a nasty sting in the tail! Keep prices moderate – not cheap or exorbitantly expensive. Making things too cheap deprives them of value. Making them too expensive prices them outside of what the market is prepared to pay.

Let’s be pragmatic.

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• Giant Sable •
• Why are cows not endangered? •
• Wildlife in Zambabwe •
• Hunt elephant in the Kruger •
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• Palanca Report 1st Trimester 2014 •

•  •

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