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Ostrich Industry

Kings and beauties have adorned themselves with ostrich feathers since ancient times: When Howard Carter opened Tutankhamen's tomb in 1922, one of the first things he found was a perfect, 3,000 year old, ivory-handled ostrich feather fan.

Nowhere has the ostrich been more important than in Oudtshoorn.

Since 1859, when there were just 2,159 birds in the region, to the boom of the late 1870s, the slump of 1885, the great fashion explosion of the early 1900s and the final slump which came with the First World War - the ostrich has always dictated Oudtshoorn's fortunes and always remained the centre of attention.

It looked as if ostrich farming might die completely in the first half of the 20th century. With the sudden end to this latest boom, South Africa began slaughtering its 314,000 domesticated ostriches in 1918; by 1932 only 30,000 were left, and Oudtshoorn accounted for just 2,000 birds in 1940. But the ostrich came to the region's rescue once more when visitors (who were coming to the Cango Caves in greater numbers after World War II) began to look for other interesting attractions.

The first ostrich show farm had opened for business in 1930 and, as a result of tourism and its related leather and curios businesses - and later as a result of the meat trade - ostrich numbers peaked at about 100,000 in the 1980s and have remained at that level ever since.

Oudtshoorn is now recognised by Germany's Munich-based Institute of Palaeo-anatomy as the place where ostriches were domesticated - because these are not wild birds; the modern domestic ostrich was bred from a cross between South Africa's indigenous bird and the Evans-Lovemore strain of Barbary blue-necked ostriches (141 of which were secretly smuggled out of North Africa and brought to Oudtshoorn by a group of adventurers under RW Thornton of the Grootfontein Agricultural College).

South Africa has exported ostrich feathers to Europe since 1821 when 115,950 Rix dollars-worth were dispatched.

Early harvesting meant shooting - a practice which lead to rapid population decline - but this problem was solved when farmers Olivier, Raubenheimer and Van der Westhuizen learned and applied North African ostrich farming principles (rearing their flocks in paddocks and capturing them to pluck their feathers).

Today, a number of highly professional ostrich show farms offer regular farm tours - and the ostrich remains one of Oudtshoorn's most fascinating attractions.



'Blue Bird' labelled ostrich meat, is the healthiest meat that money can buy. Of all domestic animals, it is the closest to venison because it contains almost no fat: lower even in calories than turkey, it has just 0.5% fat and 21% protein.

Ostrich meat is a truly South African cuisine and is available at every restaurant in Oudtshoorn - and you'll find it at every traditional South African braai in the Klein Karoo.