MASTER GAMERANCHERS OF SOUTH AFRICA – Passion and Power
Published 2017 by WILD&JAG/GAME&HUNT Magazine
Arthur Rudman is the Chief Executive Officer of Blaauwkrantz Farming Enterprises, which includes Blaauwkrantz Safaris, established in 1978.
His major contributions to the development of the game industry include the following:
Arthur was born and raised on Blaauwkrantz, a farm originally known as Blaauwkrantz Outspan, which his grandfather, Oliver Charles Rudman, bought in 1936 from the estate auction of Cecil John Rhodes’s brother, Arthur Montague Rhodes, for £1 per morgen.
He completed his high school career at Muir College, Uitenhage, in 1962 and after doing compulsory military training for nine months, returned to Blaauwkrantz to farm sheep and goats with his father, Eardley Caleb, and his brother, Keith Lesley.
He married Trinette in 1970 and they have three children, Eardley, married to Carmen, Francois, married to Crisbel, and Zani, married to Philip Dixie, and among them there are seven grandchildren. The entire fifth generation of the Rudman family lives on Blaauwkrantz and the children and their spouses are all involved in Blaauwkrantz Farming Enterprises.
Arthur pays tribute to his grandfather and father who afforded him the opportunity to be successful in the game industry. ‘I wouldn’t have been here today if I didn’t get a kick-start from grandfather, who bought Blaauwkrantz in 1936. Dad, one of six children, got his break when grandfather lent him money to start a business in town, and he bought the property from grandfather’s estate.’
Blaauwkrantz Farming Enterprises ‘runs the show’, in Arthur’s words. It leases properties from the Arthur Rudman Family Trust, of which the children are beneficiaries. Other property is registered in the FEZ Trust, of which the children Francois, Eardley and Zani are also the beneficiaries.
Arthur started hunting at an early age by throwing stones at birds, as boys do, and advancing to a catapult, a pellet gun, a .22 and eventually on to bigger and more powerful rifles. ‘I enjoyed the various stages of hunting, but I also enjoyed the animals and the aim was never to kill everything,’ he says.
As a youngster, he also hunted kudu. ‘I never shot cows or young bulls and my hunting didn’t affect the breeding pattern.’
There were not many kudu on the farm in the early 1970s, mainly because of the 1897 rinderpest and the subsequent 1950 government policy to reduce game numbers for veterinarian reasons. With the severe drought in 1969–1971, kudu numbers further declined. ‘The drought led to low commodity production and prices, and farmers shot large numbers of kudu for an extra income.’
Arthur had the vision to enclose 3 000 ha of Blaauwkrantz’s 4 300 ha to protect the Eastern Cape kudu and increase their numbers. ‘The initial reason to begin farming with game was not financial gain, but to ensure the long-term conservation of the species,’ says Arthur. The Divisional Council, the provincial authority of the time, had also declared a closed season for hunting of kudu from 1970 to 1972.
In those years, game had no value because it did not generate an income. Friends, family and influential people, such as the magistrate and bank manager, were invited to hunt free of charge.
‘In order to finance the fence, I offered friends and family the opportunity to invest R1 000 in exchange for hunting a kudu every year. There were no takers as nobody was accustomed to pay for game.’ Arthur erected a 2,4 m fence at his own cost, and the only way to get a return on his investment was to allow the hunting of bigger kudu bulls in the enclosed area, which contained about 100 kudu.
In 1976, he realised that the endeavour was a success as kudu numbers were increasing. ‘In 1978 the first international hunter shot a kudu, paying R350 for it.’ The very first kudu sold for R60; today a kudu costs R20 000 to hunt!
It took about 100 years from 1897 to 1997 for kudu to increase to the earlier numbers and in the areas they had occupied prior to the Rinderpest. In addition to Eastern Cape kudu, Cape bushbuck, Cape grysbok, brown bush duiker and bush pig that originally occurred here, there were also mountain reedbuck and klipspringer in the mountainous area in earlier times.
Blaauwkrantz is an extensive game ranch, the largest of its kind in South Africa, where sustainable herds of game that produce top-quality trophy animals roam freely.
The focus remains on the conservation of Eastern Cape kudu. By creating pathways underneath bridges and through culverts, provision has been made for kudu, undeterred by roads, to move up to a distance of 50 km. The Eastern Cape kudu is darker in coat and horns than the southern great kudu, and Arthur will not allow genetics from other kudu outside the Eastern Cape. The same applies to smaller antelope that originally occurred here, namely Cape grysbok, bushbuck, and brown bush duiker.
Arthur started to protect Eastern Cape kudu in 1970, contributing to their growth in numbers and the conservation of the species. In 1978, when the first international hunter paid to hunt a kudu bull, he saw the potential of game ranching and hunting as an industry.
‘There are various divisions in the game industry, including stud breeders, extensive game ranchers and hunters like us. I wanted to increase the number of species and purchased neighbouring land and more animals.’
He also started the Uitenhage Bushveld Game Management Association, which later culminated in Eastern Cape Game Management, with a view on increasing game numbers and game ranches.
As there were few international hunters in those years, Arthur started with South African hunters, followed by groups of corporate hunters, and he focused on professional hunters to bring hunting clients to Blaauwkrantz. Today he does not allow local meat hunters, as trophy hunting is far more lucrative.
‘We gradually grew our client base. While the children were at university, we visited the big international hunting shows in Europe, America, Mexico and New Zealand, among others.’
He finds resonance with American hunters. ‘They are similar to us; they hail from the same place. They have the same mentality and they speak the same language. They feel at home here and we enjoy their company.’ One of them once told Arthur, ‘Always be a little bit afraid; never be over-satisfied with your growth, as it will start diminishing growth and business.’
‘It is important to take calculated risks. We learned how to become successful on our own property and by marketing our own animals: I compare it to a shopping mall where there are different shops selling different commodities that attract people. A client wants to shoot seven to eight animals, so we must accommodate more animals to lure the hunters back. If you have forty species they will be back more than once, and bring along family and friends. The more animals you have, the more hunters are interested. Obviously one must also offer a good service.’ Sixty per cent of their hunters are return clients and referrals.
Blaauwkrantz Safaris is a world-class trophy hunting outfitter that hosts on average 95 international hunting clients and 50 non-hunting clients per annum. Some 650 trophies are taken off every year, while about 300 are sold live, and another 250 are culled. Father and sons all are Safari Club International (SCI) Master Measurers.
‘We offer interesting tours and adventures for non-hunters, such as trips to Cape Town and elephant parks. It must also be safe for them and their children, and fortunately the Eastern Cape is free of diseases such as malaria.’
The luxurious Brakhill Hunting Lodge on Blaauwkrantz offers accommodation consisting of
seven en-suite bedrooms, three lounge areas and a large dining area that seats 24 people. Amenities include a bar, swimming pool, squash and tennis courts and shooting range. Trinette oversees the preparation of breakfast, lunch and dinner. Leopard Lodge offers accommodation in the Klein Winterhoek mountain range.
They market at hunting conventions such as Dallas Safari Club and SCI, of which they are life members. They have also exhibited at and attended European conventions in Spain, Germany and Denmark, where they make use of agents to market on their behalf. They advertise in major USA hunting and outdoor magazines, as well as on their website.
He relates how a Mexican who met him at their stall at SCI Las Vegas sat him down for about an hour, telling him what he required from a visit to and hunt at Blaauwkrantz. ‘He wanted a complete itinerary of the whole ten days he planned to visit with his family. His daughters were at university in Madrid, and they brought a friend from Mexico City along – the girl eventually married one of my sons!
‘Word of mouth marketing manifests itself in 80 per cent of our clients being referred to us by past clients. One must have the animals, good professional hunters, back-up staff, the right vehicles, good access roads, accommodation, right up to the trophy that is delivered to the hunter’s house – the hunt is never over until the trophy is on the wall, where many of his friends will see it.
‘There are many factors – a hunt is not just about putting a website on the internet or pulling the trigger – the hunter must enjoy the entire experience; he must also have good company.’
The preferred method of hunting is by spot and stalk, where game is spotted from a high-lying area and then stalked. ‘That is a most acceptable and enjoyable way of hunting,’ says Arthur, who, with his sons and a number of neighbours who work with them, are qualified professional hunters. Hunting is mostly by rifle, but bow hunting is also gaining in popularity and they are developing infrastructure such as bow blinds and bait sites.
Videographer and photographer Puren Joubert of iGala Productions records the hunts on request, which allows the hunter to relive the successful and enjoyable event.
Arthur was not awarded the Phasa 2010 Utilisation Award for nothing – everything that is hunted on Blaauwkrantz is utilised.
It was a turning point for the business when Blaauwkrantz got electricity in 1990, for then they could install a processing plant, store rooms, cold rooms and a freezer. They sell about 50 tons of venison per annum, with 60 per cent of production sold to wholesale distributors and 40 per cent processed at the on-site butchery. They have two cold rooms and a 16 m² freezer in which meat is stored to prolong shelf life.
Cuts of venison, as well as goulash, biltong and dried venison sausage, among others, are sold under their label Blaauwkrantz Game from the butchery on the farm and at the Winskoop Wildsvleis Padstal (Bargain Venison Road Stall) along the busy R75 between Uitenhage and Port Elizabeth.
They have a large skinning facility where trophies are efficiently processed to prevent hair slippage. Long-time family friend Paul Smith’s Relive Africa Taxidermy mounts most of the trophies hunted on the farm.
Over time, various neighbouring farms were bought to add additional veld types to Blaauwkrantz. The average carrying capacity is 1,5 ha per animal, so they can carry 10 000 head of game and 15 000 small livestock animals, which include Angora goats (10 000), Boer goats (3 000) and Dorper sheep (2 000), but they are planning to reduce sheep numbers. The different types of veld are suitable to a wide variety of game, and include the following:
Leopard numbers are, however, increasing and with no departmental control measures, wildlife ranching is uneconomical. Where Fynbos occurs in the south-eastern region, the habitat is ideal for klipspringer, mountain reedbuck, eland, red hartebeest, bushbuck, grysbok, duiker and possibly also zebra, bontebok and other grazers. Breeding takes place through natural selection in the free-range area and the animals are hardy and adapted to the conditions. Breeding projects include bontebok, white blesbok, black and white springbok and black impala. Sable antelope and buffalo are presently bought from Wildlife Ranching SA (WRSA) members. The whole area has been subdivided (on paper) into an eight-camp system, where rotational grazing takes place. ‘We keep the sheep, Boer and Angora goats on their own and record the entry and exit dates of the different flocks to the various camps, to allow the bush to rest and re-grow.’ They manage tick control by dipping domestic animals every 10 to 12 days on a rotational grazing system.
Animal numbers and quality are managed by culling the weakest with undesirable body size or horns. Culling is mainly done at night or late afternoon at orange bait sites where selective shooting takes place. On average 150 kudu cows and 150 impala are taken out per annum. International hunters are given the opportunity to cull these kudu without paying for the animal.
‘We started this in our hunting business,’ says Arthur. ‘We also don’t charge a daily rate, because the staff, vehicles and infrastructure are our own, while the professional hunters are family members, so our cost structure is not that high. We are selling animals, not accommodation; in fact, earlier hunters used to stay in our homes.’
Arthur buys and sells animals at auction. ‘We buy to replace animals so that rams and bulls don’t get smaller, but we have also had to sell grazers when we had limited grass.’
The price of animals is determined by the quantity available in the area – a commodity that is freely available is cheaper. ‘We must also watch the prices of competitors and the demands of hunters. Although we are extensive farmers and don’t produce animals for the stud scene, we do participate in buying and selling at auction.’
They support the annual Kirkwood Game Festival by buying and selling at their auction, but also privately sell a number of kudu, bushbuck, impala, white springbok and blesbok. They purchase game at Eastern Cape game auctions and privately throughout South Africa from various respected wildlife ranchers.
Game ranching, even when the focus is on hunting, faces numerous challenges. These include, among others, drought, disease, predation, and stock theft.
According to Arthur, the 2016 drought was the worst recorded in the Eastern Cape since 1950, when record keeping of rainfall commenced at Blaauwkrantz. ‘We had to supplement feed. We had losses on springbok due to toxic tannin, which some plants produce to protect themselves in extreme circumstances. We started feeding lucerne and the death rate immediately dropped.’
Because of heartwater tick issues, they have purchased Swartrug about 45 km from Blaauwkrantz, which is mostly free of this tick, to accommodate their springbok, mountain reedbuck and gemsbok. Black and common springbok are grouped together while white springbok is kept separate to retain their colour.
He also purchased the farm Eensaam to accommodate his gemsbok. ‘Gemsbok are herd animals, but they are also inclined to crawl through fences. When they became separated from the herd, they didn’t feed, their weight declined and a large number of them died. I bought Eensaam, which consists of more open areas and the gemsbok are doing exceptionally well there.’
Predation remains the biggest problem. ‘Everything has been done to curtail poachers and over-hunting, but nothing has been done about predators such as jackal, caracal and leopard, which target especially the smaller game species.’
According to Arthur, there were virtually no jackal twenty years ago, but today between 70 and 80 are removed annually. ‘Environmental Affairs calculate that only 20 per cent of predatory animals are killed, so one never knows how many are still left. While you know how many domestic animals you lose to predation, stock theft and mortalities (10 per cent per annum), it is impossible to know what number of game is lost.’
Arthur supports research and several research projects have taken place on Blaauwkrantz, including research on the feeding requirements of animals, the plants they utilise and the reintroduction of the succulent spekboom (Portulacaria afra) in areas denuded of these plants due to earlier overgrazing by small stock animals.
Arthur has served in various structures. ‘One must get involved with commodity and national organisations; you cannot shout the odds if you are not willing to put in time,’ he believes.
He has served, among others, on the National Executive and as Director of South African Mohair Growers Association, WRSA, Phasa and the Predator Management Forum (PMF). Arthur was a founding member of the Eastern Cape Game Management Association, and provincial chair of Wildlife Ranching Eastern Cape and Phasa. He was also involved in Agri Eastern Cape, where he served on the Soil Conservation Committee. Furthermore, Arhtur regularly contributes articles to Landbou Weekblad, Farmer’s Weekly and other magazines.
Arthur is in favour of wildlife ranching falling under the Department of Agriculture instead of the Department of Environmental Affairs and he is enthusiastic about the Wildlife Producers Association (WPA) as the acceptable body to take the game industry into agriculture. He believes there should be a single body named SA Wildlife Association, in which wildlife ranching should also incorporate hunting.
‘Game is not merely in the wild where they must take care of themselves; they are all under human management, which is the vital part – humans manage all animals, whether domestic or wild.’
Arthur believes private landowners have grown the game industry themselves. ‘They increased numbers of game because of the aesthetic and intrinsic value of game. The future of the game industry will depend on marketing of excess game.’
He believes that, owing to the game industry, no species is facing extinction, not even rhino.
He lauds the quality of people who are producing game on great scale, whether they are stud breeders or semi-extensive game ranchers. ‘There are quality business people involved who are good managers and who are, in addition, successful in other industries. They can bring success to game farming, which also requires production and marketing. They won’t invest in something they don’t believe in.’
Blaauwkrantz Farming Enterprises employs 75 permanent staff, who are provided free housing, water and in some instances electricity, which also benefit their family members, numbering up to about 3 000 people.
A black economic empowerment (BEE) property comprising 1 455 ha was purchased and developed for staff in 2005. This property is registered as Blaauwkrantz Share Equity (Pty) Ltd in which Arthur holds 51 per cent of the shares and the employees the other 49 per cent.
In-house skills training is provided to staff and, in addition, Arthur supports the local farm school, Palmiet River Primary, encouraging his international guests to do so, as well.
Arthur has purchased the farm Elandshoorn adjacent to the Groendal wilderness area outside Uitenhage with the aim of establishing a private game reserve for the utilisation of the townspeople for recreational and educational purposes. ‘Urban people – adults and children – don’t understand the veld unless they walk in it.’
Elandshoorn adjoins their property in the Klein Winterhoek Mountains and the 7 000 ha game reserve will be home to some 12 species, including eland, mountain reedbuck and buffalo. They plan to increase the numbers and hunt the animals for management purposes.
‘This non-profit game reserve will be a legacy of what we have done …’