Finding the perfect balance between money, the environment and people

Posted on September 23, 2015

South Africa is a country that is world-famous for its wildlife. The income generated by its wildlife industry exceeds US$1 billion annually. A recent trend in the industry is wildlife ranching – farming game animals in a sizable fenced system for monetary gain. Seventeen per cent of the land surface area in the country is used for the ranching of between 16 and 20 million indigenous animals. While the economic gain from the industry might be difficult to ignore, one cannot overlook questions around ethical practice, cultural value and the long-term sustainability of such a practice. If South Africa wants to maintain its identity as a country rich in wildlife, stringent measures need to be put into place to ensure the longevity of aspects that go far beyond profit.

Ms Yvonne Reilly, of the Faculty of Economic and Management Sciences’ Department of Auditing, is focussed on using her skills to bring attention to this multi-layered industry and to address related concerns. In order for wildlife ranching to continue to fuel a large part of the South African economy, Ms Reilly warns, the industry needs to think holistically and internal auditing is a crucial step towards achieving this.

Ms Reilly applies her expertise in internal auditing and sustainability reporting to address the needs of the various stakeholders in the wildlife ranching industry. (She does not consult exclusively for the wildlife industry, but her passion for South Africa’s wildlife draws her to this area.) During the consultation process, Ms Reilly assesses the efficacy and efficiency of the farm concerned. By applying the three pivotal spheres of internal auditing – namely risk management, control and governance – she is able to gather information not only on financial sustainability, but also on the potential environmental and societal impacts of wildlife ranching.

Internal auditing is an objective and independent process, for assurance purposes or consultation, and can assist with sustainability reporting. A fundamental objective of internal auditing is to add value for the client and to help the client achieve his or her objectives by looking at internal control, risk management and governance.

Sustainability reporting takes on an interdisciplinary approach and is focussed on creating a balance between all areas the business affects. Profit does not form the only focal point in this form of assessment, Ms Reilly explains; the environment and society also feature as fundamental role-players when it comes to how a business should be forming its policies and making its decisions.

Furthermore, this form of reporting encourages interdisciplinary collaboration, looking at science, governance, ethics, as well as regulations and policies. Ms Reilly collaborates on her research with colleagues from various disciplines. 

She promotes the use of assurance criteria to evaluate the sustainability of the project, noting that such reporting holds businesses accountable. Using risk management objectives, Ms Reilly is able to evaluate the likelihood and impact of certain risks, and if these risks occur, what their impact would be, not only financially, but also environmentally and on the society concerned. In her role as a consultant to organisations and ranching farms, she advises on feasibility and economic returns, and balances these with social and environmental impacts. In adherence to the philosophy that knowledge is power, internal auditing ensures that people make more informed decisions.

While it may be futile to try to stop the likes of mining, farming and other potentially environmentally damaging practices, Ms Reilly maintains that through sustainability reporting, the stakeholders whose lives are so often at stake, are at least taken into consideration.

Ms Reilly presented her research at the eighth International Wildlife Ranching Symposium, Congress for Wildlife and Livelihoods on Private and Communal Lands: Livestock, Tourism, and Spirit.

She is optimistic that mind-sets are changing and that organisations are seeing the value and necessity of incorporating sustainability reporting. Companies and businesses are realising its importance in making informed decisions and ensuring the longevity of their business. Ms Reilly is hopeful that through her work, an increasing number of organisations will become more aware of their impact on the environment and its people, and so play their part in ensuring a better future for all.


- Author Louise de Bruin

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