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SAFARI | Ethical, Sustainable & Misunderstood

Updated: Sep 14, 2020

As hunters, we often search for places that will take us deep into the unknown. We look for experiences rarely witnessed by others, we seek uncharted adventure and yearn for wild places. Africa is a travel destination filled with adventure, culture and a diversity of exotic wildlife that is second to none. As a hunting destination there really is no limit to the exploits you can enjoy.

The word safari conjures up imaginings of uncharted wilderness, treks deep into the uninhabited and more often than not dreams about out of this world adventure. To experience safari is to leave the hustle and bustle of your world behind for exotic, unimaginable beauty and to search for an experience that will stay with you forever. It’s the essence of adventure and must be experienced to be believed. The lucky few that have been will understand, the ones that yearn to go will be eager to get there and the others that haven’t thought about it don’t know what they are missing out on!

Africa has changed considerably since the early writings of Roosevelt, Hemmingway and Ruark. As the world developed so too did the safari experience. The good old days saw hunters leave work and family for months at a time to hunt concessions with little to no boundaries and an untouched abundance of game. The modern safari is unfortunately much shorter than those early expeditions and despite there being some limitations there are still areas that have an abundance of game.

If a truly wild encounter is cherished and if there is a desire to hear the sound of lions roaring while stalking then a remote area safari will be required. The wild lions are found primarily in the remote safari areas but not all of them, as are elephant and the large herds of buffalo. These hunts tend to be more expensive for a number of reasons. They are often difficult to access which makes building & maintaining camp, year round anti-poaching efforts and bringing in supplies so much harder. Often, the only way to access these camps is by charter flights. This type of safari is extremely rewarding but hunting permits can be limited.

Countries like Burkina Faso, Tanzania (although be quick to hunt here if it’s your dream), Zambia, and Mozambique all offer these once in a lifetime rough and rugged expeditions. Depending on which outfitter you use the accommodation will be minimal but comfortable, you will get hot and sweaty and you will leave the hunt with a new perspective on life.

There are also very specialized hunts for species like bongo & Lord Derby's eland in CAR, mountain nyala in Ethiopia, and sitatunga & lechwe in Zambia that will be conducted in areas seldom visited by westerners. Lesser kudu and fringe-eared oryx can be hunted in Tanzania which rivals South Africa as a destination with a wide variety of game, however, to hunt all of the areas will take a lot of charter flights and isn't really practical or cost effective to do in one trip.

The more affordable safaris are generally experienced on private property in South Africa & Namibia. The hunts are usually closer to civilization with more permanent lodges and are a little bit easier to access, maintain and supply. The infrastructure in both countries are more likened to Australia which makes road travel much more pleasant than that of some of the other African countries.

South Africa, a perfect destination for short plains game safaris, has the largest safari industry in the whole of Africa and is home to an enormous variety of game. In comparison, Namibia is a more arid country with a similar system of private-land hunting although the Caprivi Strip is a remote & wild place in the north. Properties in Namibia average slightly larger than in South Africa, but the game is less varied. These two countries are most commonly visited by people experiencing Africa for the first or second time or by people looking for great bang for their buck.

It is unfortunate that in recent times hunting in Africa, in particular southern Africa, has been tarnished by the misconception that it is neither ethical nor sustainable to hunt the indigenous animals that we do. Withstanding this we as a global advocate for sustainable hunting practices understand the underlying importance international hunters have on the wildlife that inhabit the areas we visit and the communities that welcome us with open arms.

The areas that hunting outfitters operate in are often undesirable locations for photographic safaris which makes hunting the only viable option to manage and protect the animals that inhabit these areas. If there isn’t a value placed on the wildlife and if the animals aren’t giving back to the community they will be replaced by something that will. Local cattle farmers will bring in more cattle, the charcoal trade will move in and destroy the bush and the bush-meat poachers will remove every last animal from an area to make a dollar or two. Hunting outfitters use money generated from a safari to fund anti-poaching operations, community education programs and provide a source of protein to a population that otherwise have no access to it.

For some hunters, it may be difficult to think about a different system for sustainable use of wildlife than what is used in Australia. In Australia, we, for the most part, hunt introduced animals or animals that have been declared pests to the native fauna and flora. This system is fantastic for hunters and the environment however there is generally no quota (unless hunting hog deer) or regard given to the pest population because we are doing a great thing for the environment to be taking these animals off. It is not the same in Africa. We need to abide by strict game management principles and laws for the sustainable use of wildlife otherwise there would be disastrous consequences for the indigenous game. In my opinion, North America and Southern Africa have some of the best results for the sustainable use of wildlife systems that they implement. The expanding population numbers of some game when compared to other countries with inferior laws and regulations are signs that the system works and shouldn’t be drastically changed.

South Africa’s privately owned game numbers are a phenomenal achievement that goes unrecognized. In the 1960’s a change occurred from domesticated livestock farming to the farming of indigenous game animals. Prior to this, farmers were busy hunting down every visible game animal that competed with their cattle for feed. The Bontebok, Blesbok & Black Wildebeest were very nearly wiped out due to the eradication efforts of farmers. Luckily the shift to game farms occurred and now there is an abundance of those species thriving on many privately owned properties throughout the country. Getting the domesticated livestock off the land and rejuvenating the bush back to its natural state did wonders for the population of all other game species as well. In the 1960’s a survey of large mammals living in South Africa was estimated at 575,000 animals. The latest estimate by Wildlife Ranching South Africa (WRSA) is 18 million however this number may also include small mammals. The conservative estimate of 6 million large wild game animals in private game ranches is still a large rise from the 575,000 large mammals living in South Africa in the early 1960s estimated by Van Hoven. Taking a look at Kenya after the 1970’s ban on hunting, the numbers are reversed compared to the benefit hunting has had for the wildlife numbers in South Africa. At best guess Kenya has had a decline of large mammals by around 70% and this rate is not slowing down. Habitat encroachment, poaching and limited conservation funding is all contributing to the decline.

Roughly 25% of the South African rhino population are owned by private land owners which makes them crucial to South Africa's wildlife conservation efforts. The landowners are responsible for all anti-poaching initiatives to protect the rhino. Can you guess where the funds come from? The government? No. The keyboard warriors? No. The large conservation charities? No. The funding comes from the sustainable game hunters like you and I.

One of the key economic drivers for private land owners holding rhino is regulated 'trophy' hunting. It provides an incentive to manage and protect their wildlife from external threats. Rhino are just one example of how hunting can in fact be hugely beneficial to wildlife conservation. The introduction of legitimate private ownership of white rhino and legalising rhino hunting in the 1970s have saved the rhino from extinction. At the time, these decisions were very controversial but the proof is in the data. The hunting industry, along with those who lobbied for the rhino plan, are the success story that saw southern white rhino make it back from the brink of extinction in the early 1900s.

This remains one of the greatest conservation success stories on record, there has been an increase from less than 500 rhino in 1953 to in excess of 18,000 in 2010. Through the hunting of only a few animals, their overall numbers increased remarkably.

The definition of conservation is a careful preservation and protection of something; especially: planned management of a natural resource to prevent exploitation, destruction, or neglect. Being fortunate to have hunted in most of the Southern African countries with some very ethical outfitters, I would argue with anyone that thinks hunting in Africa isn’t the true definition of the word conservation. If you choose an outfitter that meets your expectations when it comes to ethical game management then you too are conservation in practice.

Safari is the greatest experience you will ever undertake, don’t let anyone stop you from getting there!

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