Kobus du Toit - father of the disease free buffalo

Bob Preller

Jacobus Gabriël (Kobus) du Toit was born on 8 December 1956 in Worcester in the Western Cape province of South Africa where an ancient long-horned buffalo once roamed on the exposed Agulhas Plain when sea levels were substantially lower than at present and where a buffalo was shot at what is now Bishops Court in Cape Town in 1666. He obtained degrees in animal science, wildlife management and veterinary science, the latter as the President of the Onderstepoort Veterinary Student Council, before becoming involved in a lifetime of work in wildlife health, conservation and production. He has published or contributed to numerous books, articles and has been involved in numerous consultations, radio and television programs on wildlife production and conservation. He has developed the medicinal benefits of indigenous plants and is a Trustee of the South African Veterinary Foundation.

Kobus du Toit saw his first live buffalo in the Bontebok National Park in the Western Cape province early in the 1960s but it was in 1982 that he started to respect the immense size and power of the buffalo when he measured the horns of the buffaloes which were then being culled in the Kruger National Park for a BSc (Honours) project to evaluate the South African hunting system. Technically, he became the first private wildlife veterinarian in South Africa after the untimely death of Dr Eddie Young in a microlight aircraft crash and did much work with the Cape buffalo which is the most veterinary regulated wildlife species in South Africa due to it being prone to many debilitating diseases. He captured his first buffalo early in the 1990’s for a De Beers Mining Company breeding project with corridor-infected buffaloes in Kimberley with the help of Mark Berry.

 When the developing wildlife ranching industry started to develop after the Game Theft Act (Act 105 of 1991 as amended) was promulgated and private ownership of wildlife on land that was suitably enclosed became possible, a demand for rarer game such as the buffalo and sable antelope soon emerged. However, the entire source of buffaloes was all restricted by a veterinary red line. Kobus du Toit eventually took on the task of finding a solution by integrating clinical veterinary work, the politics of veterinary science, the cattle ranching fraternity and the public ethos when he was the Director of the South African Veterinary Foundation. This was a joint venture with the then South African National Parks Board who had but some 10 000 viable but disease-carrying buffaloes which were available for a disease-free calf breeding project.

His first move was to seek funding for a research project on breeding disease-free buffalo calves. Believing that such a project was viable, he had discussions with Dr Johan Krige (Deputy Director of Veterinary Services) and Dr Fred Potgieter (Deputy Director of the Onderstepoort Veterinary Institute) without whose support the project could not go ahead. After receiving their enthusiastic support he then presented a project protocol to Dr Roy Bengis who then was the Chief State Veterinarian in the Kruger National Park. This eventually lead to the establishment of the Makwalo Buffalo Breeding Project in conjunction with his colleague Dr Chris Mostert and a Mr Henry Dunn, a prominent maize farmer of the Highveld. This project was so successful that there are currently 28 such breeding projects in South Africa and lead to the publication of a highly popular booklet on buffalo ranching by the Wildlife Group of the South African Veterinary Association.

Kobus du Toit eventually contributed much as author and co-editor to the comprehensive textbook Game Ranch Management (Van Schaik, Pretoria) which is being used widely by wildlife ranchers and academics. In this book he inter alia has written an extensive section on the management of disease-free buffaloes and his excellent photo of two buffaloes charging through water adorns the front cover. While Drs Johan Krige and Fred Potgieter should be honoured for their vision to approve this project which has made an immense impact on wildlife ranching industry in South Africa, Kobus du Toit was the catalyst who made it all happen and is the father of disease-free buffaloes in South Africa.

By Prof J du P Bothma
March 2020