South Africa's thriving game farming industry caters to eco-toursim and hunting enthusiasts from around the world. As Sonia Legg reports, it is also injecting billions of rands into an economy struggling since a 2009 recession.
They're big animals and they fetch big bucks $3.6 million was paid for just one buffalo at a recent auction in South Africa. Game farming - for meat and trophy hunting - is now the country's third largest agricultural industry. It generates more than half a billion dollars every year and has seen 20% annual growth for the past 15 years. Wiaan van der Linde is Director of Wildlife Ranch South Africa. (SOUNDBITE) (English) DIRECTOR OF WILDLIFE RANCH SOUTH AFRICA, WIAAN VAN DER LINDE, SAYING: "It started off with just normal plains game and then the rare game breeding started and then people start to invest in that and nowadays for every one worker in the commercial farm industry we give up to six people work. Our payment per month is much higher because we work with skilled people." The trade began in 1991 after game ownership became legal. Private game ranches now have more than 16 million wild animals - 10 million more than public parks. With yield returns higher than the local stock market entrepreneurs are gathering in herds. Fana Moraka made his money from surveillance cameras. (SOUNDBITE) (English) BUSINESSMAN, FANA MORAKA, SAYING: "What's happening in the country right now, the economy you get the best return on investment. Game breeding, buying and selling animals that seems to be doing very well at the moment." Leon Grobler has been farming game for 10 years. He says the focus now is breeding healthier and bigger animals. (SOUNDBITE) (English) FARMER, LEON GROBLER, SAYING: "We're in the business to make money obviously, but also conserving the animals and making it a better breed and much more" For a country which makes much of its money by protecting wildlife, it is perhaps unusual that an industry that kills game is doing so well. But those involved say conservationists need not worry - Cherie Du Toit is Creator at Wildlife Auction South Africa. (SOUNDBITE) (English) WILDLIFE AUCTION SOUTH AFRICA CREATOR, CHERIE DU TOIT, SAYING: "Most game farmers farm wisely, they move their animals to different camps after a couple of years they sell the animals off. They bring in new blood all the time. Because you are not going to get a price on your animal if you inbreed." Game farming is clearly helping an economy still in the doldrums five years after a recession. But there are concerns it's only a rich man's game. South Africa's Deputy President recently sold a buffalo bull for $2.6 million. That raised a few eyebrows in a country still struggling with poverty and unemployment.