Certain factions of environmentalism raise old canards in response to the publication for public comment of a National Biodiversity Economy Strategy.

The Minister of Forestry, Fisheries, and the Environment, Barbara Creecy, has published the revised draft National Biodiversity Economy Strategy (NBES) for public comment.

The NBES aims to provide a comprehensive framework for economic activity based on and around South Africa’s abundant plant and animal resources, both on land and at sea.

It seeks to ‘leverage the biodiversity economy to promote conservation and species and ecosystem management, thereby ensuring a positive feedback loop’, and to ‘promote growth and transformation of the biodiversity economy.’

In pursuit of these imperatives, it sets out four strategic goals, namely ‘leveraging biodiversity-based features to scale inclusive ecotourism industry growth in seascapes and in sustainable conservation land-use’, ‘consumptive use of game from extensive wildlife systems at scale that drive transformation and expanded sustainable conservation compatible land-use’, ‘consumptive use of wild and produced marine and freshwater resources that drives inclusive coastal socio-economic development’, and ‘well-structured, inclusive, integrated and formalised bioprospecting, biotrade, and biodiversity-based harvesting and production sector that beneficiates (sic) communities’.

Public outcry

After a public outcry, the hasty two-week public comment period which would have ended today has been extended by 14 days to 5 April 2024. The Gazetted notice, including the NBES itself, can be viewed here.

Said outcry, however, also split the commentariat in twain, along familiar lines. On one side, there are those who believe that wildlife, and indeed nature itself, has rights upon which humans are not entitled to intrude, and certainly not for profit. One may call them the animal rights faction. They follow an ideology which I challenged not so long ago.

On the other are those, including the government, who believe that (to quote section 24 of the Bill of Rights in the South African Constitution, and adding my own italics): ‘Everyone has the right to have the environment protected, for the benefit of present and future generations, through reasonable legislative and other measures that prevent pollution and ecological degradation, promote conservation, and secure ecologically sustainable development and use of natural resources while promoting justifiable economic and social development.’

In principle, I am with the government on this point. So is a well-developed body of international law, dating back to the World Conservation Strategy of 1980, and reaffirmed in several subsequent treaties, that environmental conservation cannot be separated from human development.

The view that we ought to leave nature largely undisturbed is an elitist view, held by those who became well off by the large-scale destruction of nature in the past. It not only ignores the legitimate needs and wants of poor people in developing countries, but often stoops to actual misanthropy, prioritising the sanctity of nature over the living standards of people.

Our challenge is not to merely preserve nature, but to conserve our natural resources and biodiversity while ‘equitably sharing the benefits of nature’. It is, to quote the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework adopted by the UN Conference of the Parties to the convention on Biological Diversity, to enable ‘responsible and sustainable socioeconomic development that, at the same time, contributes to the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity’.

Consumptive use

A typical pearl-clutching article is this one, in Daily Maverick by Don Pinnock. While it reluctantly recognises the basic principles of sustainable development, it panics about the idea of consumptive (but sustainable) use of natural resources, including wildlife.

On one hand, I entirely agree that governments are poor planners, and the NBES has all the hallmarks of Soviet-style central planning. That the government will be able to implement even half of it, while protecting biodiversity at the same time, is highly doubtful.

That doesn’t invalidate the basic principle that people have a right to the sustainable use of their natural environment, however.

Broadly speaking, humanity has a duty to actively manage its remaining wild resources. It has decimated them, shoved them onto marginal land, and fenced them in. To say that nature should now simply take its course without further human intervention is to abdicate responsibility for our own actions.


More particularly, the article I cited above raises several canards that are associated with the radical animal rights movement.

Pinnock seems horrified at the idea of ‘biodiversity business’, ‘where hunting, bioprospecting and tourism would monetise wild animals and plants for “consumptive use”’.

This glosses over the fact that three quarters of South Africa’s land under game, and three quarters of its game, are protected on private game reserves, game ranches, and game farms. These ranches have brought a number of species back from the brink of extinction, while, by contrast, poaching has decimated herds in South Africa’s national parks.

I know that environmental elitists sniff at the notion of private-sector conservation, but while there are certainly some serious issues with some of these establishments, and their often small-scale, fragmentary nature is less than ideal, they are also often more effective at sustaining productive ecosystems than the government is in our national parks.

The article quotes a Dr Ross Harvey (whose doctorate is in economics), who opposes trophy hunting, saying: ‘robust research…shows that the opportunity costs of trophy hunting in SA render the practice unsustainable’.

Unfortunately, this ‘robust research’ isn’t shared with the readers, nor is the opportunity cost. Most likely, it doesn’t exist.

Game ranching

The brutal reality, according to Prof Wouter van Hoven, is that the holy grail of the radical environmentalists, eco-tourism, pays for only 5% of private land under game. Seven percent is accounted for by meat production, 16% of revenue comes from live animal sales, 18% comes from foreign hunters, and local hunters account for the remaining 54% of game ranch revenue in South Africa.

This is why game thrives on private property, and poaching does not.

Many reserves in Southern Africa operate almost exclusively on hunting revenue. Many are far off the beaten tourist track, and far from the scenic landscapes eco-tourists prefer.

Eliminating hunting revenue would be catastrophic for much of the land under private conservation now, and for millions of head of game. Perhaps plans to develop the game meat industry could pick up some of the slack, but eco-tourism certainly won’t.

Much of the land under game today would simply be converted to cattle ranches, crop farming, or industrial development if game farming became economically unsustainable.

Hunting and legal trade

‘A big problem with hunting — as many countries in Africa that allow it have found — is that it permits poaching to be laundered within the legal framework,’ the article claims, again without presenting any evidence.

That’s because the actual evidence is that banning hunting and the legal trade in animal products only encourages poaching. Kenya, which banned game hunting in 1977, has seen more than 80% of its game disappear, at the same time as game numbers boomed in South Africa, where hunting was not only legal, but was encouraged by strengthening private property in wildlife.

Kenya has in recent years turned the tide against poaching, but it did so by working with private ranches and giving local communities stakes in the revenue derived from wildlife.

Modern technology has also helped tremendously in the fight against poaching, although it is often more widely deployed by private game owners than by governments responsible for national parks.

The claim that legal hunting or legal trade provides cover for poaching is contradicted by all evidence from all commodities – not only wildlife products.

Ban tobacco (as South Africa famously did, recently) and illicit manufacturers will step into the breech. To this day, the legitimate industry has not regained the market share they lost to the black market during the short-lived Dr Zol ban.

The same is true for anything else you ban. Banning trade stimulates black markets. Legalising trade suppresses them, by reducing the incentives for illegal trade.

Internal contradictions

The article illustrates its own internal contradictions when it wonders what will happen to the ‘captive’ lions (to use the prejudicial term used for all lions living in private game reserves, game ranches and game farms, as opposed to state-owned protected areas).

‘The [NBES] plan also raises questions about the future of captive-bred lion farming, which Creecy has vowed to close down and has appointed a team to plan this,’ it reads, clumsily tripping over grammar hurdles. ‘There are an estimated 10 000 to 12 000 lions on these farms. Will they be euthanised or offered to hunters…?’

Well, yeah, that’s the conundrum, isn’t it? Will you kill them all right now, because you cannot tolerate the thought of hunting, or will you hunt a few of them in order to sustain the rest – and the other game on these ranches – plus provide socio-economic support for people involved in or employed by the game ranching business? (Game ranches on average employ more workers at higher wages than agriculture farms, by the way.)

The government is on the side of socio-economic benefits for the people. While I’m skeptical of all government planning, and particularly of this government’s planning, I cannot dispute the principle that conserving our biodiversity must go hand-in-hand with developing the socio-economic potential of our wild plant and animal resources.

Environmentalists who cannot accept that ought to be frozen out of the conversation. They’re simply not relevant.

The views of the writer are not necessarily the views of the Daily Friend or the IRR

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Image: Giraffes in the South African bushveld. Photograph used under Creative Commons CC0 licence.


Ivo Vegter is a freelance journalist, columnist and speaker who loves debunking myths and misconceptions, and addresses topics from the perspective of individual liberty and free markets.