In parts of southern Africa, the conservation of plains game is dependent on income from hunting safaris — so go, says Tony Jackson, and savour the sport
Safari! Derived from the Swahili for a journey, the very word itself still evokes the spirit of past adventures, of hot, weary hours spent trekking in the bush, of long-forgotten hunting expeditions in East Africa. Even today, hunting safaris still conjures up the thrills and excitement of a bygone era, known most intimately by the hunter, rifle in hand.
I have had the good fortune to hunt plains game in Sudan, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Namibia and South Africa for more than 40 years, but I am all too aware that today there is a rampant hostility, born of ignorance, towards hunting.
It is, I believe, essential that anyone contemplating a hunting safari in Africa should have a clear understanding of the crucial link between conservation and hunting, a role that is exemplified in both South Africa and Namibia where hunting and conservation interests are interdependent and wild game thrives.
In places where hunting is banned there is no incentive for local interests, particularly farmers, to invest in game. Nowhere is this more apparent than in Kenya where hunting was banned in 1976. As a result Kenya has since lost 85 per cent of all its game, whereas in South Africa, where hunting and conservation go hand in hand, there is currently an estimated 20million head of game, of which approximately 16million are on private land and the remainder in state parks. Over 15million hectares of private land is registered and set aside for conservation and the same amount of land is employed for mixed wildlife and cattle farming.
Saved from extinction
It is an incontrovertible fact that species such as the sable, bontebok, ostrich, black wildebeest and mountain zebra, to name but some, have been brought back from the verge of extinction and reintroduced to areas where they had locally vanished as a result of investment in their future with well-regulated and controlled hunting.
A tourist on a wildlife viewing safari may well choose to denigrate the role of the hunter, but in so doing he or she fails to understand that the preservation of so many species of game they can watch is due almost entirely to the financial input of the hunter.
Namibia is a very good example of wildlife conservation escalating as a result of carefully controlled hunting. Its wildlife population has more than tripled in recent years as landowners, aware of the potential income from hunting, have been encouraged to increase the amount of game on their land, while rural communities have formed conservancies with the income from hunting contributing to their communities.
Armed with the facts and a perfectly acceptable case for hunting plains game, there is not the slightest reason to hesitate if you have long nurtured a wish to undertake a real safari.
Over the past few decades a steadily increasing flow of sportsmen and women from this country have taken advantage of the outstanding plains game hunting on offer in southern Africa, either in association with farming operations which have expanded into hunting, or through the medium of outtters who may operate over a substantial area in association with farms. (The majority of hunted regions in South Africa are fenced, but they are so vast that there is no sense of enclosure or feeling that the wild life is “behind bars”.)
How to prepare for hunting safaris
For the first-timer on safari there are, inevitably, a number of queries and questions relating to rifles, ammunition, clothing, airport customs, licences, available game, costs, taxidermy, health, seasons, weather and how to set about finding hunting.
It is essential to deal with an experienced agent in whichever country you are travelling to, who represents no more than one or two outfitters and who will deal with all the above queries, handle rearms import licences and make sure that you are fully briefed on what to expect. Dealing directly with a hunting operation in southern Africa can be a nightmare of email exchanges and fraught with misunderstandings, whereas an experienced UK agent can advise, sort and arrange all the details and answer any queries that will inevitably arise.
I have hunted close to the Kruger National Park, in the northern cape of South Africa on the edge of the green Kalahari and in the Eastern Cape. I have only once visited Namibia, but for the plains game hunter both countries offer outstanding opportunities for reasonably priced and safe sport.
Namibia is a vast country with a small population, excellent roads and infrastructure. There are numerous hunting operations, many of them offering free-range hunting over thousands of acres for a wide variety of plains game.
I visited one such operation, Omalanga Safaris, close to Etosha National Park in the north of the country. With over 250,000 acres and 20 species of plains game, a camp built in the traditional style but with modern touches, this well-run operation offered incredibly good hunting and value for money. However, over the past few years I have come to know well the excellent and good-value hunting that the eastern cape of South Africa has to offer. The range of plains game is extensive. Some 24 species are available, but the first-timer is most likely to confine him or herself to a springbok, impala, warthog, bontebok, zebra and perhaps a kudu or a black or blue wildebeest.
Finances and hunting safaris
In terms of the financial side of your trip, there are three basic costs that cannot be avoided. The first is, of course, the airfare. Then comes the daily rate, which covers accommodation, food, drink and hunting conveyance. Lastly, there is a trophy fee payable on each animal shot. This will also apply if an animal is wounded and not recovered.
With regard to the taxidermy of trophies, you can arrange to have green, salted skins sent back to the UK to be mounted as appropriate by a taxidermist. However, I have always had trophies shoulder-mounted in South Africa. The cost is very reasonable, the standard of work on the whole excellent and, even taking into account air freighting charges, it is an option well worth considering. Every outfittter will have a competent taxidermy operation at his disposal.
So, why not consider a hunting safari for plains game? At the end of a hard day’s hunting, sitting by a blazing fire under a star-lit sky, with a whisky to hand and an impala steak sizzling on the coals, you will count your blessings and wonder what tomorrow will bring.
Safari! It is a once in a lifetime opportunity. Don’t miss it!