South Africa: “Hunting” Review, Wildlife Ranching & Rhinos


I’ve recently been very concerned about correlations between rhino-poaching in South Africa and hunting activity in our country.

I’ve therefore tried to understand the complex nature of the hunting industry locally, as well as the extent of wildlife ranching nationally, especially in terms of land space under conservation and related economic benefits to the country and wildlife security and preservation.

For me, there are some fascinating statistics that are not readily found in public online documents, so I’m recording some of the key elements of my desktop research here.

This is a lengthy ‘post’ centred primarily on my related data collection, so one can better understand the full landscape of rhino conservation and poaching within the broader wildlife management sector.

For ease of review, I’ve broken the information down into 4 relevant areas (with sub-areas, where applicable), namely:

(1) South Africa – conservation land review;

(2) Wildlife Ranching in SA;

(3) 2009 Hunting Statistics in SA; and

(4) Rhino-related Data Analysis.

I’ll conclude with my own brief summation of this critical economy within our own natural resource management strategy and I plan my next blog to review the entire “bloody” state of our beloved and iconic rhinos.


South Africa’s total land area is approximately 122 million hectares (1.9 times larger than the whole of France, the EU’s largest member state) of which 7.5m hectares (about the total size of countries such as Chile or Zambia) is under the control of national and provincial parks’ state conservation.

To place this in context, the Kruger National Park (KNP) is a little more than 2m hectares in extent, placing it at about the size of countries such as Slovenia, El Salvador or Israel.

After KNP – the nation’s flagship park – South Africa has further national and provincial areas (in respect of her 9 provinces) covering 30 parks that together encompass about 5.5m hectares, which collectively total about the land size of countries such as Croatia or Togo.

For insight into SA’s protected areas, here is a detailed list of page links as well as national park links –  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Protected_areas_of_South_Africa (all)
and http://www.sanparks.org/parks/ (SA’s national parks).

The private sector in SA owns almost 3 times this state land-space via what is termed “Wildlife Ranching” (which includes mixed, commercial agricultural farming – see below) and this collective total is approximately 20.5m hectares.   Putting this land total area into perspective, it equates to about the rough size of countries such as Thailand or Yemen.

So, we’re speaking about fairly substantial land-spaces under full or some form of natural conservation management, in global terms.

For USA readers here, our land-spaces equate to the following:

– SA’s land area is roughly two-thirds of the size of Alaska;

– The Kruger National Park is about equal to the land area of Massachusetts;

– National and provincial parks in SA approximate to about FIVE (5) times the land area of  Connecticut; and

– The private sector land under “Wildlife Ranching” is roughly equal to the total land area of  the state of Kansas.



According to Dr. G. C. Dry of WRSA (Wildlife Ranching South Africa), who presented a paper to the “Green Economy Summit” of SA’s Department of Water and Environmental Affairs on 19 May 2010 in Cape Town, the following statistics apply to this sector:

– there are more than 9000 owners of commercial ‘wildlife ranches’ in SA, 3000 of whom are involved in “mixed” farming – i.e. wildlife and conventional agriculture;

– the vast majority of this ‘wildlife’ land usage was as a result of poor or marginal land quality for commercial farming, thereby transforming largely unusable land into a new commercial sector involving conservation of wildlife and eco-systems;

– this ‘wildlife’ land usage generates approximately R 220/ha (US$ 27.50) compared with conventional livestock farming that generates about R80/hectare (US$10.00);

– during the annual 5-month hunting season, this sector generates approximately 10% of South Africa’s red meat consumption, thereby assisting in healthcare and nutritional needs for those communities that benefit from such a programme; and

– this sector generates about 100 000 jobs directly through its economic activity and the collective wage bill amounts to about R 1,6 bn (US$ 200m) per annum, meaning an average worker remuneration of approximately R 16000 (US$ 2000) p.a.

I’ll return to this key sector later… 



The Department of Environmental Affairs presentation by Thea Carroll at the Professional Hunters Association of South Africa annual general meeting on 16 November 2010, has some telling information regarding the hunting sector in SA, specifically for the year 2009.

I’ll summarize issues that both interest and trouble me:
(Unless otherwise stated, data is for 2009.) 


Registered professional hunters are required to keep logs of their hunts, including the sale price and species hunted. These figures exclude taxidermy and shipment costs:

Total species’ hunt fee revenues: Rm 445m – approx US$ 55m;

Total number of indigenous animals hunted: 34256

Total number of alien animals hunted: 618

Total “BIG 5” hunting statistics:
– Approx. value: R 183m (US$ 23m)
– Total species: 856 – comprising 325 lion, 334 buffalo, 107 white rhino, 49 leopard and 41 elephant
– Pro-rata share of species hunting fee revenues: lion (42.6%), white rhino (25.4%), buffalo (23.2%), elephant (6.4%) and leopard (2.4%)

Next 6 top species hunting fee revenue generators:
– Total approximate hunting fee revenues: R 128m (US$ 16m)
– Total number of species head hunted: 10521
– Breakdown of hunted species and numbers: Kudu (2440), Blue Wildebeest (2293), Gemsbok (2289), Nyala (910) and Waterbuck (893)

Following 6 highest species hunted:
– Fee revenues difficult to quantify, but seemingly between about R 80m and R 95m (US$ 10m – US$ 12m)
– Total of species group: 14666
– Breakdown of species: Impala (3860), Blesbok (common) (3261), Springbok (common) (3141), Warthog (2049), Red Hartebeest (1179) and Black Wildebeest (1176)

Alien species hunting:
– Total approx. hunting fee revenues: R 22m (almost US$ 3m)
– Top 4 species: Lechwe (red) (372), Deer (fallow) (142), Barbary Sheep (43) and Oryx Scimitar (38)

There appears to be about 56 specie types that are hunted nationally, so the remaining species not highlighted above appear to generate fees amounting to between R 12m and R 24m (US$ 1m – US$ 2m), but data analysis from the report only permits this guesstimate.


(Provincial map of SA – for the benefit of international readers. Zimbabwe lies on Limpopo province’s northern border.) 

Total number of registered professional hunters (PH’s) in SA for whom these 2009 stats apply: 3768

It is worth looking at each of the 9 provinces of South Africa and reviewing their respective contributions to the national figures:

(According to WRSA, 50% of all private wildlife ranch owners are located in this province, which is richly endowed with wildlife and forms the major border with the Kruger National Park.)
– 45.6 % of all registered PH’s active in 2009
– 33.20 % of all hunting fees generated in 2009
– 29.50 % of all indigenous animals hunted nationally in 2009

– 17.1 % of all PH’s active
– 18.88 % of all species hunting fees generated
– 22.60 % of all indigenous animals hunted

– 5.5 % of all registered PH’s active
– 19.55 % of all species hunting fees generated
– 19.00 % of all indigenous animals hunted

– 14.3 % of all registered PH’s active
– 12.95 % of species hunting fees generated
– 11.16 % of all indigenous animals hunted

– 5.1% of all registered PH’s active
– 7.28 % of all species hunting fees generated
– 3.86 % of all indigenous animals hunted

– 6.6 % of all registered PH’s active
– 3.49 % of all species hunting fees generated
– 9.35 % of all indigenous animals hunted

– 3.5 % of all registered PH’s active
– 3.93 % of all species hunting fees generated
– 3.58 % of all indigenous animals hunted

– 1.2 % of all registered PH’s active
– 0.53 % of all species hunting fees generated
– 0.63 % of all indigenous animals hunted

– 1.1 % of all registered PH’s active
– 0.19 % of all species hunting fees generated
– 0.32 % of all indigenous animals hunted


Total number of “Top 10” nationalities of visiting hunters in 2009: 5158

The national profile percentages of these “Top 10” foreign visitor-hunters:

USA – 59.4 %
Denmark – 11.4 %
Spain – 8.0 %
Norway – 4.4 %
France – 3.5 %
Germany – 3.2 %
UK – 3.1 %
Sweden – 3.1 %
Canada – 2.7 %
Vietnam – 1.2 % *
(* Vietnam only generated “hunters” for white rhino trophy hunting and their nationals are widely acknowledged as a non-traditional hunting tourist, especially in Africa.)

The USA is traditionally a major hunting market internationally and within SA. Spain is fairly well-recognized, too, as a major trophy hunting nation, although far smaller than the US-hunter market. 

It is interesting to review CITES international data for trophy hunting imports into various nations between 2004 and 2008:

– The USA imported about 9000 CITES registered trophies from their foreign-hunting nationals
– During this period, Spain recorded 15-16% of the USA’s total, and
– Russia and Denmark each recorded about 5-6% of the total USA imported quantity over the same report cycle.

In reviewing South Africa’s EXPORT of trophies (as registered with CITES) during this 2004-8 period, I was appalled to see that lion trophies topped our primary exports – approximately 2500 of them.
What I found utterly disconcerting is that registered trophy exports from SA for hippos over this time numbered about 300!


Trying to extrapolate  data objectively is somewhat difficult, in terms of assessing whether or not “wildlife ranching” and/or rhino-hunting provides some kind of linkages to the growing scourge of “bloody” poaching in SA.

However, having said this, one cannot be blind to a very broad-brushstroke canvas that paints a deeply concerning picture.

Let’s look at some interesting facts:

(a) 2003 – 

CITES issues permits for 2 rhino horns and 9 rhino trophies to enter Vietnam.  This is quite telling, given that Vietnamese citizens have zero history of any form of trophy hunting, anywhere, at this particular point in time.

Total recorded number of rhino poached throughout SA in 2003 = 22
(2004 = 10 and 2005 = 13)

(b) From 2005 – 2007:

According to CITES statistics, during this 3 year period, 203 rhino hunts were undertaken by Vietnamese “hunter-tourists” in SA.

More importantly, CITES records for this period shows that potentially 406 horns (i.e. 2 x 203) should have been ‘exported’ from SA to Vietnam based on the hunt figures, but yet only 268 horns were ‘exported’.  This puts almost one-third of the alleged “hunt-booty” management under question.

For me – this period of poor management oversight and governance is precisely where the real rot starts to set in across our broad-based conservation and hunting/wildlife-ranching sectors.

The recorded figures for poached rhino across SA during this period are as follows, noting that averaged, the annual figures are about 5% of current annual poaching:

2005 : 13
2006 : 24
2007 : 13

Now – and quite importantly – during this time, looking at SANparks (SA national Parks, of which KNP is a mega-flagship) trading figures, revenues and expenditure needs were under significant pressure to create “self-sustaining” income streams.

One of many solutions was to increase the sale of white rhino – mainly from KNP – to the growing wildlife-ranching (and hunting) sector.

(c) Sale of rhino – national and provincial parks: 

According to research from Animal Rights Africa (ARA) –
http://www.animalrightsafrica.org/Archive/ARA_Report_Under_Siege_Rhinos_in_South_Africa2009_.pdf –

the following data shows some important trending:

– From 2003 – 2004, SANparks sales of rhino increased by around 50%;  and
– From 2005 – 2006,  this increase was approximately 60%.

During a related period, Ezemvelo (KZN provincial parks) recorded total white rhino sales, including ‘catalogue’ and ‘live’ as follows:

2004 – 37 rhino – R 4.275m;
2005 – 54 rhino – R 5.088m;
2006 – 33 rhino – R 4.405m; and
2007 – 70 rhino – R 14.678m.

I will return to this data shortly.

(d) Average sale price of rhino (2005-2007): 

Again according to ARA research, the average price of rhinos sold on auction (during this 3-year growth in Vietnamese trophy hunting) escalates as follows:

2005 – R 104 067;
2006 – R 113 028; and
2007 – R 181 818…i.e. a 61% increase in just one year!

(Out of interest, in 2008, it rose to an average price of R 235 353 – roughly double the price of 2006 – a mere 2 years earlier!)

(e) TOPS REGULATIONS – February 2008:

Another important feature of reviewing any link between hunting, commercial wildlife-ranching and poaching must relate to the 2008 TOPS (Threatened or Protected Species) legislation that came into force in February 2008.

This essentially relates to the embargo on local trade in rhinos and rhino horns without due nature conservation authority (i.e. via CITES), coupled with the need to micro-chip all rhino horns associated with licensed trophy hunts.


In trying to evaluate all this data, I wish to record that my research is incomplete, at this stage.

However – having said that – I can come to a very clear conclusion, broadly, based on the following quick overviews:

(1)  The 2003 – 2007 growth in hunting by Vietnamese nationals was utterly abnormal, given a previous 20-year trend in South and globally. CITES and the Department of Environmental Affairs in South Africa failed to notice such an abnormal trend and respond timeously;

(2) The growth of commercial wildlife-ranching and hunting in SA during this 5 year period has clearly shown that potential private sector hunters and owners of rhinos for commercial trade have a collective and direct influence on the abnormal growth in demand for rhino trophies (product) from the Far East (i.e. Vietnam and China), which has fueled a substantial increase investment in rhino “stock” (in my mind – read “cattle”). Accordingly, wildlife ranchers and private rhino owners have a collective obligation to address publicly their positions in this regard. This is the CRUX of the matter – for me, anyway.

Given the global dynamics of historical hunting countries and sources of hunting tourists, when compared with CITES’ extensive records on all trophy hunts of endangered species worldwide, then there is absolutely ZERO excuse for anyone – anywhere – CITES (and related agencies), the Department of Environmental Affairs in SA and our private sector, through wildlife-ranching and rhino purchasing/ownership – to not take immediate and urgent corrective action in 2007/8 when rhino-hunting species sales, rhino purchase demand and pricing increased abnormally.

(3)  If the due warning bells had triggered immediate and urgent corrective action in 2007/2008 – instead of being blinded by increased foreign earnings, and fund-raising specifically for national and provincial parks, then the poaching figures for 2008-2010 would surely not look like this:


(Reminder: 2004 – 10; 2005 – 13; 2006 – 24 and 2007 – 13)

2008 –  83;
2009 – 122;
2010 – 333.

(2011 stats show 382 as at 21 November 2011.)

This means that the average of  15 rhinos poached per year from 2004 – 2007 (4 years) increased by 529% in the period 2008 – 2010 (3 years).

SO –

Here’s my thinking:

– the growth of private wildlife ranching has lead to an increase in abnormal hunting patterns;

– the probability is strong that skills developed through private wildlife ranching development (and specifically rhino hunting on these ranches) has led to a transfer of knowledge and skills into the illegal, informal sector, given that the average wages of the 100 000 employees allegedly engaged in this broad sector is about 60% of the national basic wage average in SA…to my mind, wildlife ranchers and hunting outfits are known to trade in high worth stock and workers understand this and could feel marginalized, so rebel against unregulated employment structures by way of possibly assisting poachers so as to earn more income;

– despite the fact that WRSA and PROA promote their collective sectoral value-add to government, it remains highly dubious why government actively engages these parties in the wider rhino-poaching solution search (Minister’s Rhino Summit in 2010), when actual hunted rhino trophy fees were around one sixth of species hunting fees in 2009 and the sources were highly questionable; and

– given all this compelling information, it seems utterly without doubt that certain wildlife ranchers and rhino owners realized the merit in rhino hunting and erstwhile ownership – based on abnormal demand from the Far East (specifically Vietnam), but yet the respective WRSA and PROA executives continue to promote an ethos of responsible conservation. Why can’t they be completely honest? They are clearly farming rhino for commercial gain. That way we can engage them responsibly and objectively.

Right now – they are lying to our nation and the world.

I will say more, when I have more research, but meantime – I stand by my view at this point and I’m more than happy to debate this on this page – openly and transparently.

Brian Sandberg 
South Africa. 


24 Responses to “South Africa: “Hunting” Review, Wildlife Ranching & Rhinos”

  1. November 26, 2011 at 7:30 pm

    Thank you Brian. Very good read – lots of figures etc – a graph will probably do an argument like this justice!

    • November 26, 2011 at 7:36 pm

      Great, Allison – thanks!
      Will look at a few graphs I have in mind…been trying to gather stats!

  2. November 26, 2011 at 7:58 pm

    Thanks Brian for taking time to crunch the data and the courage to present your findings, albeit controversial.

    • November 26, 2011 at 9:04 pm

      Thanks, Margrit – appreciated.
      Time we all kinda knew where the real influences start to lie…

  3. November 26, 2011 at 9:36 pm

    …. absolutely amazing research and findings, thank you Brian Sandberg. Now let’s get that moratorium on rhino hunting permits (note to hunters: I am talking about RHINOS here, give the species time to recover at least, and solve the problem of handing out permits left, right and centre) and say NO to legalizing rhino horn trade… we do NOT have enough rhino to supply the demand for horn to flood the market! Rhino horn farmers – let your stockpiles burn … you should have thought of alternative ways to secure your pension funds before hoping that the trade will be legalized.

    • November 26, 2011 at 9:53 pm

      Thanks, Marche – I haven’t finished yet!

  4. 7 John
    November 26, 2011 at 9:47 pm

    Surely Mabunda and all senior managment at SANParks should be fired? They are clearly directly responsible for this appalling rhino carnage.
    Secondly – why are permits issues for elephants and leopard? I was under the impression that it was illegal to hunt them .

    • November 26, 2011 at 9:55 pm

      Agreed, John – but the buck doesn’t stop with SANparks.
      Methinks DEA and certain provinces also needs a butt-whipping!

  5. November 26, 2011 at 9:51 pm

    It makes even scarier reading when put like this.

    • November 26, 2011 at 10:29 pm

      Thanks, Corinna.

  6. 11 Barbara Wilkins
    November 26, 2011 at 10:13 pm

    Well written Brian. Interesting that PROA and WRSA are lobbying so hard to have the 2008 laws lifted, supposedly to stop the poaching when in actual fact the new laws meant that they were no longer able to supply the illegal rhino horn market themselves as easily as before. I have no doubt that they have (and still are) supplying horn – I would love to see an audit done on the farmers, like John Hume, who have been open about dehorning and stock piling, as to whether they can actually account for each horn. How many have already been sold to bankroll the movement for legalisation, buying off officials and who-knows what else. There is big money behind the movement for legalisation, it has to be coming from somewhere.

    • November 26, 2011 at 10:27 pm

      Barbara, thanks +++.
      You and I are exactly on the same page.
      My digging continues…until we understand all the political power-play dynamics, we’ll keep shooting in the dark. We need focused targets, with objective reasons for such!

  7. 13 South Africa Cares
    November 27, 2011 at 10:36 am

    Great article on the rhino crisis and the compexity that plagues us. Thank you, Brian, for your measured, realistic summary to such a complex and emotive issue. You truly are a thought–leader for Southern Africa.

  8. 14 Mark
    November 27, 2011 at 11:49 am

    Dear Brian, Thank you for the very interesting facts revealed, now you need to defines some objectives and possible solutions to the rhino poaching epedemic. I have always maintained that SAN Parks and the Provincial Conservation authorities are as much to blame as the private sector for the situation we are now in. Just check how rhinos were sold or auctioned, ‘by the inch’. If legalising the trade in rhino horn and products is not the solution then what is? Measures being taken presently are failing dismally, over 400 poached this year still and counting. From following these developments I suspect that worse is to follow.

    • November 27, 2011 at 12:09 pm

      Thanks, Mark – appreciated.
      I’m also very clear that both national & provincial parks carry a clear burden of responsibility, plus DEA.
      Some potential solutions are framing in my mind, and I’ll write further when I’ve finished digging…

      • 16 Mark
        November 27, 2011 at 3:24 pm

        Brian, Thank you for your prompt reply, it’s really good to have your objective, measured, non-sensational and non-sentimental focus on this battle that we are engaged in. I look forward to your future contribution and suggested solutions. Having seen first hand the direct linkage between the surge in demand for rhino horn, the tightening up of permit issued to bogus hunting clients and the subsequent poaching, I feel we need some kind of intervention that we have not tried before.

      • November 28, 2011 at 1:29 pm

        Mark, thanks, again –
        I’m but one single voice, but the response here (offline – via private mails and calls) has actually been overwhelming.
        I knew this was an emotive & conflicted topic, BUT…my eyes have been opened over 48 hours. Will write more as my thoughts distill.

  9. 18 Stephanie Blair
    November 27, 2011 at 3:32 pm

    Thank you Brian for such a well researched and well written article. The lines of responsibility and culpability have been clearly drawn.

    • November 27, 2011 at 4:18 pm

      Thanks, Stephanie!
      You’re so right about culpability – AND responsbility!

  10. 20 Hetty Vink
    November 28, 2011 at 1:46 am

    Tanks so much Brian for these stats all put together in this article. Please use this over and over again till the “penny drops”. My experience as a volunteer in SA have been the persistent claim that the private game reserves that exist for the hunting industry are valuable assets for conservation. ‘Conservation’ seem to have taken on different meanings:. I.e. a sable antelope born and bred in paddocks on a breeding farm, sold at action, and shot 2 weeks after being put on a game farm has zero ecological value. Yet I’m been told that thanks to the hunting industry they are saved from the brink of extinction (really…. to become what?)

    I wonder if you are aware of this kind of ‘conservation’ talk and anti elephant propaganda given to volunteers at a well know rehabilitation centre in the Hoedspruit area?

    • November 28, 2011 at 12:25 pm

      Thanks, Hetty. Hope it helps towards one more central reference point, coz I get a bit peeved scratching all over for various bits of data!

    • November 28, 2011 at 1:27 pm

      Hetty, BTW – am going to only focus on rhino here, without entering the wider “hunting” debate issue.
      However – having said that, one needs to be aware of all negative actions the general hunting industry takes, because those unethical practices actually undermine their entire credibility, in respect of rhino hunting – as an industry.
      And that important in formulating overall strategies…and who the related parties to any future national agreements might be.

  11. April 1, 2012 at 4:51 pm

    Hi Brian

    Very interesting reading indeed. Now we need our leaders to actually CARE. If you don’t don’t care about something you will never be motivated to make a change. It also amazes me how so many people can so easily be corrupted by money. Shame on them and their parents. How can they sleep at night? Thanks very much for your hard work.


    Paul Jennings

    • April 2, 2012 at 9:06 am

      Gosh, Paul – what a privilege to have you read and comment. Thank you.
      (For anyone who hasn’t heard of Paul, he and Sboniso “Spoon” Phakathi walked 2000km in mid-2011 from Musina – on SA’s northern border with Zimbabwe – to Cape Town to raise awareness of the rhino plight, especially amongst the schoolkids.)

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