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Wildlife auctions

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Buying and selling wild animals: Part 2

7 October 2015


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The prices per animal and turnover on official wildlife auctions vary continually because of the type of animals being marketed and recent large changes can be ascribed to colour and morphological variants. In 2004 there were 72 per cent as many animals sold on fewer auctions than in 2014 but the mean price per animal was only 8 per cent of that in 2014. In the latter year more expensive wildlife formed 40 per cent of the turnover for only 6 per cent of the number of animals sold, colour and morphological variants generated 30 per cent of the turnover for 5 per cent of the animals sold, indigenous, rare wildlife generated 10 per cent of the turnover for 1 per cent of the animals sold and common wildlife generated 30 per cent of the turnover for 89 per cent of the animals sold.

The wildlife that are sold can be captured actively in mass capture bomas by herding them with a helicopter, they can be captured chemically or they can be captured and collected with time in smaller numbers in passive capture bomas. Especially the rarer wildlife such as the African savanna buffalo, sable antelope, roan antelope, colour and morphological variants are sold on boma auctions, sometimes for exceptional prices. This only forms a fraction of the animals sold on most of the auctions but they generate a large portion of the turnover. In contrast, the more common wildlife are sold most, but only generate a fraction of the turnover. However, this is a recent trend because the top ten types of wildlife that were sold on 1998 also generated 82 per cent of the turnover. Since then the contribution of the plains wildlife to the turnover decreased.


Most of the wildlife ranches are in Limpopo and North West and wildlife typical of these regions contribute most to the wildlife auctions. These regions also have the best habitat for expensive buffaloes, sable and roan antelope. As a contiguous bushveld region, the wildlife sold on live wildlife auctions North West, Limpopo and Mpumalanga in 2014 formed 84.5 per cent of all the animals sold on wildlife auctions. In Mpumalanga, mainly rare wildlife and colour variants were sold, but in KwaZulu-Natal rhinoceroses generated the largest turnover at high prices per animal.

In 1991, 68 per cent of the wildlife sold on live wildlife auctions came from conservation areas but this decreased to 17 per cent in 2002 when private wildlife producers started to market their excess wildlife. However, the sale of rare wildlife still formed the largest source of income for conservation agencies and Ezemvelo KwaZulu-Natal´s wildlife auction in 2013 generated a turnover of R13.6 million. However, the conservation agencies do not breed and market colour and morphological variants. Increasing costs are now forcing many wildlife producers to capture their own wildlife with passive capture bomas and to assemble breeding herds for sale with time, although they usually use professional people to transport the wildlife to a boma auction, unless the animal are being marketed in another way.

Live wild animals are currently mainly marketed on boma, catalogue and internet auctions. Most of the auctioned wild animals are sold on boma auctions, although many more are sold privately. Boma auctions are popular because they have become a major social event for the wildlife industry. In addition, many peripheral services are being advertised there. The prices vary regionally, even within the same province, depending on the type of wildlife, their gender, age, physical appearance and condition, and the reputation of the seller. One of the advantages is that potential buyers can evaluate the wildlife physically before bidding. The greatest disadvantages of boma auctions are that the animals are usually captured actively in mass bomas before being kept in temporary captivity on the ranch. They are then transported to the auction boma where they are again being held captive before being transported to the purchaser´s property where they may again be held captive for a while before they are released, with resultant high mortality rates. This causes much stress and the death of some animals. Another disadvantage is that unrealistically high prices may deter potential buyers from participating and buying breeding herds. These auctions are also a source of animal diseases and parasites. Misconceptions of what really are animals of trophy quality also create unrealistically high prices, while the animals in the boma are constantly disturbed and stressed by inquisitive spectators. The wildlife in the boma are subjected to an additional risk of death during excessively cold or hot months. Some animals may be advertised at times but never reach the auction. This attracts potential buyers who then waste time and money to attend the auction. Auctions late in the winter in the summer rainfall regions in turn necessitates the animals that were purchased to be released on a new property at a time when the veld condition is poor and this causes more deaths. In addition, poorly planned auctions also cause unnecessary deaths.

Well-planned wildlife auctions use auctioneers with an excellent record and reputation. All the wildlife should be evaluated by the buyer and a qualified wildlife veterinarian. Sick animals are lethargic, appear scruffy and often have diarrhoea. Animals with lesions or fresh wounds from fighting, biting and jabbing with the horns, especially around the tail, and those with a high number of engorged ticks should be avoided. The buyer should also ensure that seemingly peaceful animals are not chemically tranquillized, and that dangerous or aggressive animals should have pipes over their horn tips. Especially the sable antelope, gemsbok, nyala, tsessebe, blesbok, bontebok and red hartebeest are susceptible to exhaustion during capture and later release. It is therefore wise to enter into an agreement that these animals should survive at least the first two weeks of release on the new property before the purchase price is paid. Rather buy smaller related and healthy animals as breeding herds than assemble large parcels of unrelated, poor quality, odd lots, and only purchase animals with proof of origin and ancestry.

Most wild animals die during transportation and capture from stress caused by exhaustion, and changes in their diet and environment. This is one reason why catalogue auctions are often preferred for rare, expensive wildlife, although plains wildlife are also sold on catalogue auctions. On catalogue auctions, buyers can only select the animals on the basis of videos or photographic images and the auction is held at any convenient venue. Any unsold animals are therefore not disturbed and the income is placed in a trust fund until the animals have been captured and delivered at their destination. If delivery does not happen the buyer is refunded from this trust fund.

The main advantage of catalogue auctions is that the animals are less stressed because they are not being kept in temporary captivity as they are only captured and transported once. Consequently they adapt better to their new environment and they are not subjected to major changes in diet. The costs for transportation, facilities and veterinarians are also reduced. The disadvantages are that the buyer´s money is placed in a trust fund for several months where it does not accrue interest and that the seller does not receive the funds immediately, the buyer cannot evaluate and inspect the animals, the animals may only be delivered months after their purchase, they may be different from what was bought and may be made up of lots that differ from those that were advertised in the catalogue. Moreover, catalogue auctions are not a major social event except when they are coupled with boma auctions.

It will be to the advantage of wildlife producers to capture excess wildlife with   passive capture bomas and to assemble related lots with time. The wildlife can then be marketed on boma, catalogue or internet auctions or can be sold privately. Since 2001, wildlife that have been sold at catalogue auctions have mostly generated higher mean prices per animal than those being sold on boma auctions. However, more animals are usually sold on boma than on catalogue auctions.

Internet sales follow the same principles as catalogue auctions. The animals are often captured in passive capture bomas and videos or other images are placed on the seller´s web site on the internet where prospective buyers can bid on them. However, there usually is a registration fee to act as a buyer and the highest bid is accepted. The buyer can collect his purchases in person or can use professional wildlife transporters to do so.




Cloete, PC, J du P Bothma, JG du Toit & J van Rooyen 2016. Buying and selling wild animals. In: J du P Bothma & JG du Toit, Game ranch management, sixth edition. Pretoria: Van Schaik.

Le Riche, JDH 1992. Investigating the causes of death in relocated wild animals. BSc (Hons) (Wildlife Management) project. Pretoria: University of Pretoria.



article by Prof J du P Bothma



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