A wildlife ranching operation, including hunting and breeding of game, has seen three Karoo farmers win the Eastern Cape Wildlife Rancher of the Year award.
Under the banner of Outpost Game Breeders, directors of operations John Ayliff and Werner Nortje and general manager Andrew Parsons were recognised for their efforts at last month’s gala awards function at the Fish River Sun resort.
“It’s really great for us as we have been developing our property for four years; building and fencing,” said Ayliff from their operation situated between Cradock and Tarkastad.
“Now that we are finishing off our building project our animals are at the point where we have started selling rare game to the breeding market, namely sable, roan and buffalo.
“It’s really great to get this recognition and exposure,” he said.
Wildlife Ranching South Africa (WRSA) represent the interests of wildlife ranchers – or game farmers – and this year the Eastern Cape branch became the first provincial body to host a formal conference and awards ceremony.
Ayliff said they had set up a good working combination of a hunting and game-breeding farming operation.
“Our intensive breeding camps are tucked away and do not have an impact on the hunting aspect. Of the 6 000 hectares, only 450 form part of the intensive camp systems.”
He said their young bulls were removed when they were between 12 and 15 months old and relocated to the farthest section of the property – where there was minimal human and vehicle interaction – to grow out.
Ayliff said they focused on veld restoration as well, packing gabions to prevent soil erosion. According to him, they also had programmes in place to empower their staff with knowledge and skills.
Although wildlife ranching has been in place since 1994, Ayliff said their operation started in earnest three years ago with the acquisition of breeding herds of rare game, sable, roan, buffalo and bontebok.
“We have over 30 species of game on the property. Our aim is to produce animals of high trophy quality for the hunting side of our business.”
He added that he and his partners had a passion for wildlife, mainly in the form of hunting.
“But, for there to be sustainable numbers for hunting, one needs to ensure that the various populations are healthy to ensure growth.
“We want to show that sustainable hunting and the hunting industry in general have been the reason for the growth of the wildlife industry, as well as providing potential lucrative investment opportunities.”
Ayliff said the industry faced several challenges.
“One of them is pressure on the veld, since it’s very hard to rotate and rest areas.
“There is also the perception of livestock farming neighbours with regards to predator control, market perception and sustainability.”
He was positive that marketing and positive experiences would help wildlife ranching in the long-term as negatives came with some people “trying to make a quick buck in the industry”.
“The gap needs to be bridged between the breeders and hunters. In the meantime, it’s just a privilege for us to make a living out of wildlife and to be able to work so closely with it.”
The finalists who received awards were:
Best Newcomer: Warren Rieger (Benghoil Private Reserve)
Young Rancher of the Year: Emmanuel Nel (Kwandwe Signature Wildlife)
Sustainable Development Award: John Rance (Kei River Reserve)
Best Herd Award: Rob Hobson (Swartrivier Wildlife)
Eastern Cape Wildlife Rancher of the Year: Andrew Parsons, Werner Nortje, John Ayliff (Outpost Game Breeders)
Lifetime Appreciation Awards: Jaap Pienaar (Department Environmental Affairs – retired), Henry McCarthy (NMMU Department Agriculture and Game Ranch Management), Mary Lou Dixon (former WRSA-EC secretary).
Caption: The Outpost Game Breeders wildlife farm breeds a wide variety of game for hunting purposes. Owners John Ayliff, Werner Nortje and Andrew Parsons won the Wildlife Rancher of the Year award at the Eastern Cape body’s awards evening. Photo: Supplied