Dr Bernard Angermaier, Audi, told delegates at the Upholstery Leather Conference in Verona, May 1-2, of a customer who specified emerald green ostrich leather for her car. She paid €2,000 for the privilege and presumably was pleased with the result.

Conference delegate Piet van Zyl, Klein Karoo, has high hopes of getting ostrich leather accepted by the automobile industry. Until now, it has been seen more in the context of luxury leathergoods.

He had recently visited Louis Vuitton who are now making bags in ostrich leather for the first time. Klein Karoo carry 400 colours and will also match customer specs wherever possible.

They are the largest supplier of ostrich leather in South Africa. They produce 200,000 hides a year, which is huge in ostrich terms.

According to the most recent Ostrich Products Newsletter, the ostrich industry is dominated by South Africa. In 2002, it is estimated that South Africa slaughtered 310,000 ostriches, compared with the rest of the world with 80,000. In 2003, South Africa supplied 79% of the ostrich skins into the market, the rest of the world 21%.

In the rest of the world, major players have come and gone. Australia, Zimbabwe and Namibia have all been prominent at one time, but the strongest challenger to come is likely to be China. In China, with governmental and private backing, ostrich farming units are now growing in strength.

The value of a slaughter bird in South Africa is broken up as 45% skin, 45% meat and 10% feather. This contrasts with Europe where 75% is meat and 25% skin. The rest of the world have still to fully explore income from feathers and the value of the oil.

South Africa has a comparative advantage over Europe in that their operations permit economies of scale. In Israel, ostriches are farmed extensively. For 10,000 slaughter birds, there are five persons in the labour force with each man looking after 2,000 birds. In contrast, in China on a 5,000 bird farm there are 60 workers and no mechanised vehicles or tractors.