Friday, June 4, 2010

Past Article on Lion Hunting in South Africa

Since I wrote this article, and after having done one of these hunts with Sandhurst Safaris out of the Northwest Province, the son of the owner, Clayton Fletcher was arrested for being part of a massive Rhino horn poaching and smuggling ring!

South Africa revisited!

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So I’ve been a bit hard on the South African PH’s lately and as one of my subscribers put it, “do you have no shame!, your name is Swanepoel and you live in Cape Town?”
Well yes I do have compassion for the country and its massive contribution towards habitat and wildlife restoration, but I do NOT care much about exposing what really does go on in South Africa when it comes to the hunting of Africa's largest predator.
In fact there has been such a hubbub recently over the issue of “canned” and “put and take” hunting that the industry stands on the verge of a tough legislative mountain. While I advocate that not enough dialogue was entered into between the Nature Conservation authorities and the well established hunting industry before the draft legislation was drawn up, I also firmly believe there was not enough self regulation on the part of the hunting industry.
The cornerstone of the massive rejuvenation of wildlife in South Africa has been the principle of placing the ownership of game, usually vested in the hands of the president, into that of private hands. This has enabled growth in the industry beyond compare and no matter what any greenie says, hunting has been the most influential factor in this conservation revolution.
Yet this privatization, although revolutionary, also resulted in loopholes and abuse where massive profits clouded out any sane hope of self-regulation. Now the industry stands in the firing line and it seems likely that the face of hunting in South Africa is about to change on many fronts. I say it is about time!
here's a true story....
We hunt Lion in South Africa based on a ranch which runs along the boundary with Botswana. You see, Botswana has many Lions, in fact they have a problem with them and each year cattle ranchers have to eliminate hundreds of them. We are fortunate enough to know some of these cattle ranch owners and they keep in contact with us on a regular basis. Usually it is not more than a week before a lion appears on their ranch after their cattle and they call us immediately and let us know so that we can pass on this deal to you, our most prestigious client. Botswana has magnificent Lion, you’ve seen the pictures of those beasts they shot last year, this is the quality of Lion you can expect.
OK, what I suggest is that we book 10 days at a proper game ranch near the Botswana border, they have a lot of other game to hunt and a comfortable lodge. Then we put out the word to the local cattle ranches that you want a Lion and, I’m serious here, it will not be more than 2-3 days before they pick up a track. They’ll call us immediately and we’ll get there pronto and with our expert bushman trackers we follow the Lion on foot. This can be very dangerous and nerve wracking, the Lion here are fearless and often we have had to shoot a charging beast
Yes, they are usually large nomadic males who have been ousted from their prides by younger stronger boys, so they go after the cattle, an easier target for an old Lion on his own.
No I don’t have a fixed trophy fee for you, you see the price depends upon the age or size of the mane, you know, the older and more impressive the male the higher the fee BUT you will not mind paying this once the MGM maned beast is down, or do you have a budget in mind, sometimes we have more than one lion in the area. Seriously we can more or less put our “@$@# on a block” you’ll shoot a black maned male, they’re Botswana Lions they’re known as the biggest in Africa!
NO of course not! We don’t do that but beware of these canned hunts which other people offer in South Africa with Zoo Lions, yes I mean it zoo lions. The Lions we hunt are nomads which have turned into problem animals on the borders and if you don’t shoot them then the cattle rancher will poison them. You know these are wild because we find the tracks on unfenced land, usually early in the morning and then we follow on foot, and sometimes get charged by the animal, what zoo lion is going to do that!

how the king of beasts was bagged....
I’m standing in the darkness of the Kalahari dawn outside my clients chalet door. I’ve just come from seeing the ranch owner and have confirmed all is set, we are on track, the cat is ready for us. I confirmed again, as we had done the night before, this was the big male and that it was a black maned beast. The owner had looked at me wearily as he stirred sugar into his coffee, he had driven through the night to get here and now his look told me not to push any further on this issue, he had found the cat, it was ready what more did I want.
I knocked hard on the chalet door, paused a moment and then shouted ‘John wake up, wake up, we have a phone call from one of the cattle ranches,… seems a lion crossed into his property late last night, he heard a single male roaring…..I think this is our Lion’
While we are grabbing a quick cup of coffee and toast I hear a truck pulling into the lodge, the ranch owner jumps out and repeats the story to us, he is impatient he wants to go, the trackers and the dogs are ready, the Lion may move back to Botswana at any minute, lets do it guys.
We drive for half an hour crossing out of the high fenced game ranch onto a low fenced property which we are told is the cattle ranch were the Lion was heard. The Kalahari sand makes difficult driving you have to keep a reasonable speed which we do for another 20 minutes bouncing around on the back of the truck. Suddenly a small figure appears in the track ahead, a tiny wizened comical man jumping up and down in the road as if we have not seen him and his half breed dog straddled across the road in the early morning sun.
The farmer barks a few words to him in Afrikaans, ‘you little bastard you were lying in the sun like your dog, sleeping’ and he laughs back ‘yes boss it was damn cold when you dropped me off an hour ago’ he points into the bush and the farmer looks at the client in a solemn face: ‘fresh tracks, he found fresh tracks in here, get your gun ready’. There’s a hubbub around the vehicle as trackers pile off and dogs sniff at each other, my client is fumbling to get his ammo belt on and heavy jacket off at the same time, I can sense his excitement.
We walk into the bush with the little wizened tracker at the lead, a gaggle of dogs around his feet and the others spread in a semi circle. The pace is fast and hurried until the little tracker stops in a clearing and points to the ground, a massive paw print in the red sand. We load rifles, our formation changes, now we are directly behind the little bushman, guns at the ready, the farmer behind us without any weapon, hands in his pockets looking bored. The dogs are running ahead on the track and then turning back every time they get too far, they know the drill, they can smell the cat and have seen action before this day.
Suddenly the little bushman stops in his tracks, he clucks to himself and then shakes his head and says to me in Afrikaans, ‘he’s lazy this one, perhaps he’s cold, we’ll find him soon lying in the sun’. Despite the situation I never fail to marvel at how these little people are perfect hunters, merging their being with that of the quarry and almost becoming the beast. I stood for a minute trying to pick out how he had concluded this but gave up and signaled we move on.
One of the younger dogs comes charging back at us through the bush and the bushman ducks out of our way saying to me ‘here he comes’, we all freeze and watch as the massive beast appears ahead of us in the clearing, startled and skidding to a halt his head held up high, eyes fixed. I can sense a look of bewilderment in his face as I tell John to take him in the chest, and make it quick, he’s going to charge.
The shot is always drowned out by the Lions roar as the bullet hits him, this is more or less universal, as is the jump into the air. He lay there for a while his growls slowly subsiding to total silence, it was a good close shot, a clean kill, the cat had died. We clap John on the back and shake his hand and say numb things like good shot, what a massive boy, you don’t get many of them around anymore, what luck a Botswana black mane!

the whole truth ....
The truth behind this story is that earlier that day, this Lion had been released out of a small metal cage in which he had spent the night on the back of the farmers truck. I had personally gone with the farmer the night before and had pointed to the male, an impressive proud animal lying lazily in his half acre pen. I had looked over a number of males, probably 9 in all but he was the most impressive in the price range. He was sedated and loaded into the cage for the night. This was meant to get him cold and lazy so by the time he had been released onto the cattle section of the ranch he was stiff and aching with a headache from the now worn off tranquilizer, he lay down and waited for the sun to come.
The bushman was left behind when they released the cat, he climbed a tree and waited for us to appear, his cue, upon which he jumped down and flagged the truck to a halt. Thus our ‘hunt’ started, the cat came charging out of the bush after one of the dogs he probably had interaction with, day in and day out, through the fences of his captivity.

I cannot express this in any stronger terms - THERE ARE NO WILD LION LEFT IN SOUTH AFRICA FOR YOU TO HUNT IN FAIR CHASE - they are all, to some extent, captive bred animals and if you hunt them you are participating in a 'canned hunt' no matter what it appears like to you or whether you have been told about it or not.
In South Africa cats are bred, or should I say allowed to live and reach maturity for a purpose. They never know the true wild and their whole life has been controlled from birth by humans. We are their source of survival through our own greed and materialism. This is the power we exert over nature and its inhabitants for our own ends.
The above story is true and I expect some will not agree with what I have said. However it is an undeniable fact! This does happen in South Africa, Namibia and to an extent Zimbabwe.
I'm not judging anyone who has participated in such a hunt, I just believe that people should know what does happen!
Pete Swanepoel jnr
"I speak of Africa and golden joys" ; the joy of wandering through lonely lands; the joy of hunting the mighty lords of the wilderness, the cunning, the wary, and the grim." Theodore Roosevelt - 1908
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Thursday, May 20, 2010

South African Hunting Information

South Africa is not a country for the classical "Hemmingway Safari", there are no vast untrammeled hunting concessions where civilisation is kept at bay by tsetse fly and deep gushing crocodile infested rivers. In South Africa there are very few places not touched by the influences and presence of mankind, or more to the point, of western civilisation as we are used to back home.

If you're expecting to forage into Tarzans deep dark jungles where savage natives and ferocious beasts lie in wait then you'll be disappointed. Most South African hunting safaris take place on private game ranches that have been fenced for decades yet have also been refuges for some of the continents most incredible species.

In South Africa you'll find the widest variation of huntable game species in all of the continent, including some highly endangered animals which a have been more or less saved from extinction by these game ranches.

Don't get the wrong impression from the term "ranch hunting", forget illusions of hand reared family pets and caged zoo animals being offered up for the chase. There are no feeding pens where game is carefully propagated with feed mixtures and steriods so their horns grow bigger. You are getting the real deal, there are cats that can bite you, snakes that chase and buffalo that gore, the presence of a fence is merely how the hunting in South Africa is set up and does not delude from the hunting experience.

Most game species are elusive and wary, providing days of excitement and challenge. Perhaps here more than anywhere else in Africa, is the hunter able to dictate the method and manner of the hunt to suit their personal hunting ethics.

Some of these ranches or conservation areas are huge, sometimes upwards of 200,000 acres, vast areas of wilderness which support naturally sustaining herds in a more or less truly wild setting. Howere most will be in the 5000 to 20,000 acre range, still offering a great hunt.

Today over 33 million acres are dedicated to game ranching and private reserves, almost twice the combined area of government parks and reserves. Land once used for farming now plays host to the majority of South Africa's varied game population and results in an unchallenged variety of trophies for the visiting hunter.

The term safari is no more or no less fulfilled here than in other countries, it remains as it always has, a personal experience to each individual seeking adventure.