Some of South Africa’s naturally-born big game are getting temporary stays of execution as ranchers breed genetically modified animals to hunt. The controversial though lucrative enterprise dismays conservationists as much as it gratifies breeders. The growing trend is part of South Africa’s $1 billion big game hunting industry and, as a result, the country is experiencing a steady increase in its population of wild, unmutated animals.
Wealthy patrons pay tour operators tens of thousands of pounds — per genetically engineered animal — to hunt in luxury safari settings. A high-end package from Africa Hunt Lodge charges a premium to hunt mutant animals — much more than their non-GMO counterparts. For comparison, an ordinary blue wildebeest costs £600 to hunt while a “mutant” golden wildebeest costs £33,000. Here’s another example: a genetically engineered black impala is £30,000 to kill, 100 times more than an impala with normal markings.
An increasing number of farmers and ranchers breed these unusual animals instead of managing crops and raising cattle. Barry York, a breeder of mutant animals, gave up farming and beef cattle breeding for fear of going broke over massive veterinary fees and vaccines. Now, he breeds and sells exotic animals, which in essence conserves the “The Big Five” population and South African fields.
Retired University of Pretoria wildlife management professor Wouter van Hoven agrees. “Not a single country in the world has seen such a large increase in animal numbers over the last 50 years.”
Though conservationists like Peter Flack argue that the “animals are Frankenstein freaks of nature”, the practice continues to attract breeders and affluent hunters. As long as the process reaps profits, ranchers will continue to sow mutant species.