Do you ever wonder where private game reserves and conservationists get their animals? Unlike Namibia, where the game runs wild and there are few, if any, fences, nearly the whole of South Africa is fenced. You can tell the difference between a farmer’s fence and a nature reserve fence by its overall height. Game reserve fences are nearly 3 meters high, in a futile attempt to keep the Kudu antelope inside the area!
This year marked the Inaugural Great Frontier Game Sale on a rainy Saturday at the Sidbury Country Club near the Shamwari Game Reserve in the Eastern Cape. The day’s activities began early in the morning with the possibility to view some of the animal stock up for auction before the “we’ll start at 6000, we’ll start at 6000, does anyone bid 6000, how about 5500? Do I have 5500, 5500; how about 5000 Rand” began shortly after noontime. If you’ve ever been to an auction, livestock or estate sale, anywhere in the U.S., you could have been at Sidbury.
There were two parts to the auction. Livestock was auctioned in a Boma sale. Boma’s are wood-fenced enclosures on a private game reserve or farmer’s property into which the animals for sale have been herded or isolated. The Impala herd, on the right, was offered by Shamwari in 7 lots, each of which had 1-2 males, up to 11 females, and 6-8 juveniles. When bid upon, the bid price was for one individual, and that figure was used to determine the lot price. Impala, a relatively inexpensive bok, went from R 980 ($114; 4/2013 exchange rate) to R 1120 ($125) per antelope. Black Impala, “the flavor of the month,” sold at R 140,000 ($15,500) per individual!
Waterbok, on the other hand, were in short supply. Similar to the Impala, each lot consisted of 1 male, up to 5 females, and 1-2 juveniles. This antelope is “distinguished” by a white ring around its “bum,” and the story is told that these bok were the first onto Noah’s Ark. You may ask, “how can you tell?” They were the first to sit upon the freshly painted toilet seats. Waterbok are a bit more expensive than Impala, fetching a per animal price of R 2500 ($275).
Blesbok are common on the South African plains, easily identified as an adult by the presence of a white face and forehead. This antelope, found in very large numbers in most national parks and game reserves, is endemic to South Africa. Both sexes develop horns, but it is only the males that use them for territorial battles. Due to the species’ proliferation in captivity, lots of Blesbok included 2 males, 6-7 females, and 1-2 juveniles. And, as you may suspect, their large numbers in the standing population results in a price near that of an Impala. Blesbok sold for R 1150 ($130) to R 1200 ($135) per individual.
Red Hartebeest, another common antelope, sold in lots of 10 individuals, bringing a price per animal of R 3100 ($350). This bok, originally restricted in its distribution to South Africa, is reddish-fawn in color, with a sloping back and a long narrow face. Both sexes develop heavily ringed horns, with the male using these to defend his herd. But, unlike other antelope, bulls often present themselves on prominent mounds and mark their territories with dung piles.
Nyala, sometimes referred to as the inyala, is a spiral-horned antelope that is native to southern Africa. Only individual males were up for auction on this Saturday, and each male was kept in a separate Boma. Males appear more charcoal-grey in color; females are brownish with white stripes running from their back to the abdomen. Only the rams develop long, inward curved horns and white markings on their face that are in a chevron pattern. Juvenile males are color patterned similar to females, and it is thought that this camouflages protects them from the dominant bulls. What is the auction price for one of the male Nyala? Prices ranged from R 6750 ($750) to R 13,500 ($1500); most sold in the R 7600 ($850) price range.
The largest antelope on the African plains is the Eland (Taurotragus oryx). Males can grow to a height of nearly 2 meters, and weigh in at nearly 900 kg (2000 lbs). This is one big antelope. Both sexes have a slight hump at the shoulders and a prominent dewlap, and the horns of both sexes slant backwards. At maturity, the horns may reach lengths of up to 1 meter! This antelope is special in that the herd congregates to provide a nursery for its young, with each female birthing a single calf, allowing for nutrition of all. These animals are susceptible to Heartwater, a disease of domesticated livestock, and individuals are sold that are guaranteed against the disease. At R 6600 ($735) per animal, diseased livestock could cost you some bucks.
Africa’s native horse, the zebra, is a staple of national parks and game reserves, alike. The common plains zebra, a browser, is the striped horse. Individuals were being sold at R 4000-4900 ($450-500 each), because the animals are very adaptable. Zebra thrive in a variety of habitats including grasslands, savannas, woodlands, thorny scrublands, mountains, and coastal hills. Either lots of only males or females were auctioned on this day, with the intent that the males would establish their own “harems” at their new reserve, or females would become a new “harem” wherever they were taken.
Although Rhino were up for sale, none were available for inspection due to the increasing number of poachers looking to take their horns for sale in the Chinese market. The largest animal on exhibit in the Boma was the African (Cape) Buffalo. This is one of the BIG FIVE and are found commonly in protected wildlife areas where there is sufficient water for their survival. Only young animals (3-8 years old), with “a lot of breeding left in [her] them,” were for sale. Mature animals can attain a height of 2 meters and males weigh in at up to 700 kg (1500 lb). Several animals did not sell, even though the asking price of R 180,000-280,00 ($20,000-$31,000) for pregnant females was below the reserve. Males sold for between R48,000 ($5300) and R 95,000 ($10,550), with a record sale of R 420,000 ($47,000) for Lot No. 80.
The most expensive animal, though wasn’t the Rhino. Most owners see this animal as a bad investment because of the high potential to have it killed by poachers for its horn. Rather, to our surprise, the Golden Wildebeest (Gnu) saw the highest price. These animals were being auctioned off at a beginning bid of R 500,000 ($56,000), with no takers even when the price was reduced to R 320,000 ($36,000)! And, when a loud beeping was heard during the bidding for these animals, all the auctioneer could say was “You know its South Africa when you hear a car alarm go off. Someone’s been broken into. Good luck with that.”