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SOS Rhino : In the News : Archived News : June 2002 : The struggle for paradise

Animal Auction Draws Crowds


Sat Jun 22, 1:34 PM ET
By RAVI NESSMAN, Associated Press Writer

UMFOLOZI, South Africa (AP) - The hippos snorted, the rhinos dozed and the giraffes darted about nervously as the hammer fell Saturday at Africa's largest wild animal auction.

A crowd of nearly 2,000 private game reserve owners, tourists with children and the odd Texas millionaire wandered among the huge pens, inspecting the hundreds of animals up for fierce bid at the annual auction held by the parks board of South Africa's KwaZulu-Natal province.

A few minutes later in a nearby tent, auctioneer Mike Killassy stood in front of a bank of television screens showing videos of the animals and goaded potential buyers with his rolling patter.

"Elevenfive, elevenfive, there's a big bull there don't miss this one do I hear 12? 12? I've got 12," he said before eventually selling a trio of giraffes for $1,300 each.

The one-day auction started 14 years ago as an effort to get rid of some of the surplus animals in the province's 110 protected areas.

Its importance has grown as more South Africans begin turning former farms and cattle ranches into private game reserves, hoping to make more money from tourism or game breeding.

The government used to kill the excess animals it could not donate to conservation programs elsewhere, said Jeff Gaisford, a spokesman for the parks board.

Culled antelope, for example, would then be turned into biltong, a snack of cured meat, and sold for maybe $3 each, he said. Live antelope can easily sell for 10 times that amount.

Saturday's auction pulled in $1.1 million, all of which goes to the parks board.

"It's certainly a lot more productive," Gaisford said.

Most of the 416 live animals at the auction were captured in the past few months by rangers armed with tranquilizer guns. The animals were taken to the Umfolozi park, 45 miles north of Durban, for auction. About 1,600 animals not yet captured were bid on as well.

Hours before the bidding, groups of agitated giraffes cantered around their 20-foot-high cages of tall logs. Shelves of grass were built into the inside wall about halfway up so the long-necked animals could easily reach them.

Nearby, wildebeest, nyala antelope and zebras milled about their cages and enormous white rhinos rested on their sides in long pens.

But the showpiece was the group of five hippos. The hippo is one of the most dangerous animals in Africa as well as one of the hardest to capture. The animals, used to hiding in lakes, grunted and huddled together in the shade at the back of their pen. This particular group was marked for auction after one attacked and severely injured a man.

Hippos cannot be captured with tranquilizer guns, because they might run into the water, fall asleep and drown. They have to be starved out of their habitat, then lured into cages baited with food.

Behind the pens a fleet of shiny green trucks waited to transport the animals to their new homes.

Anton Swardt, 35, kneeled before a young male rhino, taking notes approvingly in his auction book.

"They're beautiful creatures, eh?" he said. "What's nice about this one is its ears are all clean." He was referring to the absence of holes used by rangers to mark the beasts.

Swardt, who owned a farm near Warmbaths, was also impressed the rhino was eating right in front of him, and he admired its large horn.

Most of the rhinos sold for between $20,000 and $30,000 each. The five hippos sold for $4,100, a new South African record. Previously the most paid was $2,700.

Pete Mare was more interested in the nyala pens, hoping to add some of the rare antelope to his private reserve near Kruger National Park, in the north of the country. He was especially impressed to see them looking so healthy after spending more than two months penned up, a good sign they would survive being relocated to his farm.

"They're a very, very sensitive species," he said. Mare later bought scores of nyala at the auction.

Some of the strongest bidding came for a huge nyala bull that some of the buyers had praised as one of the most beautiful in the world for its long horns and sturdy body.

Texas millionaire Dial Dunkin eventually won with a $2,600 bid, an auction record for a single nyala.

Dunkin planned to put that animal, and a group of mostly female nyalas he also bought, on the ranch he owns with a South Africa partner near Kimberly, about 150 miles south of Johannesburg.

"I would have gone a lot higher," said the 67-year-old from Harlingen, Texas. "That's a very outstanding animal. It's the biggest one I've ever seen."



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