Dear <<First Name>>
I see it is a mere three months since I wrote my last newsletter and it is most unusual for me to write another one so soon. Nevertheless, there have been a number of developments during this period and, interestingly enough, a number of people have called and written asking when the next newsletter is due. My reply is always the same – when I have something I think you may be interested in reading. At any rate, here it is.
Hunting the Spiral Horns - Eland and Bushbuck
Firstly, Hunting the Spiral Horns - Eland, Everyman’s Elephant, goes off to the printers in Singapore next week and should be back in the country on or before September, two months ahead of schedule. This is really good news and the Rowland Ward team of Jane Halse, Lionel McMurray and Tammy Pereira deserve all the praise for their hard and painstaking work. It is much longer than the Kudu Book (plus 44 pages) and contains 349 colour photos and 40 black and white ones but will sell for the same price, namely, $65.00 for the standard edition and $150.00 for the signed, cased and limited edition. It will be available, as usual, from both Safari Press and Rowland Ward. In my humble opinion, if anything, it is better (if only marginally so), than the Kudu Book which, to date, has sold better than any of my previous books and over half the print run has been sold since its official launch at the Dallas Safari Club Convention in January.
As I mentioned in the previous newsletter, I have begun work on the next book in the series, Hunting the Spiral Horns – Bushbuck, The Little Big Buck so, if you have a good article or photo or two, now is the time to send it to me. I have already received a number of excellent contributions from people like Pierre van der Walt (Rifles and Ammunition), Jokl le Roux (“How To”), John Finch and Cleve Cheney to mention but four.
New Professional Hunters Diploma
Cleve was head of Trails at Kruger National Park for 12 years and currently heads up the new, officially accredited, two year, professional hunters diploma offered by the Southern African Wildlife College. This course is one that I and many others have lobbied for over many years and, as a founder member of the College, I was delighted to be asked to teach three modules of the course last month and to meet the first 12 students. What an engaging and enthusiastic bunch of young people! I attach a photo of us at the braai at the end of my stay.
The course has been in progress for eight months and another six months of full time study lies ahead before the students embark on six months of practical apprenticeship with a registered outfitter. The course covers every aspect of professional hunting in great detail and, while the mornings are spent in the classroom, most afternoons are spent in the field and, thus far, the students have enjoyed over 400 hours of hands on training in the bush. Having been a fan for many years of the professional hunting training programme in Zimbabwe, I can honestly say that, for the first time, South Africa now offers something better.
The course is already making waves and I have received phone calls from five young men enquiring about it. When I have asked them why they were interested, the replies were almost uniformly the same. “If you were an outfitter, who would you rather employ, someone who holds the two year diploma or someone who has been through one of the current ten day courses on offer?” “If you were a client, who would you rather hunt with, someone who has passed the college course or a ten day wonder expert?”
I honestly believe that these young men and woman and those who follow have the capacity to and will, in fact, change the face of professional hunting in Southern Africa for the better. My only concern is that Cleve Cheney will be retiring at the end of February next year and the choice of his successor will be critical given his vast practical expertise, combined with his formidable intellect and ability to merge and communicate the practical with the theoretical.
Success at Huntex
April was a busy month and I attended Huntex, held over four days, at Gallagher Estate, halfway between Johannesburg and Pretoria. Like many others, the hunting industry, relying as it mostly does on discretionary expenditure, has suffered greatly since 2008. Nevertheless, if the substantially increased number of exhibitors and attendees at Huntex was anything to go by, the depressions and recessions of the past five years have been metabolised and are a thing of the past. The show was a rip roaring success and I have been told by the organizers that some 40,000 people passed through the doors with some 15,000 attending on the Saturday alone. This is roughly the same attendance claimed by the latest Dallas Safari Club Convention and more than that claimed for the equivalent function by SCI.
I was at the Rowland Ward booth for the first three days and, after a slowish start, activity really picked up and, on the Saturday, I signed books almost non-stop. In fact, Rowland Ward sold out of all my books, both those they had brought to the show and those they went back to their showroom to fetch. I had a wonderful time and was made to feel like quite a celebrity by all those people who came to speak and have their photographs taken with me. Next year, all things being equal, I will stay for the fourth and final day as the Rowland Ward staff said I missed a number of people who looked for me on the Sunday.
The Elephant in the Room
A debate entitled, The Elephant in the Room: The ethics of collecting natural history specimens and their role in today’s society, was hosted by the Iziko South African Museum in their lecture theatre. Seven main speakers were invited including the animal rightists, Professor Pippa Scotness from the University of Cape Town and her colleague, Fritha Langerman, three other professors from the universities of the Western Cape, Cape Town and Stellenbosch, Denise Hamerton, the Curator of Terrestrial Mammals at the Museum, as well as myself. Each speaker was given five minutes to set out their point of view and then the matter was thrown open to the floor for questions and statements. The lecture theatre was full and, after Denise opened proceedings in her usual calm, objective and incisive manner, the two animal rightists spoke in their usual emotional and subjective manner, devoid of facts or scientific basis but with a number of barbs directed at me personally. They read their speeches (which contained many polysyllabic words), quite quickly and, although I listened carefully, found it difficult, at times, to follow what they were saying.
I decided not to reply in kind. The message I brought was, in my opinion, far too important to waste time on such misguided people. Click here to read my introductory remarks for those who may be interested and can say that I was delighted when they received the biggest applause of the evening. I also received the most questions and was pleased that they gave me an opportunity to expand on my opening remarks.
Interestingly, Langerman, who had previously been allowed by the Museum to host an art exhibition involving a number of dead rats on their premises, was asked by one of the museum staff (who had been tasked with procuring live rats for her), how what she did was in any way different to what I did. It reminded me of a question posed by Ted Kerasote in Bloodties – “Is the elk shot by me any more or less a necessary death than these or that of the thousands of rabbits and mice inadvertently destroyed in the process of growing and harvesting my organic, all natural, oat bran breakfast cereal?” Needless to say, Langham was all but at a total loss for words as she stumbled and mumbled through an attempted response. Animal rightists zero, hunters one.
I had asked the Museum whether I could set out copies of my book and DVD entitled, The South African Conservation Success Story, on tables at the entrance to the lecture theatre and was surprised that all but four of the copies were taken by the audience because, of course, I was not there to talk to the animal rightists but those undecided people in the audience who had yet to make up their mind, one way or the other, about hunting. Sad as it is, over all the years that I have debated this issue with animal rightists on radio, television, face to face, or in print, they all respond the same way. After trotting out their unadulterated rubbish, they make no attempt to engage with you or a deal with any of the points you have raised but merely wait for the opportunity to repeat what they have previously said, only louder on the second occasion.
I was even more pleased the following day to receive a formal letter from the Museum thanking me for my participation and saying that I had made a number of new friends as a result of what I had said.
Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park for some R&R
Soon afterwards, it was off to the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park with my family for 10 days of R&R. This was my third trip to this remote park in the north west corner of South Africa, accessible only by 4x4 vehicles. Since my previous visit, after which I vowed not to return again – a bit like the promise I make to myself after hunting in the rain forests – given the atrocious, corrugated state of the sand “roads,” which all but remove the fillings from your teeth; the unhelpful, sullen and unfriendly staff; and the run down state of the accommodation, I was pleasantly surprised. A number of delightful, small, tented, unfenced camps, taking eight people at a time, have been built off the beaten track and they really made our stay. The roads were better in these areas, although getting to and from was still a major, tooth rattling trial; the staff, particularly at Nossob, were very friendly and helpful even if the section ranger refused to make himself available to discuss the eland situation; and the accommodation was much improved except at Urikaruus where serious maintenance was looooong overdue.
Of course, being with the family around the camp fire in the evening was what made it as well as the unusual bird, reptile and game sightings. Here are a few photos for those who might be interested. To see more photographs, click here.
Bushbuck hunt to KwaZulu-Natal
Otherwise, I am in full training for my forthcoming bushbuck hunt to KwaZulu-Natal next month with Pete Kennedy and have been gyming, shuffling and cycling every second day and shooting every week. In my next newsletter I shall tell you how I have fared. Unfortunately, writing and editing the spiral horn book series has been a full time job and, as a result, my magazine articles have suffered. Hopefully, towards the end of the year, I will be able to produce a few that are whirring round my head.
Latest Article: Crocodiles - Birds Or Lizards?
In the meantime, I did manage to write a story on crocodiles for Game Trails, the Dallas Safari Club magazine. These incredible animals have a hold on me they share only with the great sharks and venomous snakes – a kind of goose-pimpling, can’t-look-away, fascinating horror. Along with hippos, they are the only animals in Africa – apart from the two-legged ones – that truly frighten me. A copy with illustrating photographs has been posted on the website. I have been told that a second one on giant forest hogs is due out shortly in the top German magazine, Jagenweltweit and, of course, every second month, African Outfitter publishes a chapter from the book, Hunting Lessons for Life, written by myself and my old friend, Derek Carstens, although the next issue will carry an article of mine on natural history museums.