Kudu bull at a waterhole

The Evolution of High Fences in South Africa

South African outfitters always hear the same question: “Is your hunting area high fenced?” The standard answer goes something like this, “Over 95% of hunts that take place in South Africa occur behind high fenced properties. Even the Kruger National Park, an area larger than the size of Israel is high fenced.” And yet, American and European hunters who are not familiar with the specific and in many ways unique South African hunting industry get the wrong impression from the answer. They immediately have the feeling of numerous tiny enclosures where the Sable and the Buffalo are confined as in a zoo or a safari park. Why is fencing essential for the South African hunting industry, and how did these fences come about? 

There are many reasons for landowners, including the National Parks, to fence off their land:

Historically

Game was first used as a source of food for the pioneers who developed Africa. With the march of civilization, agricultural production had to increase to feed the ever growing human population, and wildlife got in the way. Millions of wild animals were slaughtered by paid bounty hunters, to get rid of the competition for grazing areas with domestic livestock. The goal was not to hunt wildlife, but to eradicate it completely. 

Human Wildlife Conflict

Since the beginning of history, humans shared an inherent fear of wild animals, especially predators. Dangerous game animals, such as lions and leopards, hippos and elephants, pose a direct threat to our life and health, bearing the brunt of the human-wildlife competition for land. After humankind switched to agriculture, other wildlife became a different kind of threat, destroying valuable resources. The graceful Kudu, for instance, can do unbelievable damage to crop fields. So do Bushpigs, which bear the distinction of being unstoppable by fences. 

With technological advances, and changing public consciousness, that no longer tolerated radical solutions to human-wildlife conflict, the answer was to fence crops in and wildlife out. .

Disease Control

To complicate matters, these wild animals also carried and transmitted livestock diseases. Veterinary service campaigns started fencing areas to prevent wildlife from returning to livestock farming areas. These fences were initially only standard stock fences but gradually became high fences in certain areas in an attempt to curb game movement in order to stop or slow down the spread of contagious diseases. 

Two Cape BuffaloCape Buffalo, for example, carry and transmit to cattle ‘hoof and mouth’ and ‘corridor disease’, both of which are deadly to domestic cows. Today, the reverse is happening, with  ‘bovine tuberculosis’ being transmitted from cattle to wildlife. This disease even found its way into the iconic Kruger National Park, affecting animals like Kudu, Buffalo, Lions and even such threatened species as Rhinos. Obviously, this is one of the reasons why the national park is fenced.

Wildlife Ownership

Under South African law, the game belongs to no-one. Wild animals were classified as res nullius, meaning they belonged to the state, however as a landowner the animal belongs to you while on your land. This satisfied everyone until large financial investments were made into the game ranching industry. Then the law needed to be modified as game ranchers needed security of ownership of the game they were breeding.

The problem was that in those days, if a poacher was caught red-handed on your land, the most serious sentence they would receive was 3 months in jail for trespassing. That’s hardly a deterrent!        

Game Theft Act

The big game changer came about in 1991, when the Game Theft Act, which allowed private ownership of game, was passed. Under this act, if your property was adequately enclosed, anyone found poaching on your property could be charged under the Stock Theft Act. That crime carried substantially stronger penalties as compared to the original trespassing law sentences that were used to convict a poacher.

The change in wildlife ownership laws created a game fencing boom. 

Game Breeding     

It is the game breeding industry that created the impression that the whole South Africa has been broken into tiny high-fenced enclosures. This may be the case with a very small minority of game ranches. However, containing wild animals in small enclosures is far less easy than you might think, especially in the time of the drought. When the animals don’t have a chance to move about freely enough, they degrade their habitat fairly quickly, even with artificial feed, and the land loses a lot of its value. In fact, a lot of such game farmers discovered that feeding these animals during this time cost a fortune, and had to remove their internal fences. 

And yet, these small fenced enclosures have created irreversible damage to South Africa’s hunting image. 

The fact is that game breeders, like all landowners, are entitled to make a living off their land. This is a fact that we can’t change. However, we must draw your attention to the fact that there also exist huge game fenced properties available for hunting.    

South African landscape

Certificate of Adequate Enclosure

A Certificate of Adequate Enclosure basically gives the owner of a game ranch landowner carte blanche to do with their land, within law and reason, whatever they please. This certificate is issued by the respective provincial Nature Conservation Department. To obtain it, the landowner must comply with the minimum high fencing regulations for their perimeter fence.

The Certificate of Adequate Enclosure entitles the landowner to hunt all year round. There are numerous other exemptions which would have required a bunch of permits to do on free range. If you wanted to hunt wild game or do game management, or run a hunting safari operation on non-enclosed land in South Africa, you’d have a very hard time following all the numerous and complicated nature conservation regulations. Curiously enough, if you compare biodiversity on a typical game farm to a typical non-fenced area, it would appear that common sense of the landowner is a better guide than the Government’s rule book. This is further complicated by the fact that South Africa has nine provinces, each with its own nature conservation ordinance with many outfitters hunting in numerous of these provinces.      

How Effective are Game Fences?

Some animals are easily contained with a 5 strand cattle fence. However, many wild animals cannot even be contained by a standard game fence. Some, like Bushbuck, Warthog and even as big as Waterbuck will creep under a fence given the opportunity. Others, such as Eland and Kudu will easily jump over a 6 foot (1.82m) fence. This is why the fencing needs to be reinforced with all sorts of extravagant electric fencing ideas.  

Modern Times

Today wildlife habitat is under threat from an exploding human population which is demanding more and more land for housing and agricultural purposes. Often, it’s only a high fence that separates the two. 

As much as we dream of hunting in the vast open plains of Africa, the reality is high fences are on the increase whether it be South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Zambia or Mozambique. Investors in the wildlife industry need security that their conservation efforts are safe and those communities living alongside these areas need to know they are safe from invading and marauding wildlife.

In order to achieve and maintain this peace, we rely on high fences.

Resume

High fences in South Africa exist for many reasons, including but not limited to: 

    • Prevention of disease
    • Isolating wildlife from cattle 
    • Prevention of human-wildlife conflict
    • Prevention of poaching 
    • Giving the landowner more control of their land

In most cases the size of the enclosures is so enormous, that it doesn’t matter for the hunter if the area is enclosed or not. The animals have the same chance to escape as on free-range hunting concessions, so the hunt is perfectly fair chase. 

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