Golden Wildebeest Days: Fragmentation and Value in South Africa’s Wildlife Economy After Apartheid

David Bunn, Bram Büscher, Melissa R. McHale, Mary L. Cadenasso, Daniel L. Childers, Steward T.A. Pickett, Louie Rivers, Louise Swemmer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


There are renewed global efforts to make wildlife conservation the foundation for broad-based economic development. This article looks at these tendencies in the ‘Kruger to Canyons’ (K2C) biosphere region in South Africa, encompassing the Kruger National Park and adjacent settlement areas and reserves. Various forms of the wildlife economy have a long history in this region. However, it is increasingly posited as a preternatural means for creating jobs. We chronicle the growth of the wildlife economy from its apartheid heyday to the present, showing its fundamental dependence on the ecological and political fragmentation of space. More generally, these biopolitical divisions are part of a broad contestation of wildlife value, organised around changing regimes of protected area enclosure and the spacing of human and non-human life. Despite recent claims by the South African conservation industry that it is demolishing fences and increasing habitat connectivity, political territorialisation and ecological fragmentation continue to be important means of securing profit and reducing perceived risk. While the contradictions of this dynamic have now become acute through the emergence of the rhino-poaching crisis, the growth of that violent industry, we conclude, should not be seen as the negative inversion of a legal wildlife economy. Instead, both the legal and the illegal wildlife economies are manifestations of the same underlying problems: ill-conceived attempts at agrarian reform; the persistent influence of an older veterinary wildlife assemblage; the continued role of the rural poor as an enabling but unacknowledged buffer between development and wildlife.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1013-1035
Number of pages23
JournalJournal of Southern African Studies
Issue number6
StatePublished - 2022


  • Kruger National Park
  • agrarian restructuring
  • apartheid
  • buffer zones
  • fragmentation
  • protected areas
  • wildlife economy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Sociology and Political Science


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