As a result of continued transformation of South Africa’s (SA) wildlife sector, the animals released at Aphamo Boerdery (Farm) in North West, could not have come at a more opportune time. The world celebrated the International Day for Biological Diversity over the weekend.

Minister Barbary Creecy of the National Forestry, Fisheries and Environment Department (NFED), said the donation of more than 350 wild animals was a “celebration of government’s commitment to developing the wildlife economy as part of the transformative obligations within the sector.” 

The theme of this year’s International Day for Biological Diversity, We’re part of the Solution for Nature, was in perfect harmony with the SANParks-NFED programme.Eight successful emerging game farmers and communities in the North West province in SA, received more than 350 zebra, red hartebeest, gemsbok, eland and giraffe.

During the event, the minister said that this year’s theme increased awareness of the role biodiversity plays, not only in the lives of people, but also in the role people play in nature and the implementation of nature-based solutions to climate issues and in creating sustainable livelihoods.

The handover of wildlife is part of SANPark’s socio-economic transformation interventions to donate more than 3 000 wild animals over 3 years to communities and emerging game farmers. This initiative was started in 2018 with the NFED joining the programme with the aim of redressing the historic exclusion of people from owning wildlife by creating opportunities for communities and emerging game farmers.

Minister Creecy said that the release of the animals came after the publication earlier this month of the findings and recommendations of the High Level Panel (HLP). This governmental task force reviews policies, regulatory measures and existing practices and policies related to hunting, trade, captive keeping, management and proper handling of elephant, lion, leopard and rhinoceros.

While the report had focused on providing policy certainty and reducing bureaucracy and red tape, it also emphasised the need to better balance the country’s economic, social, cultural and natural heritage needs, including re-imagining the role of state and private protected areas in contributing to ecologically sustainable rural development.

According to the minister, it placed communities living with wildlife at the centre of government’s plans, requiring greater focus on enhancing human-wildlife co-existence and transformative approaches to access and benefit sharing for communities living on the edges of protected areas.

The HLP had highlighted a need for a renewed focus on transforming the ownership and management of commercial wildlife businesses, particularly within the eco-tourism and authentic hunting sectors. It also called for the urgent termination of certain inhumane and irresponsible practices harming the country’s international reputation. The HLP recommendations would be applied to develop a Biodiversity Conservation and Sustainable Use Policy and the planned adoption of a single welfare approach for wildlife.

“Transformation of the sector will continue to be prioritised, in terms of improved inclusion of marginalised groups, especially communities living with or adjacent to these species and in the role and influence of traditional leaders and healers in the wildlife sector,” Minister Creecy. She once again reiterated the urgency for reinvigorating the biodiversity economy through a focus on Big Five-based ecotourism and authentic hunting practises of wild animals.

She told key role players that the country’s wildlife industry would not realise its full potential if the majority of the population remained on the economic fringes with no meaningful participation in this industry.

As a number aspirant game farmers wished to participate, it necessitated interventions such as bridging the historic gaps of “haves” and “have nots”. The minister also called on the private sector to ensure proper access to land, capital, tools and education for the up-and-coming game farmers of the future.

 The biodiversity economy is an important contributor to job creation in SA and currently sustains more than 418 000 jobs with over 256 000 of those from the extractive use of biodiversity such as hunting of wild animals, fishing and harvesting of wild plant species for bio-prospecting, bio-trade and traditional medicines.