Namibian game breeders… …Tourism entrepreneurs or ‘Doctor Frankensteins’

Namibian game breeders… …Tourism entrepreneurs or ‘Doctor Frankensteins’

Debate rages on ethics of genetic-variation wild game breeding…

By Desie Heita

Namibia is locked in a raging debate on the ethics of breeding game in various colours and with slightly different horns and body shapes than what Mother Nature originally ordained. It is a debate that has been making headlines in South Africa for a couple of years now, but only recently came to dominate the Namibian discourse.

The debate has reached such an intensity that individual farmers, in discussion with New Era Weekend over a period of four weeks, have in private started to look at the issue as a contention between those with European or German bloodline – and hence pro-environmentalists – and those whose roots are firmly in Namibia and nowhere else and are thus unencumbered by Western liberal views.

The camp advocating the breeding of game in various colours has Wildlife Ranching Namibia (WRN) as its ‘political’ home, while those against such practice resort under the Namibia Professional Hunting Association (NAPHA).

At the root of this passionate debate is but one fundamental issue: either or not, ranchers or farmers in Namibia should fiercely conserve and manage all wild animals they find on their farms without indulging in any aberrant practices in selecting wildlife for breeding purposes.

It is an issue that WRN members speak about emotively, with a number of breeders highlighting the monetary rewards from such a franchise.

“Every farmer must be allowed to do what is right to them, after all farming is a business,” says one breeder.

“There is a difference out there … on what is good or bad. But everyone must accept that there is a place for all of us in the [tourism] industry. We have unique products – the plain game or common game – in Namibia, our natural game,” one prominent breeder tells New Era Weekend.

Breeders spoken to declined to give their names, saying they would rather speak with one voice than individually.

And that one voice is supposed to be the president of WRN, Mike Bredenkamp. But he did not respond to questions sent to him two weeks ago, although he did briefly brush aside the sentiments expressed by NAPHA as “misleading and without basis”.

When reached for comment again this week Bredenkamp said he was in South Africa and would respond to the email upon his return to Namibia.

Yet the monetary values are good for breeders, who make a killing from auctioning their rare breeds, tourists who visit their game farms to view these exotic breeds and from professional hunters who pay huge amounts of money to bag a trophy with unusually long horns, or game of unusual colour. A breeder reveals that colour-variant game continue to fetch huge sums of money at auctions, even though prices have plummeted in the last three years. “Blue wildebeest have dropped in price by N$50 000 or N$30 000 but they still fetch a higher price than cattle. Three years ago I sold a pregnant roan for between N$750 000 and N$800 000 but today the price is about N$350 000. It is a 100 percent drop but still lucrative,” says the farmer.

NAPHA does acknowledge that many farmers have been lured by the high prices paid for some species. “However, recent auction prices have shown a gradual but unavoidable decline. Whilst it is true that stupendous amounts have recently been paid for certain species, the general trend over the last 12 months has been negative, rather than positive,” NAPHA’s Chief Executive Officer Tanja Dahl said.

New Era Weekend engaged Dahl a month ago on a range of conservation issues facing the Namibian tourism industry.

Nevertheless game breeders feel strongly that the game breeding industry is very young – WRN was only established in 2014 – and thus its impact on naturally bred game is relatively minute. There is no chance, they argue, that a tourist would find a golden wildebeest in a national park, because human-bred wildlife are restricted to private farms. Hence the chances of such a genetically bred colour-variant wild animal passing on its genes to the wild are really low, they say.

The last auction for Namibian breeders took place in April this year where 1 289 game were on offer, including some very exotic species, and the auction netted a whopping N$35 million for breeders. Sable cows fetched more than N$500 000 each, roans went for between N$500 000 and N$600 000. Even hyenas were sold for N$60 000 each.
NAPHA believes that “this market will eventually become saturated and studies and surveys have shown that the eventual ‘end user’, the conservation hunter, has little or no interest in paying such high prices to hunt these species.”

The colours being bred by game breeders are fascinatingly exotic, especially to those not familiar with genetically bred wildlife. One breeder fires off a list of colours for springbok that sounds more like an order for an expensive coffee at Starbuck than wild game colours.

For NAPHA such practices should not even be allowed in the country. In fact, NAPHA is said to will soon intensely lobby government authorities, to an extent that farmers are worried that government may take an abrupt decision without consulting them first.

“The intensive breeding of these animals is more akin to livestock farming and has no place in the world of conservation. These practices do an injustice to animals that should be wild, living in their natural habitat and subject to the laws of nature,” says Dahl.

“We also contend that the hunting of these species, which have become used to being fed on a daily basis by humans, is both unethical and contrary to the precepts of the term ‘hunting’; as the animal’s natural fear of humans and, therefore, his inclination to flee from humans, has been removed.”

“We can also point to the numerous studies and surveys that have been undertaken amongst the hunting community worldwide, that the hunting of these species is something that the overwhelming majority would shy away from; after all, hunting of such an animal is the same as shooting a cow, or a sheep,” NAPHA says.

The association also contends that the breeding of so-called ‘colour variants’ is, in fact, the continued inbreeding of a recessive gene that, would this animal revert to its natural environment amongst its own kind, be bred out of the animal’s progeny. “In other words, the breeders of these so-called colour variants are merely playing, as one of our members termed it ‘Doctor Frankenstein’ and creating artificial animals under artificial conditions,” Dahl says.

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