About 17 million hectares of privately owned South African land are currently used for wildlife ranching and conservation, and on this land about 200,000 South Africans participate in a favourite recreational activity - 'biltong' hunting.
For the first time, the contribution these hunters make to the economy has been quantified, and the total tops three billion Rand. This is far more than is spent by overseas hunters searching for the biggest and the best trophy animals.
For many years, South Africa's professional hunters have kept records on who comes to the country to hunt which animals, and along the way have determined how much money is spent by the overseas clients.
However, much less was known about the nation's recreational hunters until a study conducted last year revealed how and where they spend their money.
The 'National profile and economic impact of biltong hunters in South Africa 2005' report is the first in-depth study ever to be conducted on recreational hunting inthe country. Dr Peet van der Merwe and Prof Melville Saayman from the University of the North West at Potchefstroom carried out the research, at the instigation of the South African Hunters and Game Conservation Association (SAHGCA).
The study partly came about to provide information for hunting associations that wished to lobby for changes to the stringent new firearms legislation. Questionnaires were sent out to the 23,000 members of the hunting association, and from the responses the researchers formed a profile of the average biltong hunter and his spending habits.
The typical biltong hunter in South Africa is a well-educated, married Afrikaans man aged between 40 and 64 who drives a Toyota bakkie. Almost 70 percent of the hunters had a post-matric qualification, and almost half earn more than R250,000 per year and are either self-employed, managers or professional people.
The three main reasons given for recreational hunting were for meat/biltong, for leisure/socialising and for trophies. Biltong hunting is clearly a social activity, as more than two-thirds of the people that responded to the survey said that they liked to hunt in a group, normally of four people. Hunters usually venture out into the bush on average three times each year, with less than a fifth hunting only once in the year.
Most of the biltong hunting was carried out in the Limpopo Province (37 percent), followed by the Northern Cape (15 percent) and the North West (14 percent). Of the animals most frequently hunted, springbok top the list, followed by impala, blesbuck, kudu and warthog.
Surprisingly, the top five revenue generating animals are not the same as the most frequently hunted animals, being kudu, blue wildebeest, impala, gemsbok and springbok. Excluding the cost of game, the average hunter spends just over R4,000 each hunting season on accommodation, fuel, food, drinks, ammunition, meat processing and other incidental costs.
According to Theo Venter, a vice president with the SAHGCA, hunters are spending more money these days on 'gadgets' for their guns, as the new gun laws make buying new weapons more difficult. Added to this is the cost of the animals that are hunted, which averages out at R11,600.
With an estimated 200,000 biltong hunters in the country, the researchers estimate that the hunters spend R3,120,474,000 each year. In comparison, the Professional Hunters Association of South Africa (Phasa) reports that in the 2005 hunting season, some 8,000 clients (including non-hunters) spent about R650 million on daily rates, animals hunted and taxidermy work.
However, several of the country's major hunting associations recently made a joint presentation to the parliamentary portfolio committee on safety and security, which estimated that the biltong and professional hunting industry combined contributed R7,7 billion to the national economy.
This was when the value of firearm and hunting permits, books, medical, game auctions, infrastructure, vehicles, lodges and tourism, taxidermy, and game translocation were added to the tally. However, the factor that pushed the bottom line into big digits was the cost of the labour that keeps the wheels of the industry turning - this is estimated to top R1.6 billion.
As well as all these direct costs, the value of the 9,000 game farms that have hunting exemption is estimated at R20 billion. With the 2005 benchmark study behind them, Venter says that the SAHGCA will invest in a second study during next year's hunting season, with a few refinements to the questionnaire. This will allow them to pick up trends, and gain a better picture of the country's average biltong hunter and his contribution to the economy.