a1 Department of Physiology, University of Zimbabwe, P.O. Box MP 167, Mount Pleasant, Harare, Zimbabwe
Ostrich skin when tanned forms distinctive and exclusive leather which is much sought after in the fashion industry. Promotion and marketing are focused on its distinctive quill pattern, durability and suppleness. The leather commands a high price by comparison with other livestock leather. The industry in southern Africa is currently export focused with the highest number of tanned skins being exported from South Africa principally to Japan. There are currently many debates on the optimum age for slaughter, skin size being dependent on buyer demand. Skins are subjected to strict grading criteria. Many factors need to be considered to maximise skin yield and quality including adequate nutrition, preventing on-farm scarring and bruising during transport, preventing feather pecking and treating birds for parasitic and arthropod infestations. Stringent conditions during the processing of the skins at the abattoirs and tanneries are crucial in preventing damage and subsequent downgrading. Environmental impacts of tanning are crucial and harmful by- products, including trivalent chromium, must be extracted from the effluent. The establishment of a strategy that ensures improvements in both the local ostrich and skin industry, and in the export market is necessary if southern Africa is to become a global player.