By: Tom Leoni
It had been a long time coming for my hunting buddy Joe and me. I knew I had the perfect adventure partner: Joe, the exuberant, big-hearted Cuban-American life-of-the-party type; me, the more quiet, pensive, bookish guy. Perfect complement to each other, and friends for 20 years. Perfect primary rifles—check. Perfect backup rifles—check. Perfect handloads—check. Perfect physical form—well, kinda check. Wives staying home so nobody to worry about while on the trip—check.
The only thing missing was to actually book a safari. So one day last year I decided to take matters into my own hands, do the research, and find a plains-game hunting package that would lead us to push the button on our first African adventure. I knew that our primary animal would be kudu, so I put together a spreadsheet of a half-dozen possible kudu hunts with different outfitters and ranked each package for different variables like accommodation type, terrain, location, cost, other animals, user reviews, etc.
Karoo Wild Safaris of Victor and Lindsay Watson (Eastern Cape, South Africa) came out on top. Without any further overthinking we went ahead and booked. This being our first safari, we also wanted to minimize the imponderables associated with traveling with our rifles. Victor was kind enough to recommend TWG (Travel With Guns) as an agent who would take care of our itinerary and all the required permits for taking our rifles to South Africa and back. Our itinerary ended up being Washington DC to Doha (Qatar), Doha to Johannesburg, and Johannesburg to Port Elizabeth. We used Qatar for the first two legs of the trip, SA Airlink for the final one. August 20 departure, August 23 first day of a 9-day hunt.
Part of the thrill of this hunt would be to take and use my favorite rifle, so I designed my whole gear list around it.
The rifle is a 1925 Holland & Holland single shot built on a Webley-type falling-block action; it is chambered for the .375 Flanged Magnum and sports a 26” barrel and a claw-mounted Zeiss Diatal fixed-power 6x32 scope that was added sometime after the war. With my 270-gr handloads (Speer boat-tail spitzer) traveling at about 2,400 fps it shoots very pleasantly and gives me a flat enough trajectory out to 250 yards.
This being a traditional rifle and me being a traditionalist, I opted for classic gear like a safari jacket, stout canvas pants with military-style leggings, and enough layers under the jacket to feel comfortable in the temperamental winter weather of the Karoo—which in the space of two days can vary from freezing to 80 Fahrenheit. On colder days, I simply added a “union suit” as a base layer. And although in this area I didn’t have to worry about fly larvae and getting my clothes washed and ironed every day, I brought two of pretty much everything.
My other essential pieces of gear consisted of my 10x25 Leica binoculars, which I kept in my jacket’s left pocket with a lanyard around my neck, my Courteney “Safari” boots with arch-support insoles, and my Borsalino crushable unlined fedora.
As a backup, I also brought a Mannlicher Schönauer M. 1903 chambered in 6.5x54 and sporting what I believe to be the earliest commercially-available variable scope, a Voigtländer Panskopar 3.5-6x dating back to the 1930’s. Save for one afternoon, the little Mannlicher remained in the lodge and drew no blood. The H&H was with me all the time and I got all my animals with it.
“A Matchless Paradise under a Canopy of Stars”
As our feet hit the tarmac at Port Elizabeth airport, Joe and I were singing the praises of the super-friendly custom officials in Johannesburg who inspected our rifles and wished us luck on our hunt, as well as the absolute confidence that Travel With Guns personnel gave us. Everyone treated us like VIPs and there was never a moment when we feared that our rifles, ammunition, and suitcases would not make it. Seriously: I could not recommend Travel With Guns any more without sounding like a paid shill for the company!
Our PH Victor Watson collected us from the airport and we made the 1 ½ -hour drive to his camp in the Karoo. During this short trip, I quickly learned that Victor is much more than a PH. A highly educated man, he speaks with knowledge and passion about such diverse subjects as conservation, history, botany, zoology, economics, linguistics, handloading, ballistics, and much more. This delighted me to no end, as I viewed this trip not only as an opportunity to hunt, but also to learn as much as possible about local history, plants and animals, minerals, languages, and customs.
After leaving highway R75, a series of dirt roads led us to our main camp, located a few miles West of Kleinpoort, which in turn is about 75 miles Northwest of Port Elizabeth. Karoo Wild Safaris is nestled against the backdrop of two kopjes or hillocks, and consists of a main lodge—inclusive of office, kitchen, and dining/entertainment area—and a series of cottages for the guests. These structures feature picturesque thatched roofs and some of them have a fire-pit in front of them for guests to chat cozily around a fire at night. A series of well-manicured gravel paths connects the cottages to the main lodge. When the camp lights were off, I enjoyed as clear and big a starry sky as most of us will ever see in our lifetime. This place reminded me of a turn of phrase I heard in a movie, “a matchless paradise under a canopy of stars.” I think it was Bonanza!
The main hunting area is a vast privately-owned concession covering over 40,000 acres, of which the Watsons own 11,000. The terrain is between the savanna and the semi-desertic, with the vegetation consisting predominantly of the grey-green thorny acacia bush and the umbrella-shaped jacket plum tree (Pappea capensis). Occasionally, one can spot even more exotic trees such as the naboom (Euphorbia ingens), whose milky latex causes nausea (in Afrikaans, “na-” = nausea, “boom” = tree); this gluey substance was also used by natives to be mixed with cobra poison, so that it would stick to their arrow- and spear-heads. Also quite prominent are the agave (Agave americana) and the prickly pear (genus: opuntia); these, however, are not autochthonous but were introduced to the area by settlers in centuries past.
After dropping our stuff off, freshening up and meeting the wonderful hostess and lady of the house, Lindsay Watson, we headed for the 100 yard range to check the zero on our rifles. This done, we went back to camp for what would be the first of a series of epic meals cooked by Mrs. Watson and the camp’s cook, Frances. Springbok shanks and malva pudding washed down with a refreshing Windhoek lager and some deliciously-plummy South African red: life is good.
The first morning set the tone for the type of hunting we would do for the entirety of this safari. Our PH Victor, our Xhosa tracker Mitchell, Joe and I would drive to the general area where we would hunt; we would leave the pickup truck and the rest was all on foot. On most days, by 10 AM I would have surpassed my usual daily goal of 12,000 steps, a good half of them up steep hills—thereby feeling absolutely guiltless as I’d help myself to seconds (or thirds!) at Lindsay Watson’s table in the evening!
Joe and I quickly learned that the number one challenge would be to spot the game. Although decent hunters here at home, we did not realize what a specialized competence it is to spot and evaluate African game. All the better: another skill to begin learning as much as possible in the short time of this safari. I can safely say that I spent more time with the Leicas glued to my eye-sockets than ever before in my life. Yet, by the time Joe or I had realized that that faraway dot we were looking at was actually an animal, Victor had long identified and evaluated it. Typical banter: Me – “Psst! Victor, look! I think I see an animal there, straight line at 1 o’clock of that big rock. Do you see it? Do you?” He – “Yeah, saw them. It’s actually three. Kudus. Two cows and a young bull that in a couple years may develop into a shooter.” Me – “Sigh.”
The first opportunity came in the afternoon of the first day. We were on fairly level ground when we spotted a good impala (Aepyceros melampus) about 100 yards away. I had encouraged Joe to be the first to draw blood in Africa and he was very happy to oblige. The ram was obscured by some very thick acacia bush and was looking straight in our direction, motionless for what seemed like an eternity, as (I am told) only African game is wont to do. We mirrored his stillness and pretty much mouthed words to each other instead of talking. Victor and our tracker bet on him eventually moving to his right and exposing himself to a shot, so we slowly positioned the tripod accordingly. After a long wait, sure enough, the impala did exactly what they had predicted. Joe carefully squeezed the trigger on his Marlin Cowboy .45-70 and the Underwood Xtreme monolithic solid dropped the ram as if struck by a thunderbolt. Good job, Joe!
The second day was one of more game-spotting and building my skills in evaluating kudu. Joe and I separated--he going with our tracker Mitchell, and I with our PH Victor. The area we hunted consisted of a hill with plenty of cover for the animals, with a wooded stretch at its base from which we could glass in the shadows while not being seen. On our right, a more open area where kudu would eventually show up in late afternoon. As I glassed that hill, I noticed with amazement that kudu horns reflect the sunlight and therefore shine through the vegetation. The only other object that does this is the prickly pear with its flat, Mickey-Mouse’s ears-like shapes. In time, I too was able to approximate (and I’m being generous with myself in this assessment) a guess as to the trophy quality of certain bulls—which felt very gratifying when Victor would agree. On this day, however, the wind did not cooperate and right when the bulls started down the hill and into the open, a shift in the air caused the animals to detect us and bolt to safety. Oh, well. Goddess Artemis is notoriously fickle, while Lindsay’s cooking never is!
On the third day, we switched camps. We drove North a couple hours, to a massive hunting area that looked like a gigantic meteor crater surrounded by the scenic Camdeboo mountains. Victor let me know that the area spanned 400,000 acres of wild huntable land. On the way in, I spotted lots of game including eland, rhino (dehorned to discourage poaching), warthog and—much to my delight—giraffe. I asked Victor to stop the truck so I could get out and take a few pictures of that majestic animal. It let me get close enough to snap a few good shots, and then, like a celebrity fed up with paparazzi, turned its head haughtily and cantered away in that awesome slow-motion lope that is so characteristic of this specie.
Our quarters consisted of a Cape Dutch-style cottage dating back to the 19th century, straight out of a Hollywood movie about the colonial times. In front lay a perfectly manicured lawn with (no less!) a cricket field in it.
After a quick cup of coffee (BTW, South African coffee is fantastic), we again set out hunting. We were joined by a second Xhosa tracker by the name of Michael—a baby-faced fellow with laughter in his eyes and a passion for hunting that shone through his every word and move. Joe and I had decided that kudu and gemsbok were the must-have species on our hunt, while the others would be left to chance and opportunity. The early morning was therefore dedicated to the pursuit of eland (Taurotragus oryx), which was very much on Joe’s wishlist. We scrambled through dense thornbush and followed dry riverbeds, Joe with his Marlin at the ready and I with two .375 Flanged shells between the fingers of my left hand, as a backup. The eland, however, did not cooperate and always kept out of range.
The plan, as the day proceeded, was pretty much the same: drive to a promising spot, do the rest on foot. Somehow, we didn’t expect to see kudu (our main pursuit) and we kept an open mind for other species. Around mid-morning, we spotted an unusually good nyala (Tragelaphus angasii) on the opposite side of a dry riverbed from us. I gave Victor an eager nod and thumbs-up, and he conveyed to me that the shot had to be taken lightning quick, lest the bull—a mere 60-70 yards away—spot us and bolt. Mechanically, I took a .375 shell from between the fingers of my left hand, dropped the action open and inserted it in the chamber. As the rifle nestled on the tripod, I snuck the automatic safety off and in one fluid motion, placed the crosshairs on the bull’s shoulder and squeezed the trigger. Boom went the H&H and down went the nyala. I believe he was dead by the time he hit the ground.
In the afternoon, Victor decided that we would take a chance on the surrounding mountains. We drove up an impossible slope, the dirt road cluttered with large, loose rocks that challenged the Toyota pickup to the limit—until we arrived at a spot where we had seen some zebra grazing way above the treeline. A few times, we got out of the truck and set up Joe for a shot—but the alert animals were always one step ahead of us. Eventually, Victor spotted a magnificent waterbuck (Kobus ellipsiprymnus) way up on a slope, and pointed it out to Joe as a worthy trophy. Joe and Victor scrambled up high enough to get a shot (circa 260 yards) and once again, the Marlin did not disappoint. One well-placed shot brought the waterbuck down. Joe’s delight was somewhat tempered by the need to climb up to the animal—a steep scramble that would have made Reinhold Messner blush—but to his credit, ol’ Joe did it.
I waited on the mountain dirt road and got a chance to drink in the beauty of the surroundings. The plain below was like a field of velvet, interspersed here and there by topaz-blue lakes. The other-worldly silence was made even more vivid by the fantastic image of faraway giraffe-necks sticking out of the emerald-green vegetation, like golden construction cranes jutting out of an unreal green cityscape. I had a chance to examine the mountain formations around me: almost invariably, they were tall hills with steep sides and a small flat top. What accounts for this phenomenon is the geology. Millions of years ago, much of the Karoo was a rather shallow freshwater lake (sea never covered the area); as the lake retreated and erosion started eating away at the exposed hills, flat deposits of dolerite rock acted as a sort of umbrella. The areas around them got eroded, while the harder dolerite withstood the elements and eventually contributed to create these characteristic shapes.
I also noticed that the vegetation was somewhat different. While the acacia was still the dominant specie, the jacket plum was replaced by the gwarri tree (Euclea crispa) as the second most frequently encountered. This handsome evergreen is somewhat reminiscent of a supersized head of broccoli, and I understand that both animal and man find it essential for its leaf, fruit, and bark.
Back in camp, we were joined by Lindsay Watson, who surprised us with a Cape Malay dish by the name bobotie. It consists of ground meat in a mild curry sauce, wrapped in an egg-based crust. Rice, chutney and (amazingly) a banana were the accompaniment, much to our palates’ delight.
I woke up in the middle of the night to a crescendo of loud noises coming from different parts of the old house. I quickly realized that outside a gale-force wind was blowing. As I stepped into the kitchen at breakfast time, a busy Lindsay Watson informed me that the wind was there to stay, at least until the better part of the afternoon. A minor inconvenience—nothing could spoil our adventure. The day before, I had slept on a pillow-case covered by images of nyalas, and I had gotten a nyala. This time, the staff had changed the pillow-case to one with gemsbok, and my hunter’s superstition suggested to me that I would be successful in harvesting one.
As the Toyota was once again gasping up an impossibly-steep dirt road, we heard the telltale tap-tap on top of the cab: the Xhosa trackers, riding in the back on raised chairs, had spotted something. Victor killed the engine and out came Joe and I, the 40 MPH wind causing the barrels of our rifles (slung on our backs) to rock from side to side like ship-masts in a seastorm. After a good scramble, we found ourselves on a high treeless ledge that dominated the valley. Here the wind seemed even stronger—so much so that I had to jam the Borsalino all the way down on my head, or else it would have been literally blown away. The gemsbok they had spotted was in a dip to our left. Still there. I situated myself on the left-most part of the ledge in a sitting position—my back resting against the rock. I could see the gemsbok lingering partly concealed by a blinkblaar bush (Rhamnus prinoides or African dogwood) that glimmered—as its Afrikaans name suggests--in the surrounding vegetation. After a short while, he completely disappeared behind that bush—but no worries. We knew he had to come out in the open sooner or later.
I waited in that position for about three-quarters of an hour, my Leicas fixed on that glimmery dogwood bush about 180 yards away, and ultra-confident in the steadiness of my shooting position in spite of the violent gusts of wind. I had placed the rifle barrel quite far back in the V of the tripod, thereby minimizing the lateral movements from the wind. Just as I was silently complimenting myself on my resourcefulness, one of the trackers let out a mournful oooooh! The gemsbok had outsmarted us! Somehow, he had reappeared not to the left or right of that dogwood bush, but rather 50-60 yards lower and to our right, as he merrily high-tailed it to a safer spot. Oh, well. C’est la chasse.
My “magic gemsbok pillow-case,” however, was not to betray me on that day. An hour did not pass when we spotted a magnificent cow with long and (for a female) thick horns. She was a mere 100 yards away on a hillock, this time slightly higher than we were. This, once again, called for a quick shot on my part. Victor set up the tripod while I loaded the H&H. Just as it had happened with the nyala, in one motion I had placed the forend on the V of the tripod, snuck off the safety, placed the crosshairs on the animal’s shoulder and squeezed the trigger.
At this point, my greatest desire was that my buddy Joe also get one. I kept my fingers crossed for him and, sure enough, his chance came a few short hours later. His stalk was almost the specular image of my attempt at the first gemsbok: it took place on the right side of that high treeless ledge, and the gemsbok—a bull--was slightly below us approximately 200 yards away. Joe cycled a round in the chamber of his .308 Ruger American and his marksmanship, as always, was perfectly up to task. By day’s end, in spite of the wind, we each had collected a magnificent gemsbok.
On the 27th of August, the day of my birthday, we planned on hunting in the morning (still quite windy) and then head back to the main camp in the afternoon. Victor had hinted that Lindsay and Frances were preparing something special to celebrate my birthday and I couldn’t wait to see what it was. The morning hunt was uneventful and the animals just weren’t showing themselves in a wind that was only slightly less furious than on the previous day. The animals we were hunting, that is... As we were scouring the vegetation for an eland, zebra or a kudu, I spotted a magnificent tusker about 60-70 yards away. I had to stop and snap a few pictures of him. The sight of a bull elephant in the wild was a thrill that more than made up for the scarcity of game on that morning. There was Africa in all its splendor.
I also saw a herd of cape buffalo loitering near one of the lakes. Once again, I felt compelled to approach them and take pictures. As my zeal to get nearer and nearer wasn’t flagging, I overheard Joe and Victor bantering behind me. “Hey, look how close to those things he’s getting.” “Well, if things go pear-shaped for him, we’ll play rock-paper-scissors for his fine rifle!”
Later that afternoon, we were back in the main camp. After a long warm shower that washed the wind off my face, I put on a set of crisp, newly-laundered clothes and headed for the lodge. Much to my surprise, Lindsay, Frances, Victor, and Joe were all arrayed to greet me with a hearty “happy birthday!” But where was the cake? I looked on the bar counter, and I saw Lindsay lighting candles on what appeared to be an oblong, rectangular slab of.... KUDU MEAT! After that surprise, the actual cake also came out, sporting a magnificent image of a kudu, and I was treated to a sung “happy birthday” wish in Xhosa. A truly memorable evening!
On the day after, Victor decided that we would retrace our steps to where we were on the second day of our safari. There was still a little bit of wind, but nowhere near as violent as it had been in the previous 48 hours. After some trekking through the low brush, we spotted a very nice kudu bull about 150 yards away. As it turned out to be the leitmotif of my hunt, the shot had to be quick: the H&H rested on the V of the tripod right as I snuck the safety off and placed the crosshairs on the bull’s shoulder. As the shot rang, I heard the telltale “thwack” of the hit, and the bull bolted forward and disappeared from sight. We jogged anxiously to where he had stood, looked around for signs of blood, then started following his likely trail. After only a few yards, there he lay, with only an entry wound on his left shoulder. The bull was an old one (circa 10 years) and truly magnificent. I sometimes like a few pictures of the animal as it fell, before it gets placed in the classic African trophy pose. I was able to get Joe to snap a few among his enthusiastic shouts of “well done, cabrón!” So here are both:
I also had the opportunity to examine the Speer 270-grain boat-tail bullet as it was recovered from the animal, right against the skin of his right side. The scale weighed it at 258 grains, and the mushroom shape was more than satisfactory.
That afternoon, we tackled the relatively open area to the right of the wooded strip in which Victor and I had stood glassing for kudu on the afternoon of the second day. Instead of hunting down into it, we circled around and hunted it up towards the aforementioned wooded strip. We walked for quite a while when our tracker Mitchell froze mid-stride with one foot suspended in the air and gestured to us to get low: he had spotted a good kudu. We followed in single file until we found a big enough bush to afford us both shade and cover, and we waited for the bull to present us with a shot. We waited there for quite a while, as we could see the bull but not well enough to pick a clear path for the bullet. He was around 300 yards away, so when Victor and Mitchell deemed it safe, they and Joe moved a few tens of yards forward to the cover of another bush. That’s when things got dicey.
Practically squeezed against the bush that had given cover to all of us moments before, I watched in apprehension as a group of kudu cows was lolling in single file closer and closer to me, to my right. I knew that if I got spotted, Joe’s bull would also get spooked and bolt. I was sitting down, carrying only my little Mannlicher which is short and light. As the cows moved closer to my right, I carefully, slowly, and noiselessly scooted to my left, trying to keep the bush between me and the approaching cows. 30 yards away... 20 yards away... surely they would soon spot me.... BOOM! The sound of Joe’s rifle came as a relief!
That night we had another feast and toasted this phenomenal two-kudu day!
The subsequent couple days, we decided to take it easy and do some hiking, thereby also giving our hosting team a break. Joe and I took off from camp and went on a 1 ½ hour hike on a well-marked trail that skirted some of the hillocks in the surrounding area. About 150 years ago, that part of the Eastern Cape had been settled by the Dutch Voortrekkers. There remained vestiges of their farms—small buildings that (we guessed) roughly followed the Cape-Dutch style—and their more humble shepherd’s huts—built of mudstone or sandstone, without mortar; also, here and there, we were able to examine the remains of a livestock kraal (the South African equivalent of a corral, with which it also shares a linguistic affinity). Although the area had been the theater of the Anglo-Boer war, the ruins of these small farmhouses and huts had not befallen the fate of so many Boer homes—namely, torching by an exhausted and exasperated British army. Rather, their current state was merely the work of abandonment and the elements.
But it was not long until we found another vestige of a long-ago tragedy. Not far from the skinning shed, we spotted a small abandoned cemetery. Its headstones could still be read: it was a children’s cemetery and the Dutch names on the headstones bore dates that eerily coincided with the bubonic plague that struck South Africa in 1901.
This reminded me of what a hardy, resilient people these Voortrekkers were. These ancient ruins spoke of quiet dignity, of unshakable faith, hard work, and incredible adaptability to their surroundings. I always hate it when I get dust in my eyes and I have to wipe them.
By our last day, Joe and I were fully satisfied with our experience, and already making plans to book with Victor and Karoo Wild Safaris again (and again!). Joe had gotten an impala, a waterbuck, a gemsbok and a kudu; I, a truly majestic nyala, a gemsbok and a kudu. I told Victor that, what the heck, I wouldn’t mind taking a blesbok (Damaliscus pygargus phillipsi), so out came the H&H one more time, and off we went.
We drove to an area featuring low rolling hills and started scouting for this animal. We spotted one after a while and set out on a stalk. My shot was somewhat rushed, but the animal fell. Quite used to super-fast shots, Victor and I proceeded to shake hands when suddenly the blesbok got up and ran. We could see him in the distance, as he joined a group of springboks and kept running farther, farther away. This called for true strategy, so we split our small army and planned a pincer move: Joe was to go with Victor to hopefully intercept the blesbok where he was headed, while our tracker Mitchell and I would pursue him head-on.
What followed were 40 minutes of anxiety on my part. I knew I had hit the animal, and that the unforgiving .375 bullet would do its work and bring him down—eventually. But the thought of the blesbok suffering (although it was running like a devil!) and the fear of losing it was hammering on my conscience like an industrial-size mallet. A couple times, I spotted him running in the distance and took a hopeful shot, but to no avail. But I had faith in our tracker Mitchell. Upon a stop we made, he told me (in his awesome African accent and grinning from ear to ear): “animals can run, but they’ll never run from me.” Just for good measure, me being from the Alps of central Europe, I lifted up a prayer to St. Hubertus, the patron saint of hunters and (for the less spiritually-inclined) the guy who gave the world the cross-in-the-antlers Jägermeister logo.
“St. Hubertus, I beseech you, let me come away from this hunting adventure knowing that I have taken all my animals humanely. Let me find this blesbok and harvest him without any further suffering on his part.”
No sooner had my lips stopped mouthing this prayer, the incomparable Mitchell had frozen. We were about three-quarters up a steep hill, and he knew—just KNEW—the blesbok had to be on the other side. We ducked along a little rocky ledge towards our right, until he carefully peered above the hilltop: sure enough, there was the blesbok! About 700 yards away were Victor and Joe: they saw me raise the rifle, freeze for a couple seconds, and they saw the blesbok fall as if struck by a lightning-bolt. After a second of so, BOOM came the faraway report.
This concluded our hunting adventure. Four beautiful animals each, soon to be taxidermied by the Port Elizabeth-based Relive Africa outfit, which we visited on our way to the airport. Packing and leaving were the saddest parts of our trip, and it was with a heavy heart that we said good-bye to Victor, Lindsay and the team. But no worries—we would be back again!
While on the plane, I had ample time to reflect on what I had seen and the discussions I had had with Victor. Foremost in my mind was the issue of conservation, which goes hand-to-hand with the idea of “real Africa” as read in the ancient books of Selous and Karamojo Bell, and of “fair chase” as it is often misunderstood in our day. The following are my thoughts:
1 - We all have friends, relatives, colleagues and acquaintances who have strongly-held beliefs about this topic. It behooves us to be well informed leaders and to (as it were) help them down the first slope of the Dunning-Kruger curve—i.e., from their holding confident, dogmatic positions about what they actually know little about, to their being honestly doubtful about what they are about to find out. For instance, if a Facebook friend wants to honestly know if that kudu you shot was endangered, you tell them, figures in hand. Those who are close minded beyond redemption may be fewer than we think (or at least so I hope).
2 - With very few exceptions, we can’t speak of animal X, Y, or Z, being endangered or plentiful “in Africa.” Africa is made of several countries, climates, and environments--each of which has its own conservation situation. Just like there is little sense in asking whether Grizzly is plentiful “in North America,” since as a specie it is highly localized, there are many African species that are plentiful (or indeed overly-abundant) in one area and rare or nonexistent in another.
3 – The game-abundant, barely-populated Africa of Selous, Bell and Roosevelt is gone—forever. Exploding human demographics are very much part of the African environment, whether we like it or not. Instead of looking at nature as distinct from humans, we must realize that our specie is very much part of the ecosystem. Therefore, smart game management must account for a careful balance between the needs of man and those of the animals. For instance, to expect a suddenly-thriving elephant population by banning hunting and ivory-sale is the stuff of coloring books, not reality. People will farm. More people means more farms. Game—especially megafauna—is anathema to farming. Elephant will be squeezed out of its environment by farming. And sellable ivory being rare will cause its price to skyrocket, thereby making it lucrative for poachers and worth the risk. The road to hell *is* indeed paved with good intentions—mainly by urban PETA types who have never had to contend with the messy reality of conservation.
4 – As a corollary to the previous point, it is senseless to imagine that a safari out in the blue in a poorly-managed country with dwindling game-numbers is “doing real Africa” while a hunt in a carefully-managed concession in a nation with abundant game is “doing high fence” and therefore not the real thing. We are not “doing real Africa” where game is 1/1000th of what it was in the time of Selous and Bell. And “high fence,” that lazy synecdoche by which we actually mean “American-style game farm,” has no real meaning in South Africa. In most cases, an actual, physical high fence in a (usually massive) hunting concession only means that the area is private, and that the owner of the land also legally owns the game which happens to be on it at any given time. It does not mean that the owner buys and breeds game, which instead is still very much wild. Nothing at all to do with the postage-stamp-sized game-farms that we call “high fence” in the USA. Heck, even Kruger National Park is high-fenced!
5 – As of 1977, Kenya and South Africa had roughly the same head-count of game. As of today, Kenya with its on-again, off-again approach to hunting has one fourth of what it had in 1977, while South Africa has twice the number it had back then. If anything, this should be held up as an example of successful game management in a time of human population explosion. Let’s all draw our own conclusions from this highly-telling statistic, knowing (as we do) what South Africa’s friendly approach to hunting is and has been.
6 – Lastly, I have come to believe that the destiny of game is attached to its monetary value. Not that every wild animal must have a virtual price-tag attached to it, but it is a matter of simple economics: put a value on something, and you are bound to care for it and ensure its preservation and thriving. Take that value away, and the opposite is true. In an age of rapidly-growing farming and development, animals without value (and with a high consumption rate of their own habitat, like elephant) will tend to disappear. Put a high value on them, for instance, by keeping them on vast hunting concessions and allowing their controlled harvesting with a commensurate high price, and they will continue to be with us.
In conclusion, Africa, its game, and its mystique are one of the world’s biggest treasures. I was glad to experience all this with a good buddy and with thoughtful people like Victor and Lindsay who helped me understand even more how to keep this precious heritage and pass it down to posterity. I am proud to have been part of all this, and look forward to my next adventure in Africa with the fantastic folks at Karoo Wild Safaris.