Ian Harford visits the Republic of South Africa and looks at how game management and cull hunting are carried out in the Southern Hemisphere.
Wherever you are in the world, the process that yields the magnificent specimens that adorn the covers of hunting magazines is invariably the same. There are two sure-ﬁre routes to building strong bloodlines and healthy herds. Either create a game utopia with endless resources and let nature take its course, or manage the populations of the herd so that it is in tune with its surroundings and can prosper in much the same way, albeit in a controlled environment. You will find examples of both, although the latter is more common.
Our species has systematically divided the world into smaller privately owned parcels of land and channelled its natural resources to suit our own needs. Although our appetite for resources is voracious, we still recognise the need to protect and nurture the things that are important to us, be it our natural surroundings or the game that it supports. As masters of our natural habitat, we must also become the custodians of that which we control and are ultimately responsible for.
Africa is a great example of this. When we think of the Dark Continent, we think of millions of square miles of virgin wilderness, of vast plains where the elephants roam and impenetrable jungles where the lion is still king. Somewhere in the back of my mind I wish that this romantic notion of Africa still survives, but the modern world is a very different place. The political as well as the physical landscape has changed immeasurably in the past 50 years since African nations began to wrest power back from their colonial masters.
South Africa has emerged from its darker days to become the most progressive African nation, and unashamedly aspires to build a ‘western-style’ society. Not only does South Africa understand what western hunters want, but their game estates know exactly what it takes to allow game to thrive. Recently I was very fortunate to join a trophy hunt run by David Watt of Nduna Hunting Safaris, based near Alexandria in the Eastern Cape.
David is charismatic and a well-travelled hunter. It’s easy to see why Nduna chose him to represent them for their international clients. Nduna offers 24 different species of African game on its 1,000-acre hunting estate, plus access to every other game species imaginable through close working relationships with other concessions across the region. It was at one of these concessions that I saw first-hand just how sophisticated the management of game species has become.
Like most other hunters venturing out on safari, I had kudu towards the top of my list. It is a hauntingly beautiful animal – and notoriously difficult to hunt. Nduna has several concessions offering great kudu hunting, including its own estate, but owner Gavin Ingram wanted me to hunt estate is in the Sunday’s River valley region of the Eastern Cape. The Estate covers some 4,000 acres of beautiful, acacia-covered, mountainous landscape, and is home to a breeding herd of rare black impala. These are not to be confused with black-faced impala, which have a very similar body colour to the common variety. Black impala are just that – a striking charcoal colour, and one of the most sought-after plains game trophies.
While on the way to Welgedacht, Gavin took time to explain to me how the game industry works in South Africa. “Every square mile is privately owned, and needs to be fenced. If your land isn’t fully secured with eight-foot-high game fencing, your hunting season for indigenous species is limited to three months of the year. All of our land is fenced, but this causes problems of a different kind, as you need to continually introduce new blood into the breeding to keep the gene pool fresh. In addition to this, the population needs to be controlled to maintain the ratio of bulls to cows and to remove the old and infirm.”
This makes perfect sense, and in some ways this draws parallels with managing deer herds in enclosed parks here in the UK, particularly in relation to the black impala herd at Welgedacht. “When common and black impala breed, they produce hybrids,” explained Clint. “It takes a minimum of three generations to return them to their pure black colour, so when common impala get into the enclosure, the rams need to be taken out before they cover the ewes and we have to start the process all over again. Most hunters from the UK are happy to shoot cull animals in addition to any trophies booked. In fact, the vast majority of hunting packages booked in South Africa by UK hunters are management or ‘representative’ hunts. They’re effectively the same animals, and the same hunting conditions, but without the trophy-size horns.”
One such hunter with our group was Roger Ellis from South Yorkshire. Although his visit to Nduna was to hunt zebra, he took Clint up on his offer to help out with a few young impala rams that had joined his precious herd of black impala before they reached breeding age. We headed out into the mountains that frame the estate, spotted the herd within 15 minutes, and stalked 150 yards into the bush. However, a shot didn’t present itself, and the herd disappeared into the thick acacia brush.
Roger remained with Clint, and I carried on to an elevated position with tracker Johanus. It took us 20 minutes to reach the crest of the hill, which offered a vantage point of the whole valley. I spotted the herd on an exposed plateau, but by the time I’d leant over to point them out to Johanus, a shot rang out across the valley as the 165-grain Remington Core-Lokt .30-06 bullet from Roger’s Blaser R8 found its target. Roger’s first shot was taken off sticks at 155 yards, and was a lung shot – perfect. It was soon followed up by another from the truck at 230 yards. The young rams were efficiently skinned and dressed before finding their way to the larder.
I wasn’t to be left out: on the way back to the lodge Clint noticed a young red lechwe bull with a ‘switch’ horn lagging towards the back of the herd, which had crossed about 80 yards in front of us. As with deer in the UK, this is not unusual, and is often caused by genetic abnormalities or damage to the horn when young. The safest thing to do is take them out. It stopped around 50 yards away and looked round. I shouldered my Sauer 202, and the young bull soon joined the two impala in the larder.
Most of the trophies I bring back from my hunting adventures aren’t record book entries –in fact, many aren’t that impressive at all. However, each represents a treasured memory, and all are totally unique. I feel privileged to have been given a greater insight into the hunting industry in South Africa, and I appreciate even more the work involved. I’m also looking forward to seeing if any of my trophy-hunting friends can identify my unusual bull.