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South Africa’s game farm industry is booming

08 Dec 2015

Real estate companies involved in game farms and game lodges in Southern Africa have seen good growth over the last ten years.

This 1 367ha farm for sale in Upington offers good grass veld, four boreholes and game fencing, as well as springbok, gemsbok and other small game varieties. It is on the market for R3.85 million - click here to view.

This is according to Gavin Commins, Chief Executive of The Valuator Group, who says in the last decade their group has seen a massive increase in the number of requests for valuing these farms and the wild animal stock on them.

“We foresaw that there would be a swing from conventional stock farms to game reserves, and set up a specialist team to cater for this,” he says.

“Our team is served by several specialists, most notably a qualified ecologist, Greg Seymour, who has become The Valuator Group’s specialist game valuer.

Commins says the trend to convert conventional farms to game farms came about when many farmers were battling to make ends meet. Droughts and adverse market prices have frequently resulted in farmers being overtaken by debt and having to sell, even though in some cases the land had been owned by their families for a century or more.

Many might have lost their farms forever had they not had the option of becoming game farms, he says.

Distressed farms were sometimes bought out by investors who had awoken to the fact that game farms and game lodges were becoming the flavour of the month and could be very profitable, says Commins.

This 4 740ha farm selling in Kakamas is included in a Leopard Conservation and Research project, and lends itself towards the farming and breeding of exclusive game varieties. The property is close to the Augrabies Falls National Park, and is an operational lodge being sold as a going concern. It is on sale for R19.8 million, which includes all furniture, equipment and vehicles - click here to view.

Sometimes the new buyers worked with the previous farm owners, but he says in many cases they brought in their own specialist staff, including specialist wildlife veterinarians, who played a very significant role in this sector.

“We have no reliable figures to work on, but we know that in the early 1980s there were very few game reserves in South Africa outside the traditional areas linked to the Kruger Park,” he says.

“Today, believe it or not, the figure is at more than 2 000. As I have indicated, the rise has been phenomenal.”

Commins says this rise in the number of game farms was complemented by three other new trends. The first was a related rise in the number of game auctions, some of which are now held at regular intervals annually, biannually or even more often.

The second was a big increase in high-priced hunting establishments catering for the affluent amateur hunter, and in most cases operating under very strict government controls and conservation principles.

The third new trend, and this has been particularly noticeable in South Africa, has been a swing towards estate management and controlled breeding programmes, and here the wildlife veterinarians have proved invaluable, says Commins.

This 160ha game farm for sale is located about 40km from Kimberley. It has a borehole, some game, game fencing, and all implements are included in the sale. It is selling for R3.18 million - click here to view.

He says the aim of these innovations has been to ensure that, as in the agricultural sector, the stock is continually improved along with the animals’ appearance and their ability to resist disease and tough climatic conditions.

Following on from this, Commins says certain game farm breeders have also become exceptionally clever in learning how to breed the rarer, more exotic species such as black and red impala and golden wildebeest, which in today’s market command very high prices.

“The escalation in the price of wild animals has been higher than any previous forecasts could have foreseen. In some cases new world records have been set,” says Commins.

“A buffalo bull sold last year for R40 million is just one example. Recently a kudu bull was sold for R9 million and a sable antelope bull for R12 million.”

Although certain stock, notably elephants, are not in short supply and do not command high prices, he says the rarer, more precious game animals will sell between R700 000 and R1 million.

This 600ha game farm and lodge is on the market in the Barkly West district near Jan Kempdorp. It has a lapa, swimming pool, hunter lodgings and self-catering accommodation to accommodate a total of up to 16 people. It is on sale for R8.5 million - click here to view.

“Many of these are not the large species with which we are all familiar.”

As found in the vineyard and wine producing sector and in horse breeding and horse racing, Commins says many of today’s game farm buyers are in syndicates and are quite possibly new to this type of investment.

He says their lack of experience makes it all the more important that fair, accurate and market-related valuations are obtainable for insurance and other purposes.

“Some of those who did not make use of a good valuation service have overpaid or under- or over-insured to an almost ludicrous degree,” says Commins.

He says game farms are one sector in which the profits can be very satisfactory indeed, but it is also a sector in which the investor will be well advised to tread warily.

“If, of course, the purchase is made purely for lifestyle reasons without regard to profit our services may be less valuable, but the vast majority of game farm and game lodge buyers are moving in here for hard-headed business reasons,” says Commins.

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