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The BBC's Jane Standley
There's no escaping ostriches in Oudtshoorn
 real 28k

Friday, 31 December, 1999, 09:58 GMT
Millennium prompts ostrich boom

Ostrich Ostriches earn money as a tourist attraction


By Southern Africa correspondent Jane Standley

South Africa's Klein Karoo is perfect ostrich country - flat and dry - and it is home to more of these birds than anywhere else in the world - a quarter of a million.

At the height of the great feather boom, 100 years ago, there were four times as many spread across the region's open plains.

But things are certainly not what they used to be.

Into 2000
Although the ostrich industry will probably never reach the same dizzy heights of the feather boom, millennium demand is giving it a welcome boost.

The very best wing feathers are much harder to come by now than at the height of the feather boom, and the feather factory in the ostrich town of Oudtshoorn is struggling to keep up with the new demand.

Every item may still be made individually - each jacket and boa sewn piece by piece, from plumes sorted, stripped and dyed by hand - but these days almost all the feathers come from the abbatoir.

Ostriches are now bred primarliy for their meat and leather.

New year rush

Coenie Coetzee's staff at the Klein Karoo Co-operative have been working around the clock to meet their orders for a bit of good old-fashioned new year glamour.

And Mr Coetzee even persuaded me to try on a huge bright pink feather boa - on the somewhat dubious premise that it complemented my eyes.

He describes ostrich feather fashions as "great for the millennium".

"I think it's the flowing beauty and the elegance which has attracted mankind for many many years to ostrich feathers," he says.

"It is still regarded as the Rolls Royce of feathers."

Ostrich farm manager Billy Engelbrecht may not remember the days of the plume boom - but he envies how the feather millionaires lived - fast and frivilous, in mansions known as feather palaces.

Tourist attraction

Mr Engelbrecht's Safari Ostrich Farm caters mostly for tourists. The thrill of riding an ostrich and the spectacle of ostrich races have helped keep the Karoo ostrich farms going through the lean years.

Ostriches like "Suzy the Stripper" - who pecks incessantly at the tourist guide's clothing - work full-time entertaining tourists, and are likely to keep their jobs.

And now there is increasing demand for the birds' low-calorie, low-cholestrol meat.

"People associate ostriches with Oudtsthoorn and Oudtsthoorn with ostriches because the farmers in this area were the first people to farm ostriches on a commercial level," Mr Engelbrecht explains.

"So it is known as the ostrich capital of the world. There are more ostriches in this area than human beings."

There's certainly no escaping ostriches here. Even the town's Christmas lights are a display of animated ostriches - their heads turned towards another feather boom in the new millennium, and definitely not in the sand.

As the tour guides say, that's all a myth - only politicians bury their heads in the sand.

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See also:
29 Dec 99 |  Africa
Ethiopia: Partying like it's 1992
24 Dec 99 |  Africa
Botswana not bugged by Y2K

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