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The High Fence: Benefit or Detriment to Wildlife?

The high fence. To some, it represents an unethical way of hunting. To others, it’s an indispensable wildlife management tool. And in South Africa, with over 9000 private game reserves throughout the country, an understanding of the how and why of the high fence may make your hunting experience more enjoyable.

In the United States, and other common law countries, the wildlife was owned by the sovereign, or the government. In the 1970’s, South Africa changed this policy to vest ownership of the wildlife with the landowner. At the time, the South African landscape was dominated by cattle and sheep ranches; animals that were hard on the environment and devastating to the indigenous wildlife. But when the South African rancher became the owner of the resident wildlife, the rural business model began to change. Native wildlife less labor-intensive, less expensive to maintain, and did not have the detrimental effect on the land of domestic stock. Given the incentive of profit, game fences went up, and more and more species were reintroduced, and numbers began to grow exponentially. Today, there are more species of game animals in South Africa than anywhere on earth. In fact, there are more animals in South Africa today than when the Dutch arrived in the 17th century.

And talk about conservation success. Due to sustained use management practices, species like the white rhino, on the verge of extinction just 30 years ago, and despite rampant poaching today, now flourish in South Africa, with a population of over 18,000 animals.

Most South African hunting properties are large, usually containing thousands of acres per property, and the fence seldom comes into play when hunting. In all my years in South Africa, I can truthfully say the fence has never created a situation that would violate the rules of fair chase. But the fence HAS created a situation of putting an economic value on game animals, and because of this incentivized ownership, wildlife flourishes today, as do the hunting opportunities.

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