Ostrich farmer characteristics predict conservation opportunity

Keywords: agriculture, environmental management, environmental psychology, Little Karoo, South Africa


Environmental sustainability rests on human choice and action. Understanding these may assist in determining the factors that predict or influence an individual’s behaviour towards the environment. In South Africa, approximately 80% of the most threatened vegetation types are in the hands of the private agricultural community. In the Little Karoo, which is situated in the Succulent Karoo biodiversity hotspot, unsustainable land-use practices including ostrich flock breeding threaten this region’s lowland biodiversity. We interviewed ostrich farmers in the Oudtshoorn Basin to quantify latent variables thought to represent components of conservation opportunity: environmental attitude, conservation knowledge, conservation behaviour, and willingness to collaborate with agricultural, environmental and conservation organisations. Three groups of land managers were identified: (1) younger land managers (<31 years’ farming experience) with bigger farms (≥2050 ha) who had above-average scores for all four indicators, (2) older farmers (≥31 years’ farming experience) who had above-average scores for environmental attitude and conservation knowledge, average scores for environmental attitude, but low willingness to collaborate, and (3) a large group of younger farmers (<31 years’ farming experience) with smaller properties (<2050 ha) who had low to average scores for all four indicators. Farmers in the first two groups represent the best opportunities for conservation, although different strategies would have to be employed to engage them given the current low willingness to collaborate among older farmers. Land managers were more willing to collaborate with agricultural than conservation organisations, pointing to a need to involve agricultural organisations in championing more environmentally sustainable ostrich breeding practices.


  • Achievement of biodiversity conservation targets requires stewardship in production landscapes outside protected areas, which necessitates identification of farmers who present conservation opportunity, i.e. who are willing and able to participate in conservation.
  • Plant biodiversity in the Little Karoo has been severely degraded through ostrich flock breeding, but ostrich farmers consider their practices to be ecologically sustainable.
  • In the Little Karoo, land managers with more years of farming experience, and younger farmers with larger properties, represented the greatest opportunity for interventions to promote more biodiversity-friendly ostrich farming practices.
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