Dear <<First Name>>
It has been quite a topsy turvy six months for me since I last wrote a Newsletter. In fact, the whole of last year was different in many ways. It was the first year in which I did not hunt at all for at least 35 years. Hunts fell through and then producing, Hunting the Spiral Horns – Kudu, the top African Antelope, and then writing and editing, Hunting the Spiral Horns – Eland, Everyman’s Elephant, took much more time than I imagined. In fact, I spent most of last year working a steady 10 hour day, six days a week. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy they say and there were times, I must confess, when I bored myself as all I could think or talk about was Eland.
The Kudu Book was officially launched at the Dallas Safari Club (DSC) Convention in January this year and, given the uniformly favourable reviews in five magazines and the very positive response I received when signing books at the convention, I began to think that it was all worthwhile in the end. And yes, Jane Halse and her team at Rowland Ward produced another superb book and, I think, it is one of which all the contributors can be justifiably proud. I know I am.
This was my third visit to the DSC Convention and I hope to return next year for the official launch of the Eland Book. The convention is organised by members not by paid conference organisers and the difference is immediately noticeable. Everyone involved in the organisation is friendly and goes out of their way to help both exhibitors and visitors alike. I have watched the show grow steadily bigger and attract more and more exhibitors and visitors. Given that I signed books almost non-stop for the two days I attended, I did not have the chance to see half the show. Next year I intend to go for an extra day so that I can see it all. I honestly think that, if you are a hunter, you should try and make an effort to visit a big North American hunting show. You will so enjoy the experience. And, if you visit just one, there is no question that it should be the DSC convention.
One of the things that always attracts my attention at these conventions are the different taxidermy mounts on display. This year it was the one jarring note for me. There were a number of mounted white lions on display and, in one case, two of them were attacking a so-called Burchell’s or golden gemsbok. I hope that all of the animals in the display died of natural causes because I cannot imagine that any of them could have been hunted by fair chase means. Secondly, I fully subscribe to the CIC criticism of colour variations and think they add nothing to conservation.
Of course, there can be no resting on laurels and the next book in the series, Hunting the Spiral Horns – Eland, Everyman’s Elephant, a much bigger book, has been completed and went into production last week. Yes, we are ahead of programme but only because none of us want to risk another transport strike in South Africa, which delayed delivery of the Kudu Book to such an extent, that copies made the flight to Dallas by barely three hours. Nervous breakdown material!
I have started work on the third book in the series, Hunting the Spiral Horns – Bushbuck, the Little Big Buck, also ahead of schedule, as I do not want to go another year without hunting and, in fact, have booked four short hunts to Natal, Scotland, Mozambique and Tanzania for this year.
I said it was a topsy turvy year because I learnt last week that my good friend, and the man who was the inspiration behind the formation of SHAC (the Spiral Horn Antelope Club), Sherwin Scott, died unexpectedly of a massive heart attack while shooting quail in Texas. Just a few weeks previously, Sherwin had travelled to Dallas to have dinner with me to discuss a number of issues, including the articles he proposed writing for the Bushbuck Book and its two successors, namely, on the four subspecies of sitatunga and, finally, the two subspecies of the nyala and bongo. We had a wonderful evening together and talked long into the night. I simply cannot believe that he has gone. Sherwin was a trim and fit man’s man and an outstanding, principled and ethical hunter who was a great example for many who tried to follow in his footsteps. We collaborated recently on his mountain nyala articles which were published in African Indaba and Magnum and they exemplified what Sherwin was about as a hunter and a man. Although we lived on separate continents, I will miss him dearly, especially his clear and crisp advice. There was not a lot of doubt in Sherwin. When many men have told me that, “My word is my bond,” I have often been tempted to ask for the bond. Not in Sherwin’s case.
I also received an unpleasant surprise concerning some of the responses to the donation of the some 300 mounted animals from my museum on our old game ranch to the Iziko Museums of Cape Town. Some of these animals, namely, a giraffe, leopard, klipspringer, honey badger and assorted birds were used to help illustrate the Le Vaillant Exhibition entitled, The King’s Map, hosted by the museum, which was a joint effort between the French and South African governments to commemorate the exploits of this famous French ornithologist’s explorations in South Africa. Led by the comments posted on the museum website by a professor at the University of Cape Town, it flared briefly and attracted a number of fanatical animal rightists, mostly from overseas, some who threatened to kill me and others who hoped I would contract cancer and die a long and painful death for killing these animals. It all culminated in a radio interview where the animal rightist point of view was the usual incomprehensible, emotional mumbo jumbo, devoid of fact or empirically established science. I reduced my response to writing for those of you who are interested in the program. Click here to view the response.
This brings me to the issue of public relations and how necessary I believe it is for hunters and conservationists to become proactive in communicating the empirically determined facts about these two inseparable and inter-related issues. In May last year I was asked to organise a meeting of the major South African hunting bodies to discuss this very issue and also spoke at length on the topic at the CIC – International Council for Game and Wildlife Conservation General Assembly. Again, to avoid boring those who are not interested, here is a link to a copy of what occurred. Unfortunately, as so often happens in South Africa, despite a very promising start, two of the four hunting bodies pulled out of the joint initiative and, of course, nothing of note has happened because the resources of all four were required to give effect to the proposed three year Public Relations program. The cost of the programme, incidentally, worked out at less than $5 per member per year.
On a happier note, I have been delighted by the steps taken by CIC to launch a dedicated PR platform, part of which has involved the resuscitation of African Indaba, the free online magazine which has become CIC’s flagship communication tool for Africa. For my sins I have been asked and agreed to become one of the four co-editors of the magazine. Anyone wishing to subscribe can simply email the founder, Gerhard Damm – firstname.lastname@example.org - and you will be placed on the mailing list. The magazine currently has some 15 000 subscribers around the world.