Scorching drought has hit South Africa's game ranching industry for another year, ranchers cutting herd sizes and prices dropping for most animals across a top tourist revenue earner. David Pollard reports.
Big game, big problems. One of South Africa's top tourist revenue earners drying up. But not metaphorically. (SOUNDBITE) (English) BONA BONA RANCH GAME FARMER, PIETER ERNST, SAYING: "The special thing about this drought over the last ten months now is because of, this is not the first year - it's the fourth consecutive that we are struggling with drought. So yeah, this is special. You don't get this drought every year, so yeah it's because of the four consecutive years that we are struggling with good rain." Pieter raises Blesbok and sable antelope. They're a lucrative asset - one of his stud animals has been valued at over a million dollars. Keeping them, too, has a price tag. (SOUNDBITE) (English) BONA BONA RANCH GAME FARMER, PIETER ERNST, SAYING: "Our feeding costs went up with 65% and we are feeding now for 24 months non-stop and our numbers is still growing. We try to grow inland also but it's not also possible with the prices that went down. So yeah 65% increase in the cost of feeding and yeah, 24 months non-stop now because of the consecutive droughts that we have - so yeah I hope the drought will break soon with good rain." This is where the costs get counted. Game ranching has been growing about 20 per cent year on year for the last decade and a half. Farmers buying and selling their stock at auctions like these. Prices are down as ranchers reduce their herds. (SOUNDBITE) (English) BONA BONA RANCH GAME FARMER, PIETER ERNST, SAYING: "We had about 500 blesbok and we down to 250 - so we halved them, captured them and other game farms bought them from us." Farmers feeling the pain - even if top game like buffalo still fetch record prices. While overall, numbers are up thanks in part, it's claimed, to a game farming industry that covers an area the size of Israel. Just a few dozen white rhino a half century ago now estimated at 18,000. 2,000 blesbok then - last year around a quarter of a million. The animals thriving - until now.