Dear <<First Name>>
Do you know the feeling? You have been on the tracks of the same bull for the last four days. You are beginning to wonder whether you are ever going to catch up to him. The original optimism of picking up the huge bull track in the herd on the first morning has long since waned. And then, suddenly, there he is! You see him for the first time. Only a glimpse but your heart leaps at the sight. No doubt about it, this is the bull of your dreams, the one that has walked openly through them in the early hours when it has been still and dark.
You can feel your heart in your throat and the beats quick, loud and hard in your chest as, bent over, you scurry forward under cover to close the gap to a reasonable shooting distance and then, before you are ready, your guide stops so suddenly you almost bump into him and throws up the shooting sticks! You look up and, to the naked eye, the animal seems impossibly far but, before you can say anything, the guide says, “You will have to try from here. Any further he is going to spot us.” But he already has! His head is up and two, big brown eyes gaze fixedly down his long nose and are clearly focussed on your olive green, khaki clad figure! It’s now or never. You push your well-used old favourite over the “V” in the sticks and will yourself to steady the jitterbugging crosshairs.
“Breathe,” you say to yourself. “Breathe.” Slowly the sights settle – too slowly. You know you are running out of time. A little voice in your head says, “He is going to run. He is going to run soon. See how his muscles are tensed.” And then, without being conscious of the fact that you have made a definite decision to squeeze the trigger, the shot flows from the barrel and the recoil whips away the sight picture, although you are left with the vaguest of impressions that, when they did, they were still aligned on the beast’s shoulder and in the vital triangle.
The huge animal thunders off and you can hear the muttered exchange between trackers and guide. You see the expectant face on the guide turned to you and you know what he is going to ask and he knows you know but he asks it anyway. Yes, of course you think it was a good shot. Why would you have pulled the trigger otherwise. There is no point to the brief conversation but you have it anyway.
Without a word, the trackers move forward to where the beast had stood some 183 metres away according to the last reading from your distance measuring binoculars. When you arrive, there is no blood amongst the deep, incisive indentations of the spoor. Doubt grabs hold of your head in a vice-like grip and starts squeezing the hope out of it. One hundred metres. Nothing. What little hope there was has halved. Two hundred metres. Nothing. Despair threatens to get the better of you and you start making excuses, initially to yourself but louder with time. Meanwhile, you have been playing the shot through your head again and again and again. Three hundred metres and YES!! There he is! Lying down. His race is run. Elation bubbles up from some place deep within you and, as you walk up to the wonderful bull, quiet in death and you take in his huge size, battered horns and scarred coat, the joy is replaced by an even deeper seated, primitive pity and sadness. You stand there still and quiet. Not quite sure what to do. And then the mood is broken by one of the trackers coming up to shake your hand and you put your public face back on and look around as if seeing the place for the very first time.
If you have felt similar emotions then you will also know something of what what it is like to complete a book and that is what I did earlier this morning. I delivered the new one, Hunting the Spiral Horns – Sitatunga, The Shy Sly Secretive One, to my new book designer, the very experienced, ex-Struik designer, Peter Bosman.
As those of you who obtain a copy will read, it is the book of which I was most nervous when I started this project and I thought it was going to be a very slim volume given the paucity of scientific information and the fewest number of entries in the record books of any of the spiral horns but, at 110 000 words, it is 4 000 words longer than the 290 page, Hunting the Spiral Horns – Kudu, The Top African Antelope, the first book in the series. Just as interesting, or at least it was to me, was the fact that the longest chapter by far turned out to be the one on Island sitatunga, the hunting of which was closed for over 30 years until recently and, while from a difficulty perspective – although which sitatunga is easy? – the Western or forest may be the most difficult, given that it can only be hunted on a few islands in Lake Victoria, Island sitatunga are no gimme.
So, the book is out of my hands now and I can really enjoy Christmas with my family who are all congregating in Cape Town, including the newest addition, Joshua Hamilton Flack, who is currently barely three months old. Tiny as the little chap is, I can’t help wondering what hunting will be like when he grows up and what kind of hunter he will make.
And talking about hunting, there is no other word for it than wonderful. I had a simply wonderful hunt in October out of Kambako Safaris’s Lugenda Camp in Northern Mocambique’s Niassa Reserve, some 100 kms from the Ruvuma River and the border with Tanzania. I went there for two main reasons, firstly, because I wanted to visit the region and its rolling miombo clad hills in amongst the giant inselbergs or island mountains of solid granite that rear up out of the tree savannah and, secondly, I wanted to hunt Livingstone’s eland, both because eland hunting is one of my favourite pastimes and to be able to prove to Professor Bettine Jansen van Vuuren, one of my favourite geneticists from the University of Johannesburg, that Livingstone’s eland still exist as she has published a paper casting doubt on this.
I will not go into detail about the hunt as articles covering this will appear in the January edition of Magnum and the February edition of SA Hunter. No, not the same story as I actually hunted two elands, which may also help explain my use of the word “wonderful” above. And, interestingly enough, of the three samples which I provided to Bettine – my hunting companion, Derek Carstens, also shot one and the biggest of the three – his was the only one that was classified from a DNA perspective as a true Livingstone’s while the other two tested as Cape eland. This tends to support Bettine’s suspicion that the Cape eland has gradually entered and overtaken the Livingstone’s in its natural habitat. In fact, Derek’s eland is only the fourth specimen on record that has tested as a Livingstone’s using mitochondrial DNA testing. As the old banking advert goes, “Makes you think, doesn’t it?”
The only disappointment about Northern Mocambique – if disappointment is the correct word to describe the elephant holocaust that has been visited on that region - was the massive amount of elephant poaching that has clearly taken place there with government connivance. Why connivance? Well, it stands to reason doesn’t it? How do you handle the logistics of all these kills? The arming and provisioning of all the poachers in the field, the removal, transportation and export of all these tusks? The lack of arrests, the lack of confiscation of any contraband? How could this be done without the active support of senior people in the police, army and politics?
I would hazard a guess that, just as some 60 000 elephant have disappeared from the Selous Game Reserve across the border in Tanzania over the last six year, a similar number has been poached in Mocambique, in both cases to feed the seemingly insatiable Chinese ivory carving market. I was reliably informed that, from the air, it is possible to see the remains of literally thousands of elephants in the Reserve. On the ground, the only elephants I saw were frightened juveniles and three youngsters were shot within eight kms of our camp while we were there, of which the youngest was barely five feet tall at the shoulder. I also came across the carcasses of five juvenile elephants in an extended line. The last was a young cow with her tiny, 11 pound tusks still in her head.
When will the sub-humans who carry out this slaughter with utter impunity be stopped? When will the governments who encourage and allow this be held to account for destroying the natural resources of their people? When there is nothing left and they hold out the begging bowl yet again? When will the very simplest of messages find traction within African governments that, if these wonderful renewable resources were used sustainably, instead of being totally depleted in the shortest possible time, they could provide opportunities for all in perpetuity. But no, these greedy, avaricious bastards are happily prepared to sacrifice the future of their people on the altar of the basest greed to foster the industry of foreigners. It is madness!
I thought after Rowland Ward unexpectedly cancelled its participation at the Dallas Safari Club Convention that I would not be able to attend and officially launch, Hunting the Spiral Horns– Bushbuck, The Little Big Buck, as I have done with its two predecessors but two newsletter readers, Barbara Crown of The Hunting Report, who stocks my books and DVDs, and Paul Phelan of the safari outfitting company of the same name, kindly offered to share their booths with me and I will be signing copies of my books at both their booths. For those of you attending the convention, I hope to see you there.
Although I plan to take a break over the festive season, I have already made a start on the last book in the series, Hunting the Spiral Horns – Bongo & Nyala, The Elite African Trophies. I hope to make this last book in the series a bumper edition and have already received a number of very fine articles and photographs so, if you have a good article or photo or two in your kitbag, now is the time to dust them off and send them to me. If they do not reach me before, say, September next year, it will be too late.
And is there life after the spiral horns? Mmmm, well, I do have one or two ideas. Definitely a book on the five subspecies of buffalo will follow the Bongo/Nyala Book and then, who knows? D.V. I would love to do three on the hippotrages i.e. sable, roan and oryx. But steady on I can hear my wife, Jane, say. One thing at a time. And she is right.
If I don’t see or hear from you before then, I hope you have a blessed and peaceful Christmas with lots of family and friends and that the New Year brings you and yours what they wish for themselves. And please remember what my dear old Mom used to tell me – Hou matigheid voor oe – everything in moderation!