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Ranchers in South Africa are breeding "mutant" animals with exotic colours and longer horns to attract wealthy hunters who are willing to pay a premium to kill them.
This is part of "the latest craze in South Africa's $1bn high-end big-game hunting industry", reports Bloomberg.
Animals such as white lions and golden gnus, which are rarely seen in nature, are being bred especially for their unusual appearance.
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"We breed them because they’re different," said rancher Barry York. "There'll always be a premium paid for highly adapted, unique, rare animals."
Africa Hunt Lodge, a company based in the US, offers rich hunters package tours to South Africa, where they are charged up to $30,000 to kill a white lion and $49,500 for a golden gnu.
York argues that, while profit making is the main aim of his ranch, "conservation is a by-product of what I do". Breeders argue that the number of wild animals in South Africa has increased alongside the popularity of hunting big game. Ironically, private hunting ranches were credited with saving the rhinoceros from extinction in the 1960s.
But critics of genetic breeding are unconvinced. "What's happening now is farming. It's not conservation," said Ainsley Hay, manager of the Wildlife Protection Unit of South Africa’s National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
"A white springbok will not contribute to the springbok population because it’s a mutant," she said. Animals with these recessive genes have extremely low survival rates in the wild, as they are easier for predators to spot and often develop skin diseases and cancers.
Animal rights campaigners have found unlikely allies in local hunters, who are also opposed to the practice. The South African Hunters and Game Conservation Association has called on the government to regulate such breeding as it interferes with natural selection and pushes up the price of hunting.
"The animals are Frankenstein freaks of nature," says Peter Flack, a hunter and conservationist. "This has nothing to do with conservation and everything to do with profit."
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