The Africa Diaries, Part 3
No adventure writing today, sorry. I know some of you were eagerly anticipating…
And I had the most exciting story of my whole trip waiting for this chapter, too. But I decided to hold onto it because of the nature of feedback I got from the first two parts of this series. It wasn’t pretty — the bulk of it was more or less hate mail (especially after Part 2), with numerous readers actually canceling their subscriptions to Whiskey & Gunpowder…
This was not my intention with this series. I’d hoped to keep these articles purely about the sights and sounds and adventure of the African bush-veldt experience. The fact that it was told from a hunting perspective was simply the true context, the only context I know. To portray it otherwise would have been lying.
I really just wanted to take all my readers — not just the few who hunt, but the tourists, nature-lovers, or those who simply yearn for far-off lands — out a long Rover-ride away from camp, and let them mingle alongside me with the flora, fauna and people of the African bush…
I wanted you all there with me on top of the highest koppie, overlooking the grand veldt at purple sunset. I wished for all of you to hear in your souls the stories the bushmen’s ancient rock art tells. I wanted you to feel simba’s thundering roar and inyahti’s black-hearted glare. I wanted you stalking next to me, experiencing the rush of the hunt, even if it’s not something you’d ever do.
In short, I aimed only to thrill you a little, and take you far away for just a few minutes.
But, as usual, when it comes to anything having remotely to do with guns or hunting, a bunch of clueless, envious, deluded malcontents have taken all of the fun and spirit out of it. Instead of recognizing this series for what it is, a lot of readers chose to focus only on the killing — and to not only hurl hateful invective (which is of as much consequence to me as BBs to a cape buffalo), but to engage in the most stunningly negligent thinking about safari hunting…
That’s why I feel compelled to interrupt the flow of this series and devote some ink in this un-anticipated chapter to the economic and ecological realities of safari hunting, rather than give you more of my boots-on-the-ground adventures and impressions about the land and people in Zimbabwe. I simply must set straight those who speak without knowing, who feel instead of think, and who are quick to disparage the courage of others without themselves having what little courage it takes to accept the truth.
And here is that truth, in brief:
Those who’d outlaw safari hunting would be responsible for hundreds of times more slaughter of “innocent” animals than those who’d preserve and expand it.
That’s right, animal-rights wackos and pseudo-conservationists, the blood would be on YOUR hands — starting the minute that hunting safaris are banned or restricted most anywhere they’re currently allowed on the Dark Continent…
The Good, the Mad and the Ignorant
Before I get down to the business of bare-knuckling the bunny-huggers, I want to thank all the Whiskey & Gunpowder readers who wrote in response to the first two parts of this series — whether in support or condemnation (there were no middle-grounders).
To those hunters and non-hunters alike who wrote to tell me how my series transported them from behind desks and into the breech and bush, I say: Thank you for getting it…
To those who related their own tales and opinions of Africa, safari rifles, the hunt, and the veldt, I say: Thank you for living it…
To those who compared my first two installments to the writings of Ruark, Capstick and Hemingway, I say: Thank you for such wonderful lies…
To “Texas Cowgirl,” I say simply: Thank you. What you said meant a lot to me.
And in response to those many that criticized me for killing “helpless” or “innocent” animals, I say: Thank you for your hatred, vitriol, death-wishes and incoherent bile. It simply gives me a canvas on which to illustrate how ignorant, twisted and downright murderous the world-vision is of those who see no place for hunting in the preservation of wildlife on Earth.
Now let’s tackle their “objections” (kind of a misnomer — it implies cogent thought) one at a time…
Safari of Sense — and Dollars
“Safari hunting does not depend on large numbers of animals as much as the presence of trophy animals. It thus offered the possibility of large revenues with low demands on both the land and the wildlife…”
— From the Property and Environmental Research Center’s Managing Wildlife in Southern Africa
Like it or not, wild animals are a crop to governments. And in those 20 or so African nations that allow safari hunting, wildlife is so valuable as a source of foreign cash (estimates put this number at as much as $100 million or more annually) that it becomes worth regulating and protecting from the real danger: Poachers that slaughter for skins, ivory or horns they sell on the black market for a fraction of their value to a trophy hunter — and farmers that kill the rarest of wild cats for snatching the occasional $5 goat or cow, or the most threatened of rhinos and elephants for rutting up the odd sorghum field…
Let me put some numbers to this concept, using everyone’s favorite African animal and the one that seems to elicit the most ire over hunting: The elephant.
In Botswana, elephant populations are growing at a rate of 5% per year, and have been ever since hunting them was re-opened in 1996, when the population was around 80,000. By 2003, there were around 123,000 of them there — making Botswana the country with the world’s largest concentration of the lovable pachyderms. How many of them got trophy hunted that year?
Just 210. Less than two-tenths of one percent of the herd.
Translation: Because trophy elephants are so valuable to Botswana’s bottom line, it pays the government there — and the locals, via the trickle-down of hunting-related revenues — to actively prevent the snaring and poaching of them for their flesh, ivory and to stop the killing of them for destroying crops and forests, which they regularly do…
Conversely, when Kenya banned the sport hunting of elephants in the 1970s, they had a healthy population of 140,000 of them. Today, because of poaching, agri-slaughter and a lack of economic incentives to conservation (like high-dollar trophy hunting fees), there are fewer than 23,000 of them. Less than one-sixth as many. In neighboring Tanzania, where elephant hunting is once again allowed, populations have exploded, like in Botswana.
(For some great and fascinating in-depth details on elephants, their movements and the contrast in populations between hunting and non-hunting eastern African republics, go t http://www.iucn.org/themes/ssc/sgs/afesg/aed/pdfs/aesr2007e.pdf )
Yet another example: On the land concession where I killed my buffalo, there are over 400 head of inyahti — yet only eight bulls were allowed to be taken in all of calendar year 2007. And these were required to be mature, old bulls with most of their breeding behind them. That’s right, only 2% of the herd was fair game…
Think poachers show this kind of restraint? Think again.
In just the last few years since Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe opened vast tracts of government-owned lands to the unregulated consumption of wildlife in an effort to offset the rising threat of famine, animal populations in these conservancies and national parks have fallen by as much as 80%! Among the hardest hit has been Zim’s formerly world’s-largest-concentration of black rhinos — which have declined by a precipitous 60% or more, killed by poachers for their horns, which can bring as much as $90,000 in the Far East for their mythical medicinal value…
A note on snares, the primary weapon of the poacher. In case you don’t know what they are, they’re crude wire loops hung from saplings or small trees to entangle the leg of any animal that passes by. They’re horribly torturous and completely indiscriminate, killing the most common of impala and rarest of cheetahs with equal anguish. It isn’t just the small animals, either. Many lions, baby elephants and rhinos have fallen to agonizing infections caused by snares. My professional hunter, Bud Rummel, was once called upon by a state veterinarian to dispatch a fully-grown black rhino whose leg was rotted beyond healing by a snare wound. In an Africa with no regulated trophy hunting, the snare is the apex predator, not the lion.
As difficult a pill as this may be to swallow for many, it is nevertheless true: If you love African wildlife, you should support safari hunting and push for its aggressive expansion.
The sickest irony here is that if the bunny-huggers get their way and safari hunting is disallowed, it will spell the near-annihilation of the animals they claim to love, NOT their preservation and spread. Think about it. Were there all of a sudden no demand for animals as trophies for Neanderthals like me, do you really think many African governments would give two hoots about their numbers — or their survival?
In other words: Once animals cease to be a profitable crop for corrupt, conflicted or unstable Third World governments with cash-flow problems (a lot of safari nations are of this type), do you really trust them to provide for the beasts’ welfare? Whether you think it’s morally right or not, an African animal’s “trophy” or “game” status makes it too valuable to allow it to be squandered or killed carelessly. Remove that status, and you remove that animal’s only source of protection.
Bottom line: Where trophy hunting is allowed, fewer animals die BY FAR, and those that do meet their end infinitely more humanely. If you’re against shooting safaris, you’re on the side of cruelty, agony and slaughter, not the side of kindness and preservation.
Why do you think both the Sierra Club and the Audubon Society support hunting? It’s because managed, regulated hunting is sound ecological policy that leads to true conservation and funnels money and resources back into habitat and protection of the wildlife we all love. It’s the same in Africa as it is in the U.S.
Admit it, now: I’m right.
The Meat of the Matter
A stunning number of you wrote in to state or imply that trophy hunters take only the horns and skins, while the meat is left to rot…
What utter hogwash! In Zimbabwe, that meat is a life-sustaining flow of much-needed food for the natives that live on the land concessions on which safari hunting takes place. It is part of their compensation, in fact, dictated by law or agreement between landowners and residents. No part of any game animal killed is wasted on safari. Some of the meat is consumed by the hunters and PHs (eland steaks are out of this world — so is warthog), but the vast bulk of it goes to the people. Without the hundreds of tons of meat the safari industry funnels into the local food supply, these folks would starve — or poach their homelands barren of wildlife, then starve…
This flow of humanitarian aid doesn’t happen on photo safaris, mind you — only on hunting ones.
What you may not realize is that much of the land on which these people live is good for nothing but hunting — these tribesmen and women are themselves descended from entire races who have done nothing but hunt the very same lands for thousands of years! Their land isn’t suitable for farming of any type, not that a lot of these folks would know how to farm, or have the resources to start a farm even if they did. And it’s too far from any town or city to be developed.
In fact, the best prospects for success in life for many of these people is their involvement in the safari hunting industry as trackers, game scouts, skinners, butchers, lodge staff, maintenance men, mechanics, cooks and kitchen staff, custodial and laundry workers, animal trainers — and yes, even as professional hunters. Two of the PHs in camp while I was there were locals who’d come up through the safari industry’s ranks to become licensed hunting guides. And they all make a fine living, comparatively speaking.
Remember, these people live miles and miles away from anything even remotely resembling a town or city. Without safari hunting, what would they do for income? It’s not like they could go work on the farm next door…
I’ve talked to these folks, and they are unbelievably grateful for the opportunities that the safari hunting business affords them. In a lot of areas, safari sustains entire populations of people, both economically and through the tons of food that sport hunting provides them. I am proud to have taken part in this marketplace, to have seen up close the real-world impact of not just the meat from my animals, but the fees I paid, the cash tips I gave, the clothes and hats and shoes I distributed as gifts.
Safari hunting is the most directly beneficial thing I’ve ever done in my life — both to my fellow man and to the natural world I love so much. If only you bunny-huggers could see what good just a little bit of beast killing does for your own human brothers and sisters…
And this is above and beyond the fact that it serves YOUR primary objective — saving animals’ lives!
Listen, if you really care about direct, real-world African aid AND wildlife preservation, don’t “save-a-child-for-60-cents-a-day” from late-night TV, don’t donate money to what some headline-grabbing Irish rock star tells you to, and don’t go tribal baby-shopping like Madonna and Brangelina. Buy a rifle, learn to shoot, go on safari (my outfitter: Wayne Jardine, email@example.com ). Take part in the circle of life…
Then maybe you’ll know something about it.
The Guts of the Issue
A lot of you wrote in to condemn me as a coward for hunting with a gun. I’m here to tell you: You’ve seen too many movies.
In the movies or on TV, when people or animals get struck by a bullet (a blank, rather), they crumple into a heap and stop moving, eyes closed, game over. That’s because art-school screenplay and scriptwriters are largely ignorant of the realities of guns and the projectiles they fire. Unless a person or animal is struck in the brain or high in the spine with enough force to scramble or sever it, they don’t simply go “rag doll.” Ask any cop who’s been in a shootout.
Whatever you’re shooting at keeps fighting, charging, fleeing, reloading, whatever. That’s because they’re running on pure adrenaline, pumping doubly hard if they’re wounded. It’s only when they run out of blood to hold pressure and carry oxygen to their brains that they get light-headed, collapse and expire. This can take a long time.
So, anyone who thinks that going up against a cape buffalo, lion, bear, elephant, leopard, moose or whatever at close range on his turf with a rifle is a low-risk scenario, you’re nuts or simply stupid. To a charging, adrenaline-fueled inyahti, being perforated by a succession of 3/8-inch holes would seem like bee stings to you and me. And a hundred-odd years of hunting with modern, high-powered, smokeless-powder rifles has shown that the odds are far from remote that the hunter or guide (or both) is going home in pieces. That’s simply a fact…
In other words, bullets aren’t stopping anything RIGHT NOW unless they hit it square, penetrate deep though thick muscle and bone, and take out small targets: Brain, spinal column. That’s not an easy thing to do — especially under the pressure of imminent, stampeding death.
So enough with the coward-talk and “brave man” insults about things you know nothing about, bunny-boys and girls. I risked plenty in the bush, rifle or not, as does every hunter, tracker, scout and guide who sets foot on the veldt.
But this is beside the point. Beyond your galactic ignorance about the realities of killing, there’s another issue here, you gutless coffee-shop quarterbacks: You’re a bunch of hypocrites!
The Killer Paradox Rears Its (Trophy) Head
Unless you eat no meat of any type, shoot no film in any camera (yep, it’s made from dead animals!), wear no leather or wool whatsoever, use no animal products in cooking whatever feel-good junk you eat, live in a thatch hut over water (timbering and land development kills animals!), use nothing but animal-free skin creams or makeup (try finding these!), cut no lawns, trap no mice, eat nothing grown on a farm (clearing of land and harvesting of crops chews up rabbits, fawns, mice, gophers and baby birds by the thousand!) and never have, and never will, then you’re just as much a part of the slaughter as I am.
There’s only one difference: I’ve got the guts, gumption and grasp on reality to do my own killing instead of paying someone else to do it for me — then living in denial about it or rationalizing it away so that my fragile sense of self-worth isn’t eroded by the fact that yes, I caused the death of something cute…
Oh, yeah — and planet Earth, the beasts that roam it and my fellow man actually get something back from my kind of killing. Can you say the same?
Folks, here’s the bottom line: Hunting is hard for many to embrace, and I know it. But people who claim to be against cruelty to animals owe it to themselves and their planet to get educated about it so they don’t inadvertently shoot their own pet cause in the foot…
And if, after you’ve learned the facts and realities about wildlife preservation, you don’t have an evolution of thought about hunting in general and safari in particular, then I couldn’t sum your ignorance up any better than one reader did when he wrote:
“To those who object: Morons, your bus is leaving.”
Shooting you straight and taking the hate,
Whiskey & Gunpowder
October 12, 2007