Game Ranching Or Game Breeding & The Biodiversity Act: Where To Now?

By Rueben Saayman

At the time of writing this journal, we are sitting very close to the fire. The fire being the implementation of the National Environmental Act: Biodiversity Act, 2004 as published in the Government Gazette, 7 June 2004. At this stage, many aspects like National Norms and Standards for the Translocation of Wild Herbivores and other Regulations are not in place in order to provide guidelines. However, the provincial governments indicated that they are going ahead with the implementation of the Act.

Many issues are not clear and it must be understood that we have to do with an evolutionary and dynamic process. By the time this journal go to press, it may be a totally different scenario. The intention of this journal will therefore be to focus on key issues which are either not understood or not communicated or not explained beforehand or not agreed upon by the two major stakeholders, namely the government and the game rancher. The approach will be to quote abstracts (in italics) from the Act and evoke debates.

Why don’t we kick off with two key statements:

Nature Conservation Scientist: Game will not be translocated to areas outside their natural distribution area (historical distribution area)!

Game Rancher: We have proved that game can do well outside their so called natural distribution area and want to breed game as a commercialized farming activity!

For many years game ranchers and some (please not all) government officials could not agree on this topic. So let’s have a look!

Definitions

1. (1) In this Act, unless the context indicates otherwise— “alien species” means—
(a) a species that is not an indigenous species; or
(b) an indigenous species translocated or intended to be translocated to a place outside its natural distribution range in nature, but not an indigenous species that has extended its natural distribution range by natural means of migration or dispersal without human intervention;

In the Act, the natural distribution ranges of species are not described, which leaves a very grey area. Who’s description of the natural distribution ranges will be accepted, because remember the Act must be implemented on 1 April 2005. Surely one can not base these ranges on previous historical distribution as recorded by travelers. How could any specie have extended it’s range by natural means of migration or dispersal without human intervention, when humans have actually intervened very much by preventing animals to migrate due to erecting game fences all over the country. Surely the negative impacts of the movement of species outside their natural ranges should be considered, but surely plant succession with the result of producing more suitable habitats for animals should also be considered. Since the Act continuously refer to definitions or descriptions of specie types, determined by means of their positioning in terms of the natural distribution ranges, this might be the single most important concept for mutual agreement.

“biological diversity” or “biodiversity” means the variability among living organisms from all sources including, terrestrial, marine and other aquatic ecosystems and the ecological complexes of which they are part and also includes diversity within species, between species, and of ecosystems.

A color variant or mutation, for instance a white or black springbuck, white blesbuck, black impala, King Cheetah etc., was not created by any human being, but was a natural product of the specie itself. Is this an increase or decrease in diversity? Please note that there is no reference to crossbreeding or hybridization in this regard. What man did, was to use his wisdom and godly given talent, to capture this economical opportunity. These type of animals are protected due to their economical value, and should never pose a threat to any other variant of the same, or any other specie. The simple and logical truth is that due to the economical value of game, the game rancher have never before, and will never allow a specie to extinguish. The reasoning behind this is as follow: When a game specie becomes scarce, it’s value goes up. The moment it’s value goes up, the opportunity is seen for economical gain, so game ranchers climb onto this, start breeding the scarce animals and their numbers increase again.

“habitat” means a place where a species or ecological community naturally occurs

Is it not interesting that this definition is written in the present and not in the past tense i.e. “occurs” and not “occurred”! Should that not exactly be our approach, on of what is best now and not hundreds of years ago? Why do puristic nature conservation scientists keep on falling back to previous historic distribution areas as the natural distribution ranges, and refuses to except and take into cognition the evidences and achievements of game in other more suitable habitats. Some previous natural habitats has become unsuitable due to land uses, farming activities, climate changes and plant succession.

“indigenous species” means a species that occurs, or has historically occurred, naturally in a free state in nature within the borders of the Republic, but excludes a species that has been introduced in the Republic as a result of human activity;

This is going to become very interesting in future. The new Trans-frontier Parks stretches over the Republic’s borders. Animals will cross over, therefore, will the animals belonging to the government be regarded as indigenous, but those animals belonging to the game rancher which was translocated across the border not?

“introduction”, in relation to a species, means the introduction by humans, whether deliberately or accidentally, of a species to a place outside the natural range or natural dispersal potential of that species;

How can any one be one hundred percent sure what the dispersal potential of a specie is, if we have stopped any possible dispersal by means of fences?

“invasive species” means any species whose establishment and spread outside of its natural distribution range—
(a) threaten ecosystems, habitats or other species or have demonstrable potential to threaten ecosystems, habitats or other species; and

(b) may result in economic or environmental harm or harm to human health;

“issuing authority”, in relation to permits regulating the matters mentioned in section 87, means—
(a) the Minister; or
(b) an organ of state in the national, provincial or local sphere of government designated by regulation in terms of section 97 as an issuing authority for permits of the kind in question:

“listed invasive species” means any invasive species listed in terms of section 70(1);

“listed threatened or protected species” means any species listed in terms of section 56(1);

“sustainable”, in relation to the use of a biological resource, means the use of such resource in a way and at a rate that—.
(a) would not lead to its long-term decline;
(b) would not disrupt the ecological integrity of the ecosystem in which it occurs; and (c) would ensure its continued use to meet the needs and aspirations of present and future generations of people;

9. (1) The Minister may, by notice in the Gazette—

(a) issue norms and standards for the achievement of any of the objectives of this Act, including for the—

At the time of writing this journal, the National Norms and Standards for the Translocation of Wild Herbivores, were not completed yet. This created a great concern amongst game ranchers due to the following: At a National Workshop, it was agreed in principle that game ranching with “Local Aliens” will be allowed. The act, to be enforced from 1 April 2005, makes it compulsory to apply for a permit when aliens are to be translocated. All the intensions were there from government officials that such permits would not be approved easily and that risk assessments will be required. In comparison to the outcome of the workshop, the ballgame now changed again completely and the “natural distribution range” became the single most important aspect, since the recognition of a local alien specie would be determined by such a range. Public participation and mutual agreement about these ranges did not take place yet. Will government try to decide upon this alone? The future of the game and tourism industry can not be determined by a very small number of government officials.

Biodiversity planning

National biodiversity framework

38. (1) The Minister—
(a) must prepare and adopt a national biodiversity framework within three years of the date on which this Act takes effect;

Contents of national biodiversity framework

39. (1) The national biodiversity framework must—
(a) provide for an integrated, co-ordinated and uniform approach to biodiversity management by organs of state in all spheres of government, non¬governmental organisations, the private sector, local communities, other stakeholders and the public;

Biodiversity management plans

43. (1) Any person, organisation or organ of state desiring to contribute to biodiversity management may submit to the Minister for his or her approval a draft management plan for— (b) an indigenous species— (i) listed in terms of section 56; or (2) Before approving a draft biodiversity management plan, the Minister must 5 identify a suitable person, organization or organ of state which is willing to be responsible for the implementation of the plan.

Biodiversity management agreements

44. The Minister may enter into a biodiversity management agreement with the 15 person, organization or organ of state identified in terms of section 43(2), or any other suitable person, organization or organ of state, regarding the implementation of a biodiversity management plan, or any aspect of it.

There are more and more outcries for the industry to manage and control itself. Maybe this is the time now for the South African Game Ranchers Organization to put up it’s hand, step forward, put together a management plan for game ranching in South Africa, take the responsibility and enter into a biodiversity agreement with the minister.

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