HOLD State project to donate game 'not sustainable' without proper support
'Lack of knowledge in managing wildlife can lead to losses'
Wildlife NGOs have warned that issues of land ownership, capital investment and skills development remained major obstacles in a government-led project to donate game to rural communities.
Since 2016 the Department of Environmental Affairs has donated 821 wild animals to hinterland communities as part of an effort to “unlock the economic potential of the biodiversity sector and transform it accordingly”.
That figure is expected to grow to nearly 6,000 animals with donations coming from the South African National Parks (Sanparks), Ezemvelo KZN wildlife and Eastern Cape Parks and Tourism Agency over a period of five years.
So far 21 communities and individuals in Limpopo and the Northern and Eastern Cape have received a varying contribution of zebra, hippos, buffalo and a variety of antelope.The Biodiversity Economy Lab, under which the project operates, is an Operation Phakisa initiative and is in line with government’s National Development Plan.
The DEA has spent about R66-million over the past three years in support of the wildlife project initiatives.
The key outcomes of the project are to transform the biodiversity economy sector and include previously disadvantaged individuals in it, through eco-tourism and socio-economic development.
According to the DEA the sector has seen annual growth of up to six percent in recent years, and has set a goal to grow the figure to 10% by 2030.
But conservation group the Endangered Wildlife Trust warned that conservation policies that did not take market forces into account were likely to fail.
EWT project manager Andrew Taylor said policies that did not include capacity-building in communities were likely to “not be sustainable in the long term”.
“Assisting communities with game donations should provide incentives to conserve wildlife, leading to a greater likelihood of long-term conservation success,” Taylor said.
According to Taylor, the main problems that have arisen when bringing communities into the wildlife sector included high investment costs (land, fencing, infrastructure), lack of training in business development for the communities and absence of title deeds on reclaimed land prohibiting the communities from proving ownership and getting the necessary loans to start wildlife businesses.
“The lack of knowledge in managing wildlife can lead to losses of animals,” said Taylor.
But DEA spokesperson Albie Modise said the department had provided support for infrastructure development in cases where the communal property did not have suitable infrastructure to keep the game.
“DEA in partnership with industry and training institutions also provides ongoing capacity building and training to the community entities,” he said.
According to Modise, site assessments are also conducted before the game donations are approved.But there were no clear criteria by which individuals and communities qualified for donations, with Modise saying the department was “currently working” on developing a framework policy.
One of the DEA’s subsidiaries and key project partners, Sanparks, said that care would be taken to minimise risks of animals living alongside communities by providing adequate infrastructure and skilling of these communities on game farm management.
“It needs to also be noted that some of the communities where animals will be moved to already have a limited number of game species on their communal land,” said Sanparks spokesperson Isaac Phaahla.
Taylor said the animals risked being placed in non-viable conditions without access to sufficient space, food and water. And the people risk having a failed business and loss of livelihood.
“However, these risks can be mitigated by proper planning and capacity building before game are donated,” he said.