High Desert Double Rifle
Journey to big bore paradise
The Blue Brindled Gnu
Hunting the clown of Africa
BorderLine Walk Stage Two: Binga to Matusadona
The greatest threat to African Wildlife
This is Africa! Life on our wild continent
Exploring ostrich behavior Part 1
The Fire Piston
Making fire the old way
The Winchester Ballistics Calculator Make a Plan The Handy Condom
Cover photos: Herman Boshua, South Africa
Published by Safari Media Africa Editors United States of America
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contents 4 | AFRICAN EXPEDITION MAGAZINE NOVEMBER 2009
Blue Brindled Gnu 9 TheHunting the clown of Africa Walk 14 BorderLine Stage Two: Binga to Matusadona is Africa! 34 This Life on our wild continent
40 High Desert Double Rifle Pilgrimage
Journey to big bore paradise
52 The greatest threat to African Wildlife
Exploring ostrich behavior Part 1
62 News, Reviews and and Press Releases
Fire Piston 70 The Making fire the old way
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Blue Brindled Gnu Koos Barnard
Hunting the clown of Africa
t was late afternoon, the sun had already disappeared behind the mountains and my tired legs were taking me slowly up a steep slope towards my hunting vehicle. Somewhere close by, a francolin started calling. Normally I would have stopped to listen to its beautiful evening song, but I just plodded on. I was feeling dejected and had given up hope of finding a blue wildebeest. Then movement among a clump of umbrella thorns caught my eye. A quick look through my binos revealed a single blue gnu grazing peacefully, totally unaware of my presence. I got a small acacia between me and the bull and with my heart beating in my throat, closed the distance between us. The thorn tree allowed me to get within 50m of the bull and as I reached the tree, the blue wildebeest turned towards me and lifted his head. Boy, he was huge in body and horn and would easily qualify for Rowland Ward. I slowly lifted the 7mm Mauser and steadied the crosshair in the middle of his forehead, slightly above the eyes. He probably sensed my presence for he suddenly lifted his head higher, seeming to stare right through me. Under the umbrella thorns he looked so enormous that for a fleeting moment my imagination almost transformed him into a buffalo. I had the bull at my mercy â€“ a tiny movement of my trigger finger would send the 150gr bullet crashing through his brain. I was hunting for meat however and lowered the rifle, resigning myself to the fact that I would have to try again the next day. When I turned away and walked back up the slope, the old bull noticed me, but did not seem to be alarmed. He just stood there, a big black statue with wide sweeping horns, epitomizing every blue wildebeest that has ever walked the Dark Continent. NOVEMBER 2009 AFRICAN EXPEDITION MAGAZINE | 9
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I continued up the slope and then my luck suddenly changed. Down in the gulley two wildebeests had separated themselves from the deep shadows and started walking up the slope, fortunately without noticing me. I sat down quickly and flicked off the Mauser’s safety – if they continued on their path they would soon cross my front at no more than about 75m. Through the scope I could identify both as bulls. On they came and then suddenly one noticed me. Stopping in his tracks, the bull turned towards me and through the scope I could see that he was still a fairly young one and that his horns had an average spread, probably measuring 24”. As the crosshair settled on his forehead he snorted once and then I caressed the Mauser’s trigger. The Partition struck with a loud “dup”. The blue wildebeest is also known as the brindled gnu because of the dark stripes on his neck and flanks. Standing up to 1.5m tall at the shoulder and weighing about 250kg, an adult bull is just a little smaller than the American elk. It is one of Africa’s most adaptable species and naturally occurs in the northern parts of Namibia, is common in Zimbabwe and Botswana and the South African provinces of Mpumalanga, Limpopo, KwaZulu-Natal and parts of the Northern Cape. They have been introduced to game farms all over South Africa and prosper even in the colder areas of the Eastern Cape. Wildebeest seem to do equally well in dense bushveld, open savannah and in the semi-desert Kalahari. This species is popular with both meat and trophy hunters. Gregarious by nature, wildebeests normally gather in herds of up to 30 animals but in open, unfenced areas they gather in great numbers and migrate to find better grazing. The great wildebeest migration in Tanzania, home of the white-bearded wildebeest, is a well-known and much filmed event. In open savannah the spot and stalk method is the best way to hunt these animals. Get onto high ground early in the morning and use binoculars to spot them, then plan your stalk. In savannah country wildebeests are at times quite easy to approach. They probably feel safe when they can see a hunter and I have often used an oblique approach to get a client close enough for a shot. Unfortunately wildebeest sometimes associate with zebra, which have acute senses, and can make an undetected approach difficult. While the blue wildebeest does not always present a big challenge in open country, hunting them in dense
bush is an entirely different story. Like kudu they become shy and secretive when hunted regularly and often spend the hot hours of the day in deep shade where their dark bodies are difficult to spot. Even in mid-winter when most of the trees have lost their leaves and the branches appear almost black, they blend in so well with their surroundings that you can walk right past them. I have hunted them in Natal in thick bush where their ability to become “invisible” has often amazed me. In such terrain, if you have choice, do not hunt them in hot weather during full phases of the moon. When the moon is bright they graze during the night and retreat to dense cover during the day. These animals are territorial, especially the old and breeding bulls, so you will always find them at their preferred spots. Also remember that wildebeests prefer short grass and that they are dependant on water. Determine where they graze and drink and which routes they take – their spoor is easy to identify once you know what it looks like. Another way to find them, is to listen for that strange metallic nasal snort from which their Hottentot name, gnu, is derived. I have often heard adult bulls call early in the morning. Hunting them during midday can be very frustrating and often a waste of time – unless you are patient and walk very, very slowly. There are always one or two animals “on guard” but a silent stalk can surprise them in their “beds”. Spotting an animal in deep shade is one thing but telling which way his body is facing can be difficult. Many hunters have missed or wounded animals as a result. Telling the bulls from the cows is your next problem as both sexes carry horns. Hunters making use of professional guides shouldn’t have problem but remember that the final decision to shoot is yours. As a general rule, the first thing to look for is the penis sheath, but on a wildebeest it is often small and difficult to spot. The angle might be wrong or vegetation might obscure the belly-line. The most reliable way to distinguish between the sexes is by the horns – the bulls’ are thicker, but it is the overall spread that is important. A trophy bull’s always exceeds the ear length while a cow rarely has that kind of spread. A bull’s horn bases are thicker and they have a slight downward sweep before the curl starts. If the ear-tips extend to the outside of the curves, he is about 23 – 25” and if the outside curves exceed the ear length by an inch or more he will usually be in the Rowland Ward class. The minimum to qualify for Rowland Ward is 28.5”. NOVEMBER 2009 AFRICAN EXPEDITION MAGAZINE | 11
Koos Barnard is an ex-professional hunter and a full time gun writer, having published hundreds of articles. He was born in Namibia and has been a keen hunter since his youth.
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Sometimes you can also use face colour to identify bulls. An adult bull’s face is usually pitch-black while that of a cow or sub-adult bull has an area of brown hair at the horn base. I have, however, seen adult bulls with tinges of brown on the forehead and a friend once shot a cow with a pitch-black face. Using face colour is thus not a reliable indicator of the animal’s sex. Blue wildebeests are very tough. Someone once said that they are born sick but get better anytime a bullet hits them. These animals are vincible, however, and a well-placed shot from any .270 or 7x57 will do the job. But if the bullet misses the vitals (even by a hair’s breadth) their legendary toughness kicks in. A common mistake hunters make is to shoot a wildebeest too high on the shoulder. The hump and the mane create an optical illusion causing hunters to aim for the centre, which results in shooting above the vitals. I also think that the popular system of sighting in a scope for a point of impact 2.5 to 3” high at 100m contributes to the high shots. Most wildebeests, especially in bushveld, are shot at 100 to 150m. Instead of aiming low on the shoulder, the hunter aims for the centre and with his bullet printing high at 100m he shoots over the hear/lung area. Wildebeests have massive heads and it is tempting to go for head shots, but again, hunters tend to aim for the centre and then shoot under the brain of an animal facing them. If the bullet holds together long enough and penetrates deep enough it might reach the neck bones and breaking one or more will put the animal down. However, if the bullet is slightly off, the result will be a wounded animal. If you go for the head, place the shot slightly above the eyes. Although a .270 or a 7mm Mauser will kill a blue wildebeest, heavier calibers such as the various .300 Magnums, a .338 Win Mag or even the .375H&H, loaded with premium grade bullets are preferable. Often referred to as the “clown” of the bush because of its habit of cavorting madly at times, the blue wildebeest is sometimes regarded as an inferior quarry. It lacks the regal ������������������������������� splendour���������������������� of the kudu and gemsbuck, but to me the blue wildebeest is rather special and I cannot think of them as clowns. Their rugged looks and toughness appeal to me. In a way they are like buffalo – not too difficult to find, but you’d better get into position to place your first shot exactly right or you’ll have a lot of trouble on your hands. NOVEMBER 2009 AFRICAN EXPEDITION MAGAZINE | 13
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Stage Two: Binga to Matusadona
s mentioned in the previous Borderline article (stage one), Binga was something of a letdown. It was the first ‘real town’ we passed through, and to be honest I wish we had bypassed. We were delayed there for an unreasonably lengthy period (due to various factors but mainly because of bungling bureaucracy), and I found the town to be a dive, as I find all Zimbabwean towns to be these days. This is mainly because of the litter which is being strewn about at random by urbanites, and which lines our town and city streets. One can see such a deplorable situation in any one of our urban centers, without spending too much time looking. It is depressing, especially when compared to some of the relatively untouched wilderness wonder that Zimbabwe has on offer. Needless to say, it is the authorities that are to blame, and it is only the authorities that can resolve the crisis. Sadly, they don’t appear keen to do anything. If the town councils organized recycling projects and offered children a few cents for so many kilograms of plastic, paper, aluminum etc, the streets would be clean in no time. And if a fine of US$10 or community service was imposed on anyone found littering, the streets would remain clean. Although I am not a widely traveled fellow, I’m pretty sure that there cannot be too many places where it is more difficult to implement theory than in Africa. The two major consolations regarding our extended stay in Binga were the fantastic sunsets and, as always, the people. Binga is Tonga country and its residents were no less friendly and helpful than any of those we have thus far come across. We were warned before and during the early stages of the walk that language would be a problem through Tonga country, but this was not the case at all, from Sidinda through NOVEMBER 2009 AFRICAN EXPEDITION MAGAZINE | 15
to Bumi Hills. On the few occasions we did come across people who had no understanding of Shona, we found that our unique brand of Zimbo sign language and the odd Ndebele word put everyone in the picture in quick time. And once everyone was in the picture, they bent over backwards to assist us, in any way they could and in true Zimbabwean fashion. As well as lamenting the filthy state of every urban center I visit in Zimbabwe, I also find myself marveling at the fine people our country is populated by. I just wish the majority of those fine people were not habitual litterbugs. We finally departed Binga on the 23rd August, and if not elated, both Jephita and I were pleased to go. Binga had chewed up far too much time, the bush beckoned and we were most excited about what lay ahead – Sijarira Forest Land, Chete Safari Area, Sengwa, the Omay….Excited and a little nervous, of course, but more excited than nervous. Lighting out from the Binga Rest Camp at about 8 a.m., we clambered over a fairly prominent kopje behind town and headed off roughly parallel to the shore of the Binga back harbor, skirting the rugged ground closer to the water and sticking to winding footpaths. The Binga back harbor is actually what is termed a ‘pushback’ – found at the mouths of Zambezi/Kariba tributaries and mostly ‘pushing back’ many a mile, especially at this time when the water level is so high. The Binga back harbor is a fairly unique pushback as it fronts a minor river (the Musumu) yet is massive itself, stretching from Binga across to Sijarira Forest land, a hazy land mass in the far distance. Besides the first couple of kilometers, the terrain was relatively flat, but in and around Binga it is the sand which is a bind. I guess we walked about seven or eight kilometers, gradually narrowing the gap with the water, until we came to the shoreline and subsequently the Chilila lodge/fishing camp in the late morning. At Chilila we were warmly welcomed (when are we not?) by Peter and Charmaine Esterhuizen, who offered us a chalet to freshen up and cook some food. Concerned that we were not well enough equipped, the Esterhuizens set about adding to our stocks – mielie meal, apricots, and cappuccino sachets! Wow, it’s tough in the bush eh? Peter’s final act of kindness was to arrange a ride for us across the Musumu mouth/Binga back harbor on a kapenta rig. We boarded the rig later that afternoon and crossed a vast stretch of water before arriving at HHK Safari’s Sijirira safari camp shortly before sunset. As we were idling into the jetty, a couple hun16 | AFRICAN EXPEDITION MAGAZINE NOVEMBER 2009
dred meters from shore, the kapenta rig’s propeller took an awful knock on an enormous rock just below the surface. We managed to reach the jetty, but it appeared the steering was badly damaged. Once berthed, I told the three riggers to stay put whilst I went and spoke with the camp manager, to try and make plans for both them and us. I subsequently made the relevant plans, but whilst returning to the jetty was surprised to see the rig limping out towards the open water. The riggers had told Jephita to bid me farewell, saying they thought the steering would hold and that they’d give it a go. I hope those guys returned safely but I’m sure we would have heard had they not. Working on a kapenta rig is a dangerous occupation and it couldn’t be fun getting caught out at night on Kariba in adverse conditions without steering. Given the use of a most comfortable chalet, we were hosted that night by Walter and Linda Kriedl and the rest of the Sijirira safari camp personnel. As I was saying about how tough it is in the bush. Over a splendid dinner that evening, upon which I gorged enthusiastically, I had the pleasure of meeting professional hunter Gavin Rabinovitch – one of those old school professional hunters who have been around forever, and about whom one hears so much. Like so many of his ilk, Gavin is an entertainer and he held our attention for some time with adventurous tales from yesteryear. Gavin Rabinovitch is the kind of hunter who should have a book written about him, as should Roger Whittall, Barrie Duckworth, Ian Piercy, Mike Fynn……The list goes on. We slept deeply and in comfort that night, and were on the road early the following morning. The day ultimately saw us covering a great deal of challenging terrain, following the shoreline to the Sengwe River, Sijirira’s boundary with Chete safari area. The Sijirira shoreline is certainly something to behold – harshly stunning with miles and miles of beach compressed tightly between a seemingly infinite expanse of water on one side, and imposing hills on the other. We had two choices walking through Sijirira – tackling the beach sand, or tackling the rock-strewn hills. For the most part we chose the former, but did occasionally find ourselves blundering about the hillsides. No, I can’t really say which is easier – sand and rock test a hiker in different ways but are equally as demanding, in my opinion. Although the going was tough, the scenery made up for the slog and I thoroughly enjoyed the day. Particularly the lunch break under a shady tree overlooking the water! The only downside to the walk through Sijirira was
the lack of game seen, but we were well used to that state of affairs by then. We did
catch a fleeting glimpse of a bushbuck early in the day, and we did see a couple of elephants and a few klipspringers and hear a kudu bull bark, but the overall picture was somewhat bleak. We eventually ran out of beachfront and had no choice but to tackle the hills for a couple of hours, arriving on the Sengwe slightly above the mouth at about 3 p.m. And then we hummed and hawed as we pondered the obstacle that was the Sengwe River. We had been told by someone who thought he was in the know that there was an old low-level bridge not too far from the mouth where we would be able Chete to cross. Taking one look at the water level told me that no low-level bridge that ever was would still be around, and that our informant had obviously brought to mind a bygone era, when the Sengwe was a low-level river….Could it have ever been in such a state? Hard to believe, when one beholds it now. In any case, there was nothing for it but to contemplate making our way upstream, until we reached a crossable point. The land immediately flanking the Sengwe did not fill us with enthusiasm, and we decided we would have to camp somewhere close by, move away from the river the following morning and seek less problematic terrain, if such terrain could actually be found, which I doubted. In that area (Sijarira/Chete), it appears there is no such thing as flat ground, just hills, hills and more hills, as far as the eye can see,
range after rocky range, beginning on the shoreline and extending God knows how far from it. Spent by the day’s extreme hike, we began bumbling and stumbling over the rocks along the Sengwe shoreline, headed upstream, away from the borderline. This goes against all our instincts but has to be done occasionally. By that time, I was almost incapable of thought, but I did manage a little fragmented cogitation. I thought how we would probably have to trek some distance up the Sengwe before we found a crossing point, possibly as far as the high level bridge on the ‘main’ (secondary) road. I also thought that we, as well as God, may, within the next day or two, know exactly how far the hills extend from the shoreline. And then my thoughts were shattered by the sound of a speedboat engine and all fatigue instantly evaporated. We were making our way through stunted mopani over yet another testing prominence, about one hundred meters from and twenty meters above the river, when we heard the speedboat. It sounded so alien in that place. Within seconds it came into view, streaking around a bend a few hundred meters downstream and approaching at pace. I shed my backpack and ran for the water, as did Jephita. I guess we realized we wouldn’t make it even before we were out of the straps, but we had to try. It was all just too little too late – our legs had to do a third of the work the boat motor had to, in the same time and over a much more challenging surface. 0.1 horsepower versus NOVEMBER 2009 AFRICAN EXPEDITION MAGAZINE | 17
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60 odd was never going to be enough. As it was, we made a fine effort. Stumbling over rocks and breaking from the mopani with arms wind-milling frantically, we were just in time to see the speedboat draw level with our position and then flick past. It was about a hundred meters out and its occupants never even looked in our direction. What made it all the more frustrating was that we recognized the boat to be a Parks vessel, and they would definitely have stopped had they spotted us. Jephita and I looked at each other sadly, spent a minute appraising the immediate surrounds even more sadly, and then began trudging back towards our hastily abandoned backpacks. The day was fast drawing to close and we needed to find a campsite pronto. We had soon located a suitable campsite on a low bluff overlooking the river, and were making our way wearily to the water’s edge, to fill our containers. And then suddenly, miracle of miracles, another boat came up the river! And this one was chugging, not streaking. Bobbing my head about and getting glimpses of the boat through the trees, I saw that it was a pontoon type vessel Small crocs in th with about eight white e Sengwe people on board. Telling Jephita to lay low – folk are decidedly edgy about armed Zambian poachers in those parts – I walked from the trees as the boat drew closer and raised my hand in greeting. The people on the boat spotted me immediately and there was brief, muted dialogue, before the driver swung the boat towards the bank. I waved again and called out ‘hello’, and conversation ensued. Before the boat reached land, the ice was broken and everyone had been fairly well briefed as to what the Borderline Walk was all about. As can be imagined, I never tire of filling people in, especially when chancing upon them in the most unlikely places one would expect to find a man on foot. Nor do I ever tire of witnessing their reactions. Some are disbelieving, some are impressed and some are indifferent. Most are interested and fire away with the questions, and the people on the pontoon were no different.
Soon, the inevitable questions came up, ‘What about animals? Do you have a gun?’ I replied that we did – a tazer gun. The ice was definitely broken then, and soon Jephita and I were being transported across the Sengwe in fine style. We have been transported across a number of rivers in style – it is just the blundering about between rivers which is not so stylish! The fording of the Sengwe was a major weight off my shoulders. I had been worrying about the Sengwe since our stay in Binga – it is a large river, pushing back a considerable distance through punishing country. I knew that twenty kilometers up the Sengwe and then twenty kilometers back down, to basically cover a few hundred meters, would be bad for team moral. Not to mention how it would affect my already beaten-up chassis! We had received two pieces of information regarding the Sengwe – the one about the low-level bridge from a well-informed source, and the one about how it was highly unlikely we would chance upon a boat there, from a number of wellinformed sources. The Sengwe was one of those instances when I should have gone with instinct – of course we would come across a boat on the Sengwe, why would we not? There are a great number of fishermen spaced out along the Kariba shoreline, and obviously some of them work the waters around the Sengwe. I still don’t know how I could have swallowed that one. We set up camp and began preparing dinner well after dark that night, on a flat bit of ground halfway up a kopje, overlooking the river. It was one of the few times we have used our bush-shower – I must confess that we most often just leap into the river at a spot we deem to be safe! The bush-shower emits only a feeble trickle, but at times that trickle is most welcome, as it was that night on the Sengwe. After washing and eating, Jephita and I fell into a deep sleep. Our haul through Sijarira had been tough indeed, but neither of us had any idea what the morrow would bring. NOVEMBER 2009 AFRICAN EXPEDITION MAGAZINE | 19
The morrow brought about what was arguably the most grueling day of the Borderline Walk thus far. Bearing in mind that, as I write, we are about to leave Kariba and tackle the lower valley. In a physical sense, our first day in Chete could be favorably compared to the day after we crossed the river Gwaii. I say Chete was worse than the Gwaii, though Jephita maintains that both areas were similarly taxing. I reckon we have covered four areas that are in contention for top sweat-shedding slot: the thirty kilometer stretch along the river directly below Victoria Falls, the country surrounding Batoka Gorge, the area flanking the Zambezi/Gwaii junction, and the first day in Chete. We were up and away at dawn and immediately into the hills. We would remain in the hills throughout the day. At first we tried working hillcrests, valleys and passes, a couple of kilometers from the water, and for a while it worked, but the terrain became increasingly hostile and we found ourselves zigzagging about, sweating buckets but not making much headway. By midmorning we had had enough of plan A and made our way down a gully to the lakeshore.
seemed. And no, I don’t believe it is true that up is easier than down. Down is more dangerous, but it is not more difficult, specifically in relation to calf muscle usage. Yes, I have some now – calf muscles that is. They reappeared after Chete, after many years absence. As was the case in Sijarira, we saw little game in the south-western half of Chete – a few kudu, a few klipspringers, the odd croc and hippo and nothing much else but birds. We did come across the extremely fresh trail of a lone dagga boy, but besides that there was no recent sign of big game. At the time, I put it down to the extreme terrain and lack of vegetation, but I was to change my tune in the days to come, when we passed through country that should definitely be populated by wildlife and was not.
As evening approached and the land showed no signs of mercy, we realized we were not going to make it to the Chete hunting camp, which had been our target that day. We knew that the hunting camp was on the mainland adjacent to Chete Island, and the GPS showed that Chete Island was still about ten We needed to do this anyway, as the morning’s kilometers away. And so we decided to set up camp activity had drained our water bottles. En route to somewhere close to a large bay, which we espied the shoreline, three kudu bulls crashed off through from an elevated position a few hundred meters off. the scrub to our right. I managed to pick out only Lo and behold, once we reached the bay, we came two, but Jephita spotted all three. Both of us saw the across a hunting road leading from it. We were far last one in line, and both of us agreed that it was a too exhausted and it was way too late to think of massive bull – insofar as horn length is concerned, following the road that day, and so we located a that is. Jephita said that both suitable campsite a couple hundred meters from the the other bulls were water and flopped majongos (immadown, totally exChete Island from Ch ete hu ture specimens). hausted. nting camp Once we had filled our bellies and bottles, we set to once more, but this time we attempted negotiating the shoreline itself, praying for the break a little flat country would provide. No such good fortune came our way, however, and we tramped away throughout the day, range after punishing range. Up and then down, and then immediately up again, or so it 20 | AFRICAN EXPEDITION MAGAZINE NOVEMBER 2009
We followed the hunting road to HHK safari’s Chete hunting camp the following morning and were there by 10 a.m. The hunters were obviously out, and so we settled down to await their return, striking up a rapport with the camp staff at the same time. Because we are naturally sociable fellows and because it is in our own best interests, Jephita and I put effort into gaining favor with those
we meet as soon as possible. More effort is put into winning particular people over, as is the case with safari camp chefs, for example. At Chete camp we struck pay-dirt fast and were soon chewing on hunks of fresh bread and butter, and sipping hot, sweet tea, whilst reclining on the lawn beneath a shady tree. We ended up staying two nights at Chete hunting camp; ostensibly so that I could do some writing, but actually to recover from the pounding our bodies had received the previous two days. Our hosts at Chete were professional hunters Derek Adams, Richard Schultz and Gareth Stockil. It was with mutual astonishment that Gareth and I discovered, after hours of conversation, that we are actually second cousins! Another pleasant surprise for Jephita and me was that our good friend from the lowveld, Clever Chauke, was in camp, tracking for Richard Schultz. It is amazing who we bump into on the Borderline Walk.
Chete Parks post were only en route by mid-morning. Our destination for that day was Siantula Parks post, on the Luizinkulu River. Although the Luizinkulu is a full day’s march from Chete Island, the country is much tamer than in Chete south and we were confident of reaching there by nightfall. Unfortunately, we took a wrong turning at a hunting road intersection late in the day, and as evening loomed found ourselves on the lakeshore at a point we had hoped the Siantula post would be, but was not. As it slowly dawned on us that we had blundered, we heard the sound of an approaching vehicle. The occupants of the vehicle were none other than Gomez Adams, his clients and hunting crew. Gomez wasted no time informing us that we were way off track, and then offered us a ride back to where we had made the wrong turn. We accepted gratefully and, a short time later, were on the correct road to Siantula, eventually arriving there well after sundown. Just before dark, we were a tad surprised to see a small herd of buffalo crossing the road in front of us. Other than one dagga boy close to Victoria Falls, they were the first buffalo we had encountered the entire journey.
Derek ‘Gomez’ Adams is a highly experienced professional hunter with many years of dangerous game hunting under his belt. Although I had never met him before we arrived at Chete, I had heard countless tales Needless to say, of his exploits, both the buffalo broke in-field and out. Meetinto headlong ing the man in person flight as soon and spending a couple as they sensed of evenings listening to e ub Nc g’ us, crashing ‘Bi ulu with his fascinating campfire Crossing the Luizink through the stories was both entermopani hectically taining and a privilege. and putting as much distance as possible between Gomez is an old Parks hand who spent them and what they fully understood to be their time as a ranger working under the legendary wardeadliest enemy. den Clem Coetsee, in Hwange National Park. I knew Clem personally and so Gomez’s stories were close At Siantula, we met the most wonderful character. to home. Charles ‘Big’ Ncube is his name and he has been the resident ranger at Luizinkulu since 1980! Although I have never doubted the massive contribution Clem we were spent when we arrived (when are we not?), Coetsee made to this country, and what Gomez told we sat up late with ‘Big’, absorbed by his tales and me only served to compound my belief that Clem did enjoying his keen sense of humor. ‘Big’ Ncube has more for Zimbabwean wildlife than anyone who ever very interesting opinions about this country, the syslived. May that honorable man rest in peace. tem and life in general. His is an illuminating outlook We left Chete hunting camp early in the morning on which I wholeheartedly relate to, and I took to the August 28th, but because we spent some time at the man from the word go. NOVEMBER 2009 AFRICAN EXPEDITION MAGAZINE | 21
When I brought up the subject of the lack of game in the area, ‘Big’ sighed deeply – painfully, it seemed. His explanation came as no surprise – lack of resources and lack of personnel had led to a not so gradual loss of control and a massive upsurge in poaching. One hears the same story in almost every Zimbabwean wildlife area these days. When I suggested that inflated hunting quotas were also part of the problem, ‘Big’ was in total agreement. It all boils down to chasing the buck, doesn’t it? It always strikes me as madness when I hear that a particular hunting quota has been upped in a particular area. How can the authorities and hunting operators justify such an action at this moment in time? Zimbabwean wildlife is staring down the barrel in every sense imaginable right now, and there are simply not enough people in its corner. ‘Big’ Ncube paddled us across da The Sinamwen the Luizinkulu mouth the following morning in his canoe, but we made a late start once again, waiting for wind and wave to die down before launching. I was sorry we had to leave so soon as I would liked to have spent more time speaking with ranger Ncube and tapping his mind. I have that good man’s contact details and will be sure to call on him one day soon. Although the wildlife situation in Chete south was grim, nothing could have prepared us for the northern part, between the Luizinkulu and Sinamwenda rivers. What a shame it was to behold – we saw not one living mammal the entire day, not even a duiker or a rabbit. It is obvious that nobody hunts or patrols this block of land, and that it has simply been left to its fate. As the day wore on and we drew closer to the Sinamwenda River, we began coming upon the spoor and snares of poachers. These poachers obviously operate from fishing villages on the northern bank of the Sinamwenda, and they obviously have free rein in Chete north. We lifted far too many snares to carry and so we began dumping them in places we thought no-one would find them – down 22 | AFRICAN EXPEDITION MAGAZINE NOVEMBER 2009
old antbear holes, etc. Towards the end of the day, as we were nearing the Sinamwenda mouth, we came across an elephant killed by poachers. How do we know it was killed by poachers? Aside from having its face hacked into and tusks removed, the carcass was completely intact. Hunters do not hack tusks out – they most often take the entire skull. Furthermore, hunters recover skin panels and meat – the whole elephant, if possible. I took a couple of morbid pictures of the elephant carcass and then we trudged down to the water as the light faded. Although the walking had been easier than what we were accustomed to and we had made significant headway, the day had been a bleak one indeed. Since we knew there were fishing villages on the northern bank of the Sinamwenda, we were not too concerned about crossing. I was certainly far less concerned than I had been about the Sengwe. As it transpired, crossing the Sinamwenda was more problematic than we imagined. We broke camp at dawn on August 30th, and clambered over a couple of kopjes to the Sinamwenda mouth, fully expecting to see fishing camps and people on the far bank. Alas, no sign of habitation was evident. Unbeknown to us, the one fishing camp that is actually situated on the bank was hidden from view by a promontory. Up and down the Sinamwenda we trudged that day, hoping to chance upon someone who could help us cross, but to no avail. As is the case with the vast majority of the Zambezi tributaries we have come upon, the terrain immediately flanking the Sinamwenda is harsh and draining. And so there we were, re-enacting a process we are now so familiar with – up and then down, and then up again…. Around and about, stumbling and grumbling, with no plan but to eat noodles and drink tea when the going got too tough! The situation was actually fairly dire as we were running very low on stocks. In fact, we had almost no food at all – enough
ming in off M
Jephita with lifted snares in Chete
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for two more bland meals. We desperately needed to cross the Sinamwenda. Eventually, at about 3 p.m., we spotted a lone figure at the water’s edge on the far bank, about a kilometer from the mouth itself. Jephita picked the man out from a hilltop some distance upstream, and we descended into the valley as fast as possible. Shortly afterwards, we broke from the bush onto the shoreline, almost opposite the man, who was still in the same place. And then we began hollering. The river is several hundred meters wide at that point, and it took a great deal of high decibel yelling to get the message across, but eventually the man seemed to copy. He shouted for us to wait, whilst he went to talk to with boss, and then he disappeared into the treeline. Having absolutely no choice, we waited. Thirty minutes later, the man returned and called out, asking us if we weren’t perhaps poachers! I knew then that we had failed and that further yelling would be pointless. Without a word, Jephita and I walked back into the bush. That night we slept like the dead, on a rock-strewn hillside overlooking the Sinamwenda. We had covered about fifteen kilometers stumbling about the hills that day, but were bedded down only a couple of kilometers from where we had camped the previous night. There was no messing about come dawn the next day. We knew we had no option but to follow the Sinamwenda upstream to where we could cross. There was no point in wasting more time walking up and down the river, hoping to hitch a ride that may or not materialize, especially since we were so low on supplies. The only issue of concern was how far the Sinamwenda pushed back – it appeared a fairly large river at the mouth, and with the water level so high it could push back quite a distance. At the end of the day, it didn’t matter how far it pushed back because we had no choice. The guys across the river thought we were poachers! Thankfully, the Sinamwenda did not push back far at all – about ten kilometers from the mouth, I would say. But the ten kilometers up and the ten back down were arduous, and it took us the entire day to reach a position three hundred meters from where we had started. At one stage, we were walking a hillside on what may be best described as a klipspringer trail – half a meter wide with a sheer drop of thirty meters on one side, and a vertical wall of rock on the other. I am terrified of heights and forced myself to look straight ahead as I shuffled along the ledge cautiously. I did inadvertently glance down a couple of times, and the jagged rocks below caused my head to spin. 24 | AFRICAN EXPEDITION MAGAZINE NOVEMBER 2009
We arrived at the Mwenda fishing camp (1) just before sunset, and a number of guilty looking fellows started making apologies for not coming to our assistance the previous day. We told them that it was no sweat – it was not their job to help us, and it was understandable that they mistook us for poachers. Ja right – one white and one black poacher with fancy backpacks calling for a ride across the Sinamwenda in the middle of the day? The poachers in Chete are obviously brazen, but surely not as brazen as that! Anyway, all was completely forgiven when we were informed that there was a tuckshop at the fishing camp, and that it was well stocked with biscuits, coke and cigarettes. Biscuits and coke for Jephita, and biscuits, coke and cigarettes for David! We covered one kilometer the next day, and I kid you not! This was because one kilometer from Mwenda fishing camp we were welcomed warmly by the management team of Edward and Heidi Coleman, and Brian Phillips. We stopped at Mwenda on the off-chance that we may be able to charge our camera and sat-phone batteries, and it was a good thing we did. That day and the next were spent relaxing at Mwenda, recharging the batteries of both appliances and humans, getting our washing done, downloading photos, and simply enjoying the fine company of the Colemans, Brian, their neighbor Mike Sutherland, and Mike’s energetic young son Carl. On the second night, we gathered at Mike’s place for a braai and a festive time was had by all. I got talking to Mike and learned that he used to work as a fishing guide for my friend, Russell Caldecott, in Victoria Falls. Mike then went on to tell me about a terrible experience he and his clients had had with a hippo the previous year. The hippo had attacked without warning and literally chomped the boat in two. Rus-
sell Caldecott had actually shown me the boat before we left the Falls, and it was a wreck, to be sure. The story Mike told me made my hair stand on end – he and the other guys in the boat had escaped death by a whisker. One of the hippo’s tusks had actually grazed Mike’s calf and he has the scar to prove it. Frightening stuff. Bidding our new found friends farewell, we set off from Mwenda just after dawn on September 3rd, our target for that day being the Sengwa mouth. Now this was a piece of cake – a decent road following the lakeshore all the way to Mujere fishing village, about a off Mujere dozen kilometers shy of the Sengwa River. Jephita and I strode that road at pace, overtaking a few slower moving travelers along the way. A white guy overtaking black guys in rural Africa? And carrying twentyfive kilograms to boot? Just doesn’t happen does it? Yes it does, I assure you. Especially if said white guy has just done one week plus walking through Chete/Sijirira! We enjoyed a fish/sadza lunch with the locals at Mujere village, and a few youths volunteered to paddle us across the Masakili River and drop us on the Sengwa floodplain. By this time I was somewhat excited – I used to work at Sengwa in the early 90s and was eager to see it again. Although the areas we had passed through had been a huge disappointment as far as game was concerned, I firmly believed that Sengwa would deliver. After all, it was nothing short of a wildlife paradise in the 90s, the plain teeming with buffalo, impala, waterbuck etc. After a short boat ride across the Masakili (uneventful but for the few times I had to berate the young
paddlers for tomfoolery), we were deposited on the Sengwa floodplain. Actually, we were deposited in a few feet of water about fifty meters from firm ground, but the boat could not progress further because of weed. Wading to shore, I looked over land I had not set eyes on for many a year. Everything seemed the same, as I left it, but for the animals. The floodplain was absolutely devoid of animals, and save a small group of warthogs, it remained that way for ten kilometers, as we walked over it towards the Sengwa mouth. Sijarira and Chete were disappointing, but what has been done to the Sengwa mouth is disgusting, and I am able to speak with authority in this instance, because I knew it before it was destroyed. The birds are still there, of course, in their multitudes and in all their varying colors, shapes and sizes, but the animals have all been slaughtered. Those responsible should hang their heads in shame right now and never lift them again. The one positive aspect pertaining to our walk over the Sengwa floodplain was that we visited the spot where I built a safari camp seventeen years ago. The camp has long since been abandoned and the bush has taken over once more. That seemed fitting and it made me happy – at least the money grabbing trash will never get rid of the bush. I’m sure they’d find a way if they could make a few dollars from it. We arrived at the Sengwa mouth after dark, and a security guard rowed me across a lagoon to speak with Mr Mark Fourie, the manager of the van der Riet family’s interests at Sengwa. These interests have been downscaled drastically since I was last there. The van der Riet family used to have a massive crocodile setup at Sengwa, but as I was to discover, all the breeding stock has been moved to their Chirundu base. They still have hatchling ponds at Sengwa, but no large crocodiles. The van der Riet’s also used to control the hunting in Sengwa/Siabuwa and adjoining areas, for many years, up until the time I began working there in 1992, as a matter of fact. It is a great pity that the van der Riet’s do not still control the hunting, because it was obvious in 1992 that they had managed the area well. The bare plains of Sengwa bear testament to what has happened since. Mark Fourie kindly granted us permission to pitch tent at the workshop/boat-sheds, and Jephita and I enjoyed a pleasant evening around the campfire, listening to hippos grunting and telling tales. Naturally, I did most of the tale telling, and most of the tales were, of course, from Sengwa: way back when, seventeen years before, when I was a fresh-faced young lad. I told Jephita about the time I was bitten NOVEMBER 2009 AFRICAN EXPEDITION MAGAZINE | 25
to the Seng
ter to land - wading on
The transition from wa
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by a stiletto snake, at the very spot we had visited that afternoon, where the Sengwa camp used to be. I told him about the biting, but my Shona is not good enough to have effectively described the results of the bite - my English is not good enough to effectively describe the results of that bite! I told Jephita about how the empty plains we had crossed that afternoon used to teem with game – black with buffalo, as far as the eye could see, hundreds upon hundreds, thousands….Elephants walking through camp in the evening, lions on the shoreline intimidating our contract reed cutters…. How much game there used to be at Sengwa. And then the storytelling changed location as I spoke of being sent into the The Sinamwenda escarpment with a land-cruiser, a few guys, tools, food and instructions to build a fly camp, open roads, conduct antipoaching patrols, etc. How carefree, uncomplicated and adventurous life was then, and how nostalgic I became that night. Nostalgic for the good old days, when the system did work at times and the Sengwa plains were teeming with wildlife… This land has been brutalized in recent times, but contrary to what the skeptics and defeatists would have one believe, the damage is far from irreparable. The land and the bush are still there, and it is the duty of all Zimbabweans to actively assist in returning the game to the Sengwa floodplain. Mark Fourie kindly offered us the use of a speedboat and driver the following morning, to cross the vast Sengwa mouth. Before leaving, I enjoyed a cup of tea and a short chat with Mark, catching up on news about my old school friend Carl van der Riet and life at Sengwa. It was with sorrow that I learnt from Mark about the passing of Mr Rupert van der Riet. Rupert van der Riet was a giant in Zimbabwean hunting circles, and those in the industry will remember him with only admiration. The Sengwa mouth is certainly ranked as one of the most expansive ‘mouths’ we have crossed thus far.
Yes, bearing in mind that we are now in Kariba and about to tackle the lower valley, and that we have crossed fifteen significant rivers since leaving Victoria Falls. Even though we sped across the water, propelled by a powerful motor, it took some twenty minutes to reach the northern bank and alight onto the soil of Omay communal land. Then it was another long hike along the shoreline, the destination for that day being the Sibilobilo River and fishing village. Past Mackenzie point we marched, and past several other fishing villages, tails up, heads down and purposeful. We saw as much wildlife in the Omay as we had in the other areas we passed through – next to nothing, a few impala, a duiker and a rabbit. As has been the case on a number of occasions, all went well for most of the day and we made good headway, but then we took a wrong turning in the afternoon, finding ourselves on the Sibilobilo but some distance from where we were supposed to be, with only a couple of daylight hours remaining. The Sibilobilo is one of those Zambezi/Kariba tributaries which is something of a vast lake at the mouth, stretching for many kilometers parallel to the Kariba shoreline. We were at one end of this ‘lake’, and the fishing village was at the other, about twelve kilometers off. And so the late afternoon was spent tiredly tramping the broken ground flanking the Sibilobilo, working our way closer to the village and a boat ride to the northern bank. Nightfall found us still a few kilometers shy of the fishing village, and so we set up camp, cooked our grub and settled down for the night. And then we heard voices, from down at the water. Voices and the sound of paddles slapping the water – fishermen driving fish towards their nets. Jephita went to investigate and returned shortly afterwards with a big beam on his dial. He had invited the fishermen for supper and they had in turn offered us a boat ride to their village. I was a little nervous about boating the Sibilobilo mouth at night, but there was a bright NOVEMBER 2009 AFRICAN EXPEDITION MAGAZINE | 27
moon, the boat seemed sound and it would assure us an early start the following morning. The fishermen paddled us into Sibilobilo harbor at 10 p.m. that night, and we were welcomed warmly by their boss, Mr Jacob Mangane, who roused his wife from slumber and instructed her to prepare tea and vetkoek for us. This was not a sexist action – this is Africa. That night we slept deeply, as usual, but maybe a little deeper than on most days. Sengwa to Sibilobilo was one of the greatest distances we have covered in a day – thirty kilometers plus. The following morning, after tea and vetkoek, Jacob and his friend ferried us over to the north bank, dropping us at one of several ‘elephant points’ we have come across on our journey. We then hiked to Chalala fishing village where we were just in time for lunch. After filling our bellies, we were presented with the visitor’s book to sign (with much pomp and ceremony), before being assigned two men to paddle us across the Chalala, where we were just in time to enjoy an early tea with the well known Zimbabwean author Bill Taylor, in the ascetic surrounds of his Chalala residence. We were the guests of Mr and Mrs Bill Taylor for two nights, and a most entertaining and educational time it was. Another stalwart of the hunting industry, Dudley Rogers, was also visiting the Taylor’s at the time with his wife, and I enjoyed the collective company tremendously. How illuminating it was to converse with the Taylors and Rogers regarding the overall situation in Zimbabwe, and the wildlife situation in particular. On our second day at Chalala, we all went fishing off Starvation Island, and miracle of miracles, we saw wildlife! And it didn’t tear off in panic either. Dozens of waterbuck and impala populate Starvation Island and it was so fine to observe them calmly feeding from close range. Starvation Island is thus named because during the famed ‘Operation Noah’, when the dam was filling in the early 60s, many animals died of starvation there, trapped by the rising water and too distant for rescuers to come to their aid in time. Chalala to Bumi Hills was only ten kilometers over undemanding ground, and we were there by 10 a.m. on September 7th. More miracles awaited us at Bumi, in the form of healthy elephant, buffalo and impala herds which did not speed off over the horizon as we approached. We saw more game in the couple hundred acres immediately surrounding Bumi Hills lodge than we had seen the entire journey, and I managed to take the first decent wildlife photos of the expedition. 28 | AFRICAN EXPEDITION MAGAZINE NOVEMBER 2009
At Bumi we were greeted by an old friend of mine, professional guide Andy Dalzel, who kindly offered to get us across the Umi River mouth the following day, and arranged for us to camp at what used to be a traditional craft center, close to the Bumi Hills lodge. That evening, Jephita hitched a ride back to Chalala with a Bumi Hills vehicle, to buy us a few items we had forgotten to get earlier and desperately needed – biscuits, for example. When he returned at about 8 p.m., Jephita told me they had seen eight or nine lions on the road, not far from where we were camped. I shivered inwardly, said ‘oh, that’s nice’ outwardly, and because we hadn’t walked too far that day, slept more lightly than usual that night. True to his word as he has always been, Andy Dalzel lifted us across the Umi the next day in a speedboat, depositing us at the Tashinga Parks station in Matusadona National Park. I had been eagerly anticipating our stint in Matusadona and those who have been there will know exactly why. Not that I had been there before, but the area’s reputation precedes it. I was not disappointed, Matusadona being everything I expected it to be and more. Matusadona is the epitome of what all our wildlife areas should and could be like. Fact is, I felt we had landed on a different planet when we arrived at Tashinga – not only was everything and everyone functioning, but they were doing so in orderly fashion! Rangers and senior officers were smartly turned out in full uniform, the grounds, offices and living quarters were neat and tidy, and there was fresh black rhino spoor on the road behind the office block! Yes, it’s true – the only place in the valley where they still occur. The efforts of the Matusadona National Park staff are greatly assisted by the Tashinga Initiative – a volunteer organization spearheaded by Mrs Lynne Taylor and committed to the advancement of the Park. What Mrs Taylor and her Initiative have achieved is remarkable, praiseworthy. And yes, I do have an idea what it was like before, because the Tashinga personnel filled me in, as they pointed out all the improvements the Initiative had brought about. Most impressive amongst these improvements is a solar system which powers a water pumping and filtration system, lights, computers, broadband internet…. Broadband internet! As soon as I was made aware of that, I knew we’d be spending a few days at Tashinga. One can’t make a living as a writer if one doesn’t submit articles eh? Actually, I don’t think one can make a living as a writer anyway. The acting warden of Matusadona, warden Timothy Mandi, was away at the time, but we were well
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looked after at Tashinga by ecologist Paul Chikombe and senior ranger Munyaradzi Tapesa, as well as every other man there. We were given the go ahead to camp wherever we liked, and I was allocated an office in which to get on with my writing and photo sorting/posting. Most comfortable and content we were at Tashinga. On the first day, that is.
packed with Parks personnel, and I knew immediately that there was a problem. It was with great relief that I saw Jephita alighting from the vehicle, but as he approached it was evident that he was extremely disturbed. Jephita had a terrible tale to tell.
The Parks guys had concluded their business at the croc farm by 3 p.m., and were heading back across Dawn on September 9th promised a fine day and I the Umi shortly afterwards. On board the boat were was up at the crack of it, determined to get the Borsix rangers and Jephita. For reasons still not quite derline stage one article completed and post updates clear, the front of the boat nosedived several hundred and photos on the internet.I was not doing too badly meters from shore, and all its occupants were tipped at 9 a.m., when Jephita came in to have a chat. He into the river. Of the seven guys on board, only five said that some rangers who had just come in from made it. Four of the five survivors were rescued by patrol were about to cross the Umi in a speedboat to local fishermen, but no boat came for Jephita and he do some shopping at the Umi crocodile farm store, was forced to swim three and that he thought hundred meters to he should go with shore. It was a terrible them, to buy some ordeal for my young supplies that we friend – he is not a desperately needpowerful swimmer, ed, like biscuits for and everybody knows example. I said that that the Umi is full of was a very good large crocodiles. He idea and walked out told me that as he hit to the car-park with the water, he brought Jephita, to meet the to mind the lecture rangers he would I have so often be accompanying. given him regarding There were six of what to do in such them in total and a situation – keep they were a jovial, calm, don’t splash a ing sh Ta at d pleasant bunch, as about (crocs), don’t guys statione ita and the Parks ph Je Zimbabweans tend to attempt to help be. The rangers told anyone else, swim us stories about some breaststroke slowly (conserve energy), and when of their most recent skirmishes with poachers, and I tired turn over and float. By keeping cool and doing handed out cigarettes. For a moment, I was tempted what he should, and with the help of an unidentified to join them on their sojourn across the Umi, but woman who shouted encouragement from the bank, quickly banished the thought – I had a great deal of Jephita survived the Umi boat disaster. I am so rework to get through. Today, I wish I had been irrelieved, so thankful and so very proud of him. sponsible and boarded that boat. A short time later, The search for the missing men began that night and Jephita and the rangers bade me farewell and I relasted for two and a half days, until their bodies were turned to ‘my’ office, soon wholly absorbed by work. recovered. And then all at Tashinga mourned the loss The day passed in a blur, and it was only as evening of Jonathan Muchuchuti and Alison Mariseni – fine approached that I began to get a little concerned men and excellent rangers. There was not a breathe about Jephita and the rangers, wondering why they of wind at Tashinga on the day the bodies were were taking so long. They should have been back found, and the flags outside the office block hung hours before, but delays are common in Zimbabwe limply, both that of the National Parks authority and and I reasoned that they must be on their way. As that of the nation. What played over and over in my more time passed and the night descended, howevmind that day, and still continues to do so now, was er, my concern grew. Eventually, at about 8 p.m., the the chat I had had with the rangers in the car-park, Tashinga unimog growled up to the office block and just before they set off across the Umi. I walked out to the car-park. I saw that the truck was 30 | AFRICAN EXPEDITION MAGAZINE NOVEMBER 2009
The big joke had been the fact that Jephita comes from Chiredzi, and since everybody knows there is no water in Chiredzi, could not possibly know how to swim. I will always remember the joking and laughter as they walked off – ‘Chokwadi, Jephita, uno gona ku dida here?’ (‘Is it true Jephita, do you really know how to swim?’). ‘Ha, ha, ha, let’s hope you can really swim young man, there is big water out there – big, big water.’
David Hulme is a Zimbabwean writer and professional wanderer who spends most of his time searching for new stories and country, never staying too long in any one place.’
The BorderLine Walk is in support of antipoaching efforts for Black Rhino in the Savè Valley. Initiated by Hunters for Zimbabwe, the walk will be 3066 kilometers long: 813 kilometers along the Botswana border, 797 km. along Zambia, 225 km. along South Africa, and finally 1231 km. along the Mozambique border. The BorderLine Walk will be widely covered by the media and progress will be published on the African Expedition Magazine and tracked on Google Earth.
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The BorderLine walk will support anti-poaching efforts to prevent this from happening again: a young black rhino caught in a poacher’s snare. This baby died a few days after this photograph was taken. NOVEMBER 2009 AFRICAN EXPEDITION MAGAZINE | 31
Support Hunters for Zimbabwe by buying David Hulme’s great new book, Shangaan Song. Proceeds from the sale of this book will be used to support the BorderLine Walk – a foot journey of approximately three thousand kilometers along Zimbabwe’s border. The BorderLine Walk is an initiative aimed at raising awareness for Hunters for Zimbabwe, an organization whose primary objective is the advancement of Zimbabwean people and wildlife.
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Jimmy Whittall Jimmy onand theAnne day David found him
32 | AFRICAN EXPEDITION MAGAZINE NOVEMBER 2009
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Life on our wild continent
This is Africa
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These are actual entries in a Hospital Register in Africa: 1. The patient refused autopsy. 2. The patient has no previous history of suicides 3. Patient has left white blood cells at another hospital. 4. Patientâ€™s medical history has been remarkably insignificant with only a 11 kgs weight gain in the past three days. 5. She has no rigors or shaking chills, but her husband states she was very hot in bed last night. 6. Patient has chest pain if she lies on her left side for over a year. 7. On the second day the knee was better, and on the third day it disappeared. 8. The patient is tearful and crying constantly. She also appears to be depressed. 9. The patient has been depressed since she began seeing me in 1993. 10. Discharge status: Alive but without my permission. 11. Healthy appearing decrepit 69-year old male, mentally alert but forgetful. 12. Patient had waffles for breakfast and anorexia for lunch. 13. She is numb from her toes down. 14. While in ER, she was examined, x-rated and sent home. 15. The skin was moist and dry. 16. Occasional, constant infrequent headaches. 17. Patient was alert and unresponsive. 18. Rectal examination revealed a normal size thyroid. 19. She stated that she had been constipated for most of her life, until she got a divorce. 20. I saw your patient today, who is still under our car for physical therapy. 21. Both breasts are equal and reactive to light and accommodation. 22. Examination of genitalia reveals that he is circus sized. 23. The lab test indicated abnormal lover function. 24. Skin: somewhat pale but present. 25. Large brown stool ambulating in the hall. 26. Patient has two teenage children, but no other abnormalities NOVEMBER 2009 AFRICAN EXPEDITION MAGAZINE | 35
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High Desert Double Rifle Pilgrimage Journey to big bore paradise
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t some point in their career, all serious big bore shooters and/or hard-core safari hunters will make a pilgrimage to the high deserts of California, looking for the shop of Butch Searcy, and looking for arguably the best deal on a custom double rifle on the planet. B. Searcy Company is headquartered in the small desert community of Boron, California, about 100 miles northeast of Los Angeles. Located in an old WWII Quonset building, just across the road from Edwardâ€™s Air Force Base, Searcy is ready to kit-up and custom fit a double enthusiast with a custom double barreled rifle in any caliber they are willing to pay for. Butch offers six grades of double rifles: four boxlock designs and two sidelock designs. The Field Grade is the entry-level boxlock, which as of January 1, 2010, will have a base price of $11,500.
Stunning wood on the stock of customerâ€™s new Searcy NOVEMBER 2009 AFRICAN EXPEDITION MAGAZINE | 41
The barrels and cartridges of the mighty 4-Bore, vs. the .577 Nitro Express
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The next step up is the Classic boxlock at $18,000, then the Deluxe boxlock at $21,500, and the Sidelock at $22,000. Finally, there are the ultimate stoppers; a .577 Nitro Express double that you can have as a Boxlock or a Sidelock for $22,000 and $35,000 respectively (larger calibers available). All these rifles have multiple options and feature choices, the details of which can be best viewed at Searcy’s website: http://www.searcyent.com/new_ dr.htm Standard calibers offered are the .375 H&H Flanged Magnum, the .450-400-3” (.411”), the .450 3¼” Nitro Express, the .450 Nitro Express, the .470 Nitro Express, the .500 Nitro Express (3” and 3 ¼”), the .577 Nitro Express, the .600 Nitro Express, the .700 Nitro Express, and the incredible 4-Bore. The 4-Bore double rifle starts at $85,000. Other calibers are available on request for an additional charge. Only the Searcy double rifle can be described as an ‘All American’. Although other available doubles may be assembled in the United States, they are built on German or Italian actions. The Searcy rifles are machined right here in the States and have Anson and Deeley style receivers, with double Purdey bolting and top extension, and are CNC machined out of 4130 chromoly and 416 stainless steel bar stock into boxlock or sidelock configurations. Searcy’s doubles come fitted with monobloc constructed PAC-NOR barrels, and are topped with iron sights from New England Custom Guns. A second set of double rifle barrels in a different caliber will set you back a cool $10,000, while a set of 12 gauge shotgun barrels can be fitted for a mere $4500. Final barrel options include the choice of installing ejectors ($1000) or extractors (including rimless). All Searcy rifles come standard with a quarter-rib, which includes one fixed rear sight and a caterpillar front sight. However, rear sights with folding leafs are available options at the rate of: one fixed + one folding leaf $400, one fixed sight + two folding leafs $500, and one fixed sight + three folding leafs $600. The final iron sight option is a front ‘night sight’ for $225. Although not usually recommended for the larger ‘stopping’ caliber rifles, scope mounts are a popular option for the large medium bore caliber rifles, where a good quality riflescope can be very useful for long distance shots at plains game. Two styles of mounts are available; the renowned Talley rings and bases for $595 or the European style claw mounts for $2900.
To most traditionalists, red dot sights on double rifles are inconceivable. However, to a growing number of riflemen, they are a welcome addition to their sighting options. If you have vision issues that make the use of regular iron sights difficult, a lightweight red dot style sight is just the ticket for close shots where quick handling and accurate bullet placement is more important than traditional good looks. Any level of engraving and fancy metal work can be had on request. The depth of a shooter’s pocketbook is the only limit to the amount of decoration and embellishment available. To give the engravers additional working area, $1000 false side plates are offered for the boxlock rifles. All of these doubles come with custom-fitted stocks in various grades of English walnut from Jim Preslick or the Luxus Walnut Company. Besides fitting (length, bend or drop, and cast-on or cast-off), other options on stocks include; long tangs ($1500), long trigger guard ($800), trap grip cap ($550), stock medallion ($400), teardrop medallion ($500), and leather covered recoil pad ($400). And finally, for $1500, all rifles can be had in an oak & leather display case. When you consider the entry-level Holland & Holland .470 double rifle at almost $80,000 and a Westley Richard sidelock at just over $96,000, a Searcy sidelock at $22,000 certainly does look like one of the best deals on this planet for a custom double. However, there will soon be a new higher dollar rifle rolling out from Searcy’s shop. Built on the expensive to manufacture, but robust action that John Rigby and Thomas Bissell patented in 1879; the Sidelock Bissell Rising Third Bite action’s initial price will be $40,000. A couple of years ago, I had the good fortune to make my own pilgrimage to Butch’s legendary Quonset hut on 20 Mule Team Road in the company of .470 reloading guru, Leo Grizzaffi. As an old friend and customer of the B. Searcy Company, Leo had been asked by Butch to help him wring out a (then) new project, which consisted of fitting an extra set of 375 Flanged barrels to his well worn and well broken-in .470 Nitro Express. This barrel combination has proven popular for many safari hunters who already own a double rifle in one of the heavy ‘stopping calibers’, i.e., a .45 caliber or larger. However, there are always other factors to consider when deciding on the caliber of your addon barrel set. At that time, .375 Flanged brass was easier to find than .450/400 brass, but with Hornady’s recently introduced 3-inch and 3½-inch .450/400 NOVEMBER 2009 AFRICAN EXPEDITION MAGAZINE | 43
Butch and Leo check out the new .375 Flanged barrels (still in the white) which were fitted to the .470 Nitro Express rifle in the rear
Butch likes to keep an extra barrel or two in stock.
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Notice Butchâ€™s look when I mentioned something about swapping ad space for a double!
Lisa Johnson handles most of the reloading chores at Searcy, but there are few chores there she does not handle as well.
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brass now in production, getting .450/400 brass may no longer be a problem. When I questioned Butch and Leo on the desirability of a .375 Flanged barrels vs. a set of barrels in .450/400, we got into the other issues which had led them into choosing the .375 Flanged. The deciding factors were; there is a large variety (and ample supply) of .375 caliber bullets available for handloading, and with its longer range and somewhat flatter trajectory, the .375 Flanged is more versatile in the field than the .450/400.
Craig Livingston told me and Butch he was boning up on the latest CNC techniques!
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However, the final reason for going with the .375 Flanged was that the .450/400 simply was not a big enough step DOWN in power. With its significant reduction in recoil, the average person will find the .375 Flanged not only more pleasant to shoot, but more manageable than the .450/400. Even for someone like Leo, who has put over 5000 rounds through his .470, and over 2000 rounds through the .375 Flanged barrels, tailoring the amount of recoil down to more manageable levels was a major point. On a practical level, if the rifle is pleasant to shoot, more practice is done on a regular basis. That way, the shooter develops familiarity with the weapon, muscle memory is enhanced, and when it comes time for serious use, fear of recoil becomes a non-issue, with handling and reloading the rifle become second nature. On the other end of the spectrum are the extreme big bore double rifles that Searcy makes, which start with the .577 Nitro Express and include the .600 Nitro Express, the .700 Nitro Express, and the massive 4-Bore. If you are not completely insensitive to recoil, the best thing you can do is stay on the porch, because recoil is where these big dogs run. As a bonus for traditionalists, Butch also offers the dynamic duo of stopping calibers: the .450 Nitro Express and the .450 3¼” Nitro Express. These cartridges give the handloader the ability to use relatively cheap, and easily available .458 bullets to make premium ‘full-house’ hunting rounds, as well as use cast lead .458 bullets for ‘reduced load’ practice rounds. It is not a problem if you own a modern rifle like a Searcy, but if you are going to handload full-house loads for any of the old original .450 Nitro Expresses, you should have a good gunsmith check the rifles out thoroughly, and remember to keep the pressures low. Inexpensive bullets and low recoil practice are an attractive combination of features in favor of choosing these calibers. The 450 Nitro Express calibers were the first of their kind, and when it came out, it was viewed by many experts as the best in its class for hunting the most dangerous game. Guess what? It still is.
Having a custom double rifle maker like Searcy working right here in our back yard is a boon to the American customers who are in the market for a brand new double, and want something better than an ‘out of the box’ factory rifle. Not only are his prices competitive with the factory doubles from Germany and France, but you are dealing with an honest US gun maker who is not only easily available, but willing to back up his product, and in most cases offer quicker delivery times. If price is no option, and sending your rifle back to England for repairs is not inconvenient, then it is hard to argue with anyone who wants to buy a Holland and Holland or Westley Richard. However, in my opinion there is a lot of value for the first time double rifle owner to get into the game at roughly 25% of the big name English rifle makers entry level prices for doubles. But at the end of the day, it is up to the individual buyer to weigh their own needs and opinions against what is available on the market today, and to decide for themselves what rifle brand best fits their budget, investment strategy, and expectations. We are lucky to have the choice of a wide range of styles in double rifle design and cosmetics available in the in the 21st Century marketplace. It wasn’t that long age when all the firearms pundits were convinced the double rifle had seen its last safari, but in a relatively short period of time, and despite the recent downturn in the US economy, double rifle sales have rebounded from their ‘death’ in the 1960’s, and looking at their sales in the long term, we are in the strongest marAlan Bunn is a ket for double hunting publication rifles since veteran with a BA World War II. Degree in Journalism from the University of Georgia. He hunts Africa regularly and is an avid hunter with rifle, pistol, shotgun, and bow.
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Hardwear for the bush
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The greatest threat
to African Wildlife Exploring ostrich behavior Part 1
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any countries in Africa are being held to ransom in terms of wildlife management issues by the international world in general and animal rights groups in particular. This issue is of such current relevance that it cannot be glossed over in one article so this will be part 1 of a three part series.
I am intrigued by animal behaviour. Take the old story of ostriches burying their heads in the sand when danger threatens (not true by the way) believing that if you cannot see what is threatening you, it is not there. Do we not often behave in a similar fashion when we hope that by ignoring something it will just go away, disappear, vanish? There is a powerful force on the move to ban hunting in all its forms and if we choose to ignore this threat by burying our head in the sand like the proverbial ostrich, the threat will not, of its own accord, dissipate into thin air â€“ of that we can be absolutely sure. What I therefore feel compelled to do is to defend hunting as a pragmatic and rational form of wildlife management and wise sustainable utilization of a renewable resource. What must be done is to expose the motives of animal rights groups and the hidden agendas behind what is becoming a form of neo-colonialism and also to lay bare their complete lack of or misunderstanding of the natural order and the realities of Africa. NOVEMBER 2009 AFRICAN EXPEDITION MAGAZINE | 53
The greatest threat to the future of wildlife (other than animal rights activists) is loss of or fragmentation of natural habitat through any land use that changes its natural character.
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One salient fact emerges when things are looked at in a rational way – the animal rights movement is BY FAR the biggest threat to wildlife in Africa and beyond (Thomson, 2006). Lets examine this issue carefully and pragmatically. If habitat provides the basic requirements of enough food, water and cover, animal populations will increase until the population reaches a point where it begins to impact negatively on the environment. Before the days of fences when wild animals had the option to roam freely they would migrate to new areas and so allow grazed and browsed areas time to recover. Most nature, national and provincial reserves and private game ranches are fenced, so confining the resident wildlife species to a given area. Sound, logical and intelligent wildlife management dictates that, before resident game populations begin damaging habitat they must be reduced to below maximum carrying capacity. The wildlife manager has four options available to reduce the excess animals. They can be captured and translocated to some other suitable area, they can be culled or harvested (yes there is a difference) and the products (meat, hides etc.) utilized, or the surplus animals can be made available to sport or recreational (biltong) hunters. It must be understood that where this is used as a wildlife management tool and done in the interests of protecting habitat it is absolutely justifiable morally, ecologically, and pragmatically. What the animal rights movement fails to grasp (or refuses to) is that the greatest threat to wildlife (other than themselves on which I will elaborate further) is loss and fragmentation of habitat. What these people just don’t appear to be able to grasp is that most forms of land use including eco-tourism , forestry and agriculture (growing vegetables for all the vegetarians) uses up wildland habitat without which wild animal populations cannot exist!!! (See Figure 1). The reticence of animal rights activists to accept these salient facts must make their motives suspect to say the least – I might even go so far as to say, without being melodramatic, sinister. The hard questions We are now compelled to ask ourselves a few questions in the African context: ●● What justification is there for setting aside undeveloped wildland with the long term intention of keeping it wild and undeveloped? ●● Can we justify “locking resources away” – i.e. not to be utilized – from people?
●● What are the consequences of non-utilization? ●● If wildlife (animal and plant) resources do not have utilitarian value is it possible that alternative land use will be justifiably opted for over conservation and preservation of wildlife habitat? ●● What characterizes and motivates animal right activists? ●● Are there hidden agendas behind the animal rights movements? Let’s define four concepts that we must understand before going any further. ●● Utilitarian value – means to use some resource for its value in contributing towards survival, comfort or improvement of life quality. We grow vegetables and farm with livestock to provide us with food. We use wood to build a house or grass to thatch a roof. We cultivate cotton or shear sheep to use their wool to make clothes. This begs a question. How will people live if they do not use natural resources? ●● Consumptive use – means to consume something. To eat the meat of a sheep or an impala. To dig up potatoes and carrots and make a stew. The meat and vegetables are consumed – used up. ●● Non-consumptive use – is to enjoy the benefits of a resource without actually consuming it. In other words once you have enjoyed some aspect of the resource, it (in an individual sense) still remains – in the short term and is not consumed (it eventually however dies at some point in time). An example would be to observe and take photographs of wildlife or to canoe down a river. The wildlife and the river are not consumed – they are utilized non-consumptively. ●● Sustainable utilization – is the wise use of natural resources in such a way that they are used consumptively without using them all up. Resources are used but their use is managed in such a way that the resource remains and is available indefinitely. Animal rights activists want to ban all hunting, fishing, capture and translocation of wild animals, the farming for consumptive use of both wild and domestic animals and even the owning of domestic pets. As we examine these issues we must see things from three separate but, at the same time, integral NOVEMBER 2009 AFRICAN EXPEDITION MAGAZINE | 55
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perspectives. The ecological perspective, the economic perspective and the social perspective – and these must be seen in the African context – not the American, Scandinavian or European context. History has shown – very clearly – that when it comes to wildlife management and the management of natural resources, American and Eurocentric methods have not and will not work in Africa. Africa is very different and African solutions must be developed. Let’s tackle question1: What justification is there for setting aside undeveloped wildland with the long term intention of keeping it wild and undeveloped? There are two main reasons:
says of an animal or plant: What good is it? If the land mechanism as a whole is good, then every part is good, whether we understand it or not. If the biota …has built something we like but do not understand, then who but a fool would discard seemingly useless parts? To keep every cog and wheel is the first precaution of intelligent tinkering.” Then there are the animal rights activists that say that animals may not be used in any way. If they extend this argument to its logical conclusion then they should not use any plants (vegetable / fruit) for food either. They have no problems with being vegetarians. What they refuse to face up to however is that agriculture also removes natural habitat and deprives wild animals of a place to live.
1. The one reason is that all living creatures If the world consisted of only those who believe that have intrinsic value and man has a responsithere is no intrinsic value in wildlife and undeveloped bility to protect natural systems and the living wildland, nature would have no organisms (plants and future. animals) that live in them. Animal rights activists If the world consisted of only those 2. Natural resources are have no problems with who believe that natural resources useful to man and if we being vegetarians - they (animals and / or plants) may not care for wildland we can be utilized consumptively then refuse to face up to the derive benefits (directly nature will suffer the same inevifact that agriculture also and indirectly) from doing table fate. so. removes natural habitat We have a problem because Both reasons are valid. It is aband deprives wild animals both groups exist and are radical solutely vital to understand this. of a place to live extremists on opposite ends of Accepting the one to the excluthe spectrum. What is required to sion of the other is both naive restore some semblance of sanity and a refusal to face reality (remember the ostrich). is a blending of these two schools of thought into Those who believe that natural resources are only one which recognizes that natural resources must be there to be used by man and who refuse to accept utilized but in a sustainable way. that living creatures and undeveloped wildland So to answer our question we must recognize that have intrinsic value will over exploit and eventually the survival of Africa’s wildlife is inextricably linked destroy life. to both its intrinsic and utilitarian value. For Africa’s Those who believe that natural resources have only wildlife to survive in the long term will need a merger intrinsic value but should not be used consumpof idealism and pragmatism. tively will also be responsible for the ultimate deConsider for one moment the following: mise of wildlife. ●● Why is it that more than twice as many wild The kind of value easiest to appreciate, for many animals are today found on private land in people, is “what good is it” or “in what way can I use South Africa than the total number of wild it for my own benefit?” This utilitarian value, although animals found in all state protected reserves incomplete in and of itself as a justification for savtogether? ing biodiversity, is real and morally defensible. Using ●● Why is it currently, again in South Africa, that resources in an unsustainable way is however not. there is two and a half times as much land There are those who see no intrinsic value in living under wildlife regimes in private hands than creatures and will readily exploit natural resources there is in all the national parks, provincial to depletion in the (self) interests of “development”. game reserves and nature reserves comThe visionary Aldo Leopold stated the following in bined? 1953:”The last word in ignorance is the man who NOVEMBER 2009 AFRICAN EXPEDITION MAGAZINE | 57
●● Why is it that there are significantly more wild animals on private land in South Africa now than there was more than a century ago?
“No, no you may not – you may not in any way utilize animals or their products consumptively!” Just what kind of future does this unenlightened and extremely naïve individual think wildlife will have in the greater The answer to this is that landowners recognized the Africa? Is this not one of the reasons why Africa is utilitarian value of wildlife and chose to ranch with faced with a pandemic poaching problem? Is it not wildlife in preference to other land uses. It was a reasonable to assume that a human being will do just financially viable and lucrative way of “farming”. The about anything to provide for both himself and his ranches paid and income was generated through family with the food and water they need for survival? both “non-consumptive” (eco –tourism) and conI believe it is. And if it means that he will have to kill sumptive (live game sales, venison production and wildlife “illegally” to survive is he not justified in doing hunting) utilization. so? I cannot see why not. Both you and I and the Eco-tourism is in fact not “non-consumptive” but animal right’s activist would do exactly the same and more on this in another article. It is a fact (not conjec- the animal right’s activist (usually from an affluent ture) that, by far the greatest income was generated or privileged European, Scandinavian or American from hunting. background) is, again I say, a hypocrite because he, or she, has (1) never known true hunger and (2) Now logic tells us that for long as it is financially utilizes natural resources every day of their lives. rewarding for landowners to ranch with wildlife there Because they are vegetarians makes them no less is incentive for them to continue doing so. Taking “guilty”, insofar as they make using animal products away this incentive would lead to the collapse of the a “crime”. Vegetables need place to grow – which at wildlife industry and wildlife habitat one time used to be wildlife habitat would be sacrificed to development before it became a vegetable (or or some alternative form of land use Can we justify locking fruit) farm. which will lead to loss of biodiversity (i.e. loss of wildlife). It does not take a rocket scientist to understand this and the irony of the situation is that the animal right’s groups will be the cause of it. That is why they are such a threat to Africa’s wildlife.
resources away from people?
This brings us to question 2: Can we justify “locking resources away” – i.e. not to be utilized – from people? What would be the natural and expected response of Africa’s masses, to natural resources being “locked away” from them and use or access denied? The reality of Africa is that the masses languish in abject poverty. The majority are jobless; many millions are on the brink of or are already starving. They do not have access to what many of us consider “normal” – a decent house to live in, clean drinking water (from taps) and basic sanitation. They eke out a subsistence living by scratching in infertile overgrazed and trampled dirt. Now along comes the animal rights activist and says they may not make use of their own wildlife and other natural resources. Just how hypocritical can one get? The very basic need of any living creature, including man, is to obtain food (a resource of either animal or vegetable origin), water and shelter. These are the things on which his very existence depends. And here comes the animal right’s extremist and says: 58 | AFRICAN EXPEDITION MAGAZINE NOVEMBER 2009
The level of poaching in Africa has not decreased by banning or limiting the legal trade of elephant ivory and rhino horn or other animal products. It has continued and expanded and continue to expand into what has been dubbed the “bush meat” trade. People are killing wildlife at an unprecedented rate to survive. This is a real problem in rural communities bordering national parks throughout Africa. The masses of rural people still see the national parks lands as “theirs”. During the colonial era they were evicted from these areas and the resources available to them in the past were now locked away. They have no love for conservation areas, national parks or conservation authorities and the level of poaching for any wild animals will not decrease until their basic needs are met. Unless they derive direct benefit from wildlife and conservation the poaching will continue and increase as the rural populations of Africa escalate. To lock wild animals away behind national park and reserve boundaries and say wild animals may not be ranched, sustainably harvested, bought or sold, or legally hunted is to usher in a wildlife massacre of continental proportions. Although the wildlife industry in South Africa is at this point in time very healthy due mainly to the fact that wildlife is used consumptively and rural people ben-
Remove the financial incentive from wildlife utilization (both consumptive and non-consumptive) and the landowner will revert to an alternative which will almost certainly result in loss of natural habitat and a consequent decline in wildlife populations
efit both directly and indirectly from income accrued through hunting, live game sales and ecotourism, if attempts were made to exclude them from deriving benefits from the wildlife industry, anarchy would insue and poaching would become almost uncontrollable as it has become in many parts of Africa. It should not be forgotten that although South Africa’s wildlife management practices and wildlife industry are more sophisticated than those in other African countries South Africa supports only one percent of Africa’s wildlife. Even in South Africa we have had neighbouring communities break down boundary fences of a provincial game reserves demanding access to its resources. We are teetering on the edge of catastrophe and unless the general public and conservation authorities undergo a drastic and rapid paradigm shift in their thinking we will find ourselves on the slippery slope of no going back. The answer to question 3 is that a strategy of nonutilization will lead first to anarchy and ultimately to the destruction of Africa’s wildlife resources. Controlled, legal hunting, must not only be defended in its current form but should be extended into national parks that have a surplus of animals which need to be reduced anyway. I remember suggesting this some 15 years ago when I was still employed by National Parks and being treated like a heretic that had turned from the “faith”. I am now more convinced
than ever that it is ecologically, ethically, and morally justifiable. I still hear the argument ringing in my ears “the National Parks Act says that there shall be no hunting in a National Park”. My answer to that is that it can be changed! Just as so many laws in our country are being changed the National Parks Act can be amended! The irony of the situation is that hunting is being carried out in a place like the Kruger National Park - only it is illegal! Just how many rhino have been poached in Kruger in the past year alone (apart from other species)? The unequivocal answer to question 4 is that if wildlife loses its utilitarian value – no hunting, no trade in live game sales, no harvesting for meat and other products – wildland will be put to some alternative use – especially in the private wildlife industry – and wildlife – not only the bigger species that are obvious – but hundreds of the less conspicuous bird, reptile, amphibian and Cleve Cheney holds invertebrate spe- a bachelor of science degree in zoology and cies that occupy master’s degree in wildlife habitat will aanimal physiology. be lost. He is a wilderness
trail leader, rated field guide instructor and the author of many leading articles on the REFERENCES subjects of tracking, guiding, bowhunting Thomson, R. 2006. Manand survival. Cleve has unrivalled experiaging our Wildlife Herience in wildlife management, game captage. Magron Publishers. ture and hunting, both with bow and rifle.
To be continued
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News, Reviews and and Press Releases
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Trophy Room Books has a long list of titles on its web site and a few of these books deserve to be revisited for the benefit of Africaphiles who may have missed these books when they were first published. Reviews by Galen L. Geer (Associate Editor, African Expedition)
On Target, By Christian Le Noel On Target: History and Hunting in Central Africa: Christian Le Noel. Limited Edition, signed and numbered. 256 pages, black & white photographs. Not Indexed. Trophy Room Books, Box 3041, Agoura, CA 91301. Copyright, 1999. History is always a quandary. It is at once the dust bin of civilization while also the ointment on our need to establish ourselves as having progressed beyond the stone tools of early Homo erectus. Through the lens of history we collect the indefinable bits of information that ultimately provides us a sense of triumph over evolution’s uncertainty. That’s why any book of history is important to us—each chapter is a telescopic lens viewing the past. Sometimes, however, those history books masquerade as an exciting adventure tale that stays in our memory long after the last chapter. That’s how I felt after reading Christian Le Noel’s On Target: History and Hunting in Central Africa. This is a book that can read for historical information or purely a good read for relaxation. This is not a newly released book, but one that has maintained itself on the publisher’s book list and is deserving of another, more critical look. On Target was published by Trophy Room Books in 1999 and I have no idea what the original reviewers wrote, which is just as well as I tend to ignore their comments because many traditional outdoor book reviews are approval stamp rewrites of the book’s dust jacket or press release.
The Autobiographical Novel Any autobiographical novel will, to some degree, rely on the craft of creative nonfiction, in which the author is a participant and must use techniques of the fiction writer to tell the story. The danger is that the author will glamorize their role with chest thumping bravado and posturing, dominating and weakening the text’s believability—this doesn’t happen in On Target. Le Noel is present in the text but in a very conversational tone throughout the story, as if the reader is also a participant in the narrative and NOVEMBER 2009 AFRICAN EXPEDITION MAGAZINE | 63
the two of them, author and reader, were sharing a campfire and sundowners. Le Noel begins his narrative with the place and time of his birth (Normandy, France, December 18, 1938) and, as with many of the world’s post World War II adventurers, his need to see beyond the horizon of the English Channel was fueled by adventure and travelogue novels of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. His reading must have played a role in his decision at age twenty to join French army. The Algerian rebellion was in full force and he was sent to fight on the African continent. After the war he snagged a topographer job in Cameroon and he discovered the world of central Africa. Armed with a surplus M1 carbine that he was issued to protect himself and his native workers from the misfits that roamed the African bush he also used the rifle to begin providing the workers with fresh meat. Hunting soon dominated his activities but he had to learn how to hunt in Africa, a transition that was helped along by his tracker.
for work he went hunting on the Ngaoundaba Ranch where he met the legendary PH Henri Eyt-Dessus. The hunt and Eyt-Dessus nudged him farther along the path that would take him to the role of professional hunter. This background is important because Le Noel weaves an intriguing narrative of personal history as a PH with the region’s history. In “Part One” he explains how early twentieth century abuses nearly destroyed Cameroon’s game populations and the successful efforts to counteract these abuses through the Counseil International de la Chasse under the leadership of Henri Eyt-Dessus. Another side of the African bush is the cheapness of life. Le Noel doesn’t avoid the gruesome and one story he recounts is the 1974 murder of three buffalo hunters by Cameroon poachers. He writes of other bush tragedies, which underscores the reality that in the poacher’s war against wildlife human life is expendable.
The History of Chad
Too often, when non-Africans think of Africa, the focus is on the region south of the equatorial belt. ‘“Boss, you are a good Recent events have thrust the hunter. But you hunt like northern region into greater interyou are in France,” said the national consciousness. Chad’s tracker one day. “This is not shared borders with Libya and the way we do it here.”’ (pg. Sudan combined with the nation’s 5) own internal political struggles CLICK to BUY are maintaining constant national The lesson took hold destabilization and impoverishment and he changed his hunting technique from of the general population. One a French countryside style to the African way effect of this ongoing unrest is a constant threat to and he began evolving into a white hunter. In his wildlife populations. The philosopher José Ortega y narrative his French romanticism appears in the text Gasset observed in Meditations On Hunting (Wilderwhen, for example, he compares the experience of ness Adventures Press™ edition, 1995) that one of facing his first dangerous game animal to a first love: the first rights reclaimed by an oppressed people is That was March 1963, five months after arriving the hunt, “In all revolutions, the first thing that the in Cameroon. It seems like yesterday. That was the “people” have done was to jump over the fences of first of a number of buffalo I would hunt in Congo, the preserves or to tear them down, and in the name Chad and Central African Republic. For that reason of social justice pursue the hare, the partridge” (40). perhaps it is still the most vivid in my memory. Like A variation of this occurred in Chad during the civil the first love affair in one’s life, the first dangerous wars when roving bands of heavily armed soldiers, animal one meets leaves indelible memories [Italics, regular and irregular, slaughtered wildlife when they mine]. (pg. 8) were not fighting each other. But hunting, in particular the hunting of African big game, has a way When his first employment contract was completed he was hired for a second but before reporting of weathering all but the most brutal storms and the years of simmering unrest did not stop a constant 64 | AFRICAN EXPEDITION MAGAZINE NOVEMBER 2009
stream of tourist hunters flowing in and out of Chad. Le Noel chronicles this safari industry, explaining how the PHs kept a wary eye on the politics and were keenly aware that “something” was about to spill out of the country’s population and into the safari industry. Few authors can match Le Noel’s power of understatement; his recounting of an early, savage attack on a medical team was a grim harbinger of what was to come to the troubled region. Before Le Noel and his wife were forced out of Chad he had developed a name for himself as a professional hunter so that when he reached the Central African Republic he was able to land on his feet and continue in his career. The CAR years are the foundation for two-thirds of On Target, and the entire text is a richly woven tapestry of characters that includes clients, guides, professional hunters and government officials, both corrupt and honest.
war time sailor in Briton’s Royal Navy, to a farmer in Kenya, and his evolution into a leading PH of the second Safari Golden Age—the post war years of World War Two. This age came to a dramatic end when the southward march of Marxist revolutions altered Africa’s political landscape. Northcote’s memoir, a 400 page tome, provides an intimate look into the world of the professional hunter of these years and the book is worth reading if for no other reason than the stories about the men and women, who were the era’s characters.
Northcote has written what I believe is an essential history of this second golden age. I base this position in part on my research that contributed to my thesis, Peter H. Capstick And The Tradition of The Hemingway Hero of The Genre of Outdoor Literature. (To my knowledge this is presently the only critical study of Capstick’s work and I would be very interested in learning of any other CapThroughout my reading stick studies. I encourage any of On Target I was never able reader who is aware of a study to decide whether the book to contact me by email using is only as autobiographical the email address at the end of account of the author’s adventhis review.). Additionally ongotures or it is more an historical ing studies of our genre, espeaccount of the characters who cially the philosophy and history drifted through the region. In of outdoor literature, continue to the end, I decided what is truly provide me with a wider perimportant is the book accomspective of outdoor texts and I plishes something important have discovered that some of for the Africaphile—it opens CLICK to BUY the work published in the past up a region that for many of thirty years is far more imporus has remained obscure. Today, with the clash tant than either the author or between radical religious zealots and governments publisher may be aware. From Sailor To Profesthreatening more violence in this region of Africa, it sional Hunter is just such a work and is deserving of behooves the thinking person to know the region’s a much more detailed investigation! The characters history. Le Noel has, I believe, skillfully blended this who march across the pages often provide intimate history with his own to provide every reader with an and always informative records of the people and insight that cannot be overstated. events of Africa’s Second Safari Golden Age.
From Sailor to Professional Hunter by John Northcote From Sailor to Professional Hunter: John H. Northcote. Limited Edition, signed and numbered. 394 pages, black & white photographs, maps. Not Indexed. Trophy Room Books, Box 3041, Agoura, CA 91301. Copyright, 1997 John Northcote writes the story of his life—from
The History Northcote begins his narrative with childhood recollections of his father, one of England’s top marksmen, and a member of England’s 1924 Olympic shooting team. From his father and uncles Northcote inherited a love of the shooting sports that guided his life. He was also influenced, as were many youngsters between the World Wars, by the adventure novels popular at that time. He also had NOVEMBER 2009 AFRICAN EXPEDITION MAGAZINE | 65
a sense of adventure that ultimately contributed to him and some friends blowing up a rusting WWI field piece. After this incident Northcote found himself on a cadet training ship. This was the springboard to his wartime naval service, the first phase of his life of adventure. When the Axis powers were finally defeated Northcote married his wartime sweetheart, Betty Taylor. Within a year he left the Royal Navy and with his wife and with other members of their families, joined the immigration to Kenya where lands were being opened for settlement. He soon went on his first safari and from then on he was able to combine his love of hunting with farming, although early on the reader can sense Northcote’s developing conflicts with political authority. When the government decided to reallocate many of the farms to the indigenous population he and many other farmers were forced to sell their farms back to the government for a fraction of their true worth—a bitter pill that shaped much of his attitude toward government officials. A second life changing event was the untimely loss of his wife. She was obviously a pillar of his world and the two events left him rudderless until the offer of a job as a professional hunter with the newly formed Uganda Wildlife Development, Ltd., a “hunting company.” Northcote soon carved himself a new home in Uganda and as the UWD grew, annually booking more safari clients, Northcote’s stature as PH grew as well. John Northcote also become a participant-observer of a second historical age. The Two Golden Ages The Oxford educated writer Bartle Bull, author of Safari: A Chronicle of Adventure (The Penguin Group, London, England, © 1988), described the years between the World Wars (1919-39) as the vintage years of the African safari. New clients and new settlers soon brought new energy, the clients prepared to buy lavish adventure, the settlers hungry to build a new life. . . . Clients came to expect not merely trophies, but high times, an African extension of the privileged life that entertained them, or bored them, in Biarritz and St Moritz, in the West End and Newport. . . . Like polo and yachting, safaris combined excitement with luxury (pg. 223). Throughout those years, even in the Great Depression, the African safari was one of the adventures that beckoned to the wealthy and was the dream of many in the working class. When World War II’s submarine warfare halted commercial inter66 | AFRICAN EXPEDITION MAGAZINE NOVEMBER 2009
national passenger service by air and sea the first Safari Golden Age came to an abrupt end. Bull explains the opening of the second Safari Golden Age in chapter 9 of Safari, writing about Kenya between the Second World War and Kenya’s 1977 hunting ban, the safari business enjoyed a second boom. Old and new clients come out, game was still plentiful, and eighty-eight vast shooting blocks covered three quarters of the country [Kenya] and could be rented for moderate fees. In 1967 1,000 Kenya shilling (then £50) entitled the licensee to show sixteen species of non-dangerous game. For perhaps £5,000 ($15,000) two shooting clients in the late 1960s could take a three-week Kenya safari. Responsible government management and licensed hunting kept the lid on poaching. It was a time of high professional standards and top trophies. The code of the gentleman hunter was law. Shooting was outlawed within 200 yards of a safari vehicle. The game itself had to be 500 yards from the vehicle (pg. 295-6). This is the period of history when John Northcote immigrated to Kenya and took up farming, mixing his passion for hunting with his day-to-day life as a farmer. It seems inevitable that Northcote, whether pushed by personal tragedy or increasingly left wing politics of his adopted country, should find himself working as a professional hunter. His book is focused on the hunting in countries other than Kenya (after his departure), thus his narrative offers a wide range of supporting evidence for the post-World War II period, and perhaps another paragraph from Bull’s book explains the changes that caught up Northcote. But there were changes after the war. Everything seemed more intense, less carefree, a little more commercial, a little less romantic. There were fewer European clients, more Americans, all with less time than the old days [First Golden Age]. Thousands of Africans, after service in the war, took a different view of colonial relationships. Ambition crept into the African attitude. Kenya’s whites were less confident of the future. Authority was suspect, and one could not so easily take one’s staff for granted, although life in camp was less changed than life in town (pg 297). The world had changed and though Bartle Bull was not writing about Northcote, much of what Bull writes is echoed in Northcote’s text. Many of the hunters Northcote writes about are Americans and they range from the famous to the not-so-famous. Interestingly there is a slow, nearly steady increase of hunters from the working class, though Northcote
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never truly identifies them as such. As Northcote writes his text, the hunting, hunters, and even the ethics of the hunters, undergo a nearly imperceptible change. Some of the changes are easily recognized as the pattern of the business itself changed. In “Uganda, Part One” there is a whisper of the days of the first Golden age; near the end of the chapter he writes about one safari in 1963 on which he was the PH for Ken Foree, the widely known outdoor editor of the Dallas Morning News. Every day of the safari Foree wrote a daily dispatch and after packaging the story with the film shot that day, story and film was sent back to Kampula and then on to Dallas for publication. This news dispatch connection, reminiscent of safaris of the “Twenties” is suddenly set in contrast to tradition by an indication that “something” is changing. In the same section Northcote writes about the Uganda Development Corporation’s decision, in the same year as the Foree safari, that the UWD must employ native African professional hunters, an event that became a near disaster; out of 32,000 applicants 16 were selected for training and of the 16 only one completed the program, and the native PH proved himself so adept at leadership that he went on to become a park supervisor. This event, however, is a
harbinger of change, confirming Bartle Bull’s text.
My Reading Often, when I read a book, I make notes in the margins, underline important passages and use Post-it™ page markers to indicate passages I may want to reference in my research. By the time I finished Northcote’s book it had more than fifty page markers. This alone is an indicator that this book is an important reference work. (The lone drawback as a reference works is this book is not indexed, an affliction of inattention that bedevils many outdoor narrative books.) Of particular interest is the gradual shift in relationships between the professional hunters. In Bull’s description of the first golden age, there is a genteel spirit between the professional hunters, and though it is present in the early stages of Northcote’s narrative it evaporates by the middle of the text. In Northcote’s narrative there is the constant wariness of authority, a gradual disintegration of 68 | AFRICAN EXPEDITION MAGAZINE NOVEMBER 2009
traditional ethos and the separation between the safari world and the politics of Africa. At first, in reading “Uganda Part One,” there is a sense the safari business is separated from Africa’s other problems. Northcote writes early in his book, while still a farmer, about the problems of the Mau Mau uprising and he hints at the emerging changes. Step-by-step Northcote records the changes that were occurring and their effects on the African safari business, so that by the mid-to-late 1980s and into the early 90s even the most casual reader can sense the author’s frustration. “When we were unable to bait for leopard in Botswana, it became almost impossible get one for my clients. I checked around in Rhodesia and found that Chipimbi ranch in the low veldt near Chiredzi had the best record” (pg. 381). Changes were impacting every aspect of his hunting business. Just as Bull wrote, the safaris Northcote writes about in the final chapter of his book are shorter, the clients more narrowly focused and often their demands nearly impossible. Finally, as if to drive the point home that everything had changed
Northcote relates the story of his last professional adventure—a photographic safari that becomes, for him, a personal nightmare. Perhaps it is a final proof that nothing will ever be the same and in his final paragraph Northcote writes an unknowing contradiction. “My nephew Roger Hissey (Mike Hissey’s son) asked me to take him on a buffalo hunt in August, 1997. If it comes off it will be my last safari” [Underline emphasis, mine]. The safari, for all intents and purposes, has changed into a hunt. I am not sure what date future historians and the literary critics in the outdoor literature genre will select as the end of the Second Safari Golden Age, for my money it is the infamous 9/11. Northcote’s book predates that attack on America but his closing sentence is its own warning that change has come; all that the age needed was an event to mark its passing.
I do not doubt that Africa will maintain its siren song in the hearts of most hunters and there will always be men and women willing and able to make the trip from their homes to Africa and a new dimension of their lives. The new generation of super passenger planes will deliver this generation of hunters to Africa and they will bring with them their vision of the ethics that defined hunters of the golden eras. The new generation will hear the siren song in the pages of historical narratives such as From Sailor To Professional Hunter. From that generation I hope a new John Northcote will emerge and inspire an unborn generation to hear that same song and each epoch of our civilization will also produce another Safari Golden Age, different yet connected, just as Northcote’s age is connected to the first. glg Readers may contact the author at: ggeerauthor@yahoo. com and visit his blog, The Thinking Hunter at http://galengeer.blogspot.com.
Galen L. Geer is a former United States Marine Drill Instructor and Vietnam veteran. A professional outdoor hunting, shooting and gun writer, he has published 2000 magazine articles. He has been a contributing editor to Soldier of Fortune magazine for thirty years and is the author of seven books.
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The Fire Piston Making fire the old way
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Dr Wallace Vosloo
t’s amazing that centuries before scientists such as Boyle established the ideal gas law, or the idea of a diesel engine was conceived, the fire piston was being used in Southeast Asia, Indonesia and the Philippines to start fires. The principle of heating air by compression and igniting tinder was accidentally “re-discovered” much later during the early 1800 in Europe by a French airgun manufacturer, who, when firing an airgun in the dark observed light being emitted from the barrel. This led to the development of the “fire syringe”, which was then widely used in Europe until the first wooden matches become popular.
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Basic theory how a fire piston works:
Making a fire using the fire piston:
The basic working of the fire piston can be explained by using Boyle’s ideal gas law formula and the diagram shown below.
Boyle’s ideal gas law: When a fixed volume of air is quickly compressed by a piston in a cylinder the volume (V) is reduced and the pressure (P) increases significantly. The number of moles of air (n) and the universal gas constant (R) is unchanged, thus most of the work done by quickly compressing the fire piston is converted into heat which increases the temperature (T) by at least an order class.
Ensure that the piston fits snugly into the cylinder, is well lubricated (use Vaseline) and that air does not escape past the sealing ring. To check this, push in the piston - it should feel like freely pushing against an air bubble. When you pull the piston out, it should make a popping sound when leaving the cylinder.
Step 2: We need to prepare the tinder nest. Take a piece of hemp and pull and divide it into small tufted pieces like cotton wool and shape the plucked out hemp
This high air temperature results in the tinder fungus reaching flash point, causing a small local explosion in the cylinder. If the piston is quickly removed, and the tinder fungus exposed to oxygen, ignition point and thermal runaway is reached leading to the formation of an ember, ready for you to start a fire with.
into the form of a birds nest, as per photo (a), and place a piece of charred cloth, shown in photo (b), in the centre. You are now ready to make the red hot ember with the fire piston that will be used along with the charred cloth, in the tinder nest, to finally start the fire. You could also light your pipe with the ember.
Air gets very hot when compressed under high pressure. A good example is the heat generated when using a bicycle pump.
Note: Charred cloth is a piece of cotton cloth that has been, heated, starved of oxygen and thus changed into a form of “cotton charcoal”. Charred cloth can be ignited with the smallest of embers even a small spark will do the job. NOVEMBER 2009 AFRICAN EXPEDITION MAGAZINE | 73
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When in the veldt, the hemp and charred cloth can be replaced with fine dry tinder that is available. Step 3: Let’s get going, as per photo break off a small piece of tinder fungus, just large enough to fill the hole at the front of the piston. Push the piece of tinder fungus into the hole, and break it up into small pieces with your nail. Ensure that the tinder fungus is well seated, but not too tight, as shown in photo. Ok, so you don’t know what tinder fungus is. It is also known as Amadou, Hoof fungus or scientifically as Formes fomentarius. It has been used for centuries to help start fires. The fungus is prepared by slowly boiling it in urine for a view days. Yes believe it or not, the urine boiling results in the saturation of the fungus with saltpetre (you can also boil the fungus in potassium nitrate). The fungus is then dried, cut into thin slices, and hammered flat with a piece of wood and is now ready for use. True tinder fungus is also known as Clinker fungus, in Russia as Chaga or scientifically as Inonotus obliquus. This fungus normally grows on live birch trees, has a hard black exterior, and a softer red-brown corky interior, which is used as true tinder fungus. When smouldering, the true tinder fungus gives off a lovely aroma. The flash point of true tinder fungus is typically 280 °C which makes it ideal for use as tinder in the fire piston.
Step 4: Place the piston into the cylinder with the sealing ring just inside. Hold the cylinder firmly with your left hand and hit down fast and hard with the palm of your right hand onto the piston, as shown in photos. Grip the piston handle and quickly pull the piston out from the cylinder. Turn the piston towards you and gently blow oxygen onto the tinder fungus. If all is well a red hot glowing and smoking ember should be forming as shown. If no ember has formed, repeat Step 4 until successful. Ok, you have tried and the palm of your right hand is blue and sore. Obviously there is something wrong. Make sure of Step 1, then redo Step 3, and try Step 4 again. Well if you are still unsuccessful eat mielie pap, hit down faster and harder. Note: There is another emergency option, use a piece of charred cloth in the piston instead of the tinder fungus it will also work but will pollute your cylinder in the long run. Now we are ready to start the fire. NOVEMBER 2009 AFRICAN EXPEDITION MAGAZINE | 75
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Step 5: Place the glowing ember onto the charred cloth in the tinder nest and lightly blow oxygen over it igniting the charred cloth. Fold the tinder nest over the glowing charred cloth and continue blowing air into the nest. The tinder nest will start smoking. Blow harder and harder. Don’t stop until the tinder nest suddenly bursts into flames as per photo (c). Yes, you’ve done it ! Flames to start a big fire. All you have to do now is to put this burning tinder nest into your pre-prepared fire pile and that’s it, a fire started with a fire piston. The fire piston is an elegant age-old way of making a traditional fire, which will give you years of good service. Kids young and old are fascinated by its working. The fire piston is a practical and efficient way to start a fire in the veld. Note: You can purchase a complete fire piston set, as used in the article above from Gavin “Slow Match” Margrate at e-mail address firstname.lastname@example.org or phone him on +27 (0)82 469 3236. Thanks to Dr Riana Geschke for the photos taken. My sidekick, Wessel Croukamp who assisted with the fire making. Dr Igor Gutman “Wild African Man” who supplied the true tinder fungus (Chaga) from Russia and Dr Peter Mallon for determining the flashpoint.
Dr Wallace Vosloo is an Engineer and Scientist by profession. His family has lived in Africa since 1696 and he has a deep love for the continent. He is a practical outdoorsman and loves traditional hunting, axe and knife throwing, longbow shooting, black powder rifle- and cannon shooting, salt and fresh water fly fishing and tracking. The art of survival is Wallace’s main field of interest and his passion is to transfer these old forgotten skills to young hunters. NOVEMBER 2009 AFRICAN EXPEDITION MAGAZINE | 77
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Make a Plan
Here in Africa, we Boers are pioneers and survivors - and we always make a plan. We got Wallace to share some of them with you. Here is the first in his new series.
Hints and advice are given in good faith to be of help in emergencies. The writer as well as the publisher, personnel and agents concerned do not accept any responsibility for any injury, accident or damages that might arise from the use of any of the hints. 80 | AFRICAN EXPEDITION MAGAZINE NOVEMBER 2009
The Handy Condom A condom is a multipurpose device- and it could be one of the most useful items in your survival kit. You already know about the primary purpose – but here are some more: ●● Put anything that you want to protect from dust or water (like a cell phone) in it and tie a make a knot in it ●● Put the condom in a sock or a hat to serve as water container. Fill it up - it can easily hold two or more liters.. ●● The lubricant on the condom helps to moisturise for dry lips or abrasions. ●● Pull it over the your gun barrel to keep rain, dust, mud etc. out of it. ●● A condom that is pulled over a finger with an incised wound looks stupid, but keeps both flesh and wound clean during skinning process.. ●● When nature’s gentle call becomes a demand in an unexpected place - like in a small plane - it is a handy urine holder that you can safely make a knot in and keep it to discard it later ●● It is also very handy in a vehicle. Wind it tight around a leaking or burst pipe or use as electrical insulation if there is no insulation tape available. Its elasticity can be used as vibration inhibitor, tieDr Wallace Vosloo down or a spring. is an Engineer and ●● You can even make a fire with a condom. Put half a cup of water in condom and press water into a tight in a ball until the wall becomes thin and transparent. Use the tight stretched wall as a magnifying glass to start the fire.
●● Yes, and then they say in the bad old border war days the guys put brandy or whiskey in a knotted condom hidden in water bottle. Just a puncture with a sharp bayonet, give it a good shake and the war seemed not so bad. Well, there you have it: a couple of good reasons to explain to your wife why you carry a condom in your bag.
Scientist by profession. His family has lived in Africa since 1696 and he has a deep love for the continent. He is a practical outdoorsman and loves traditional hunting, axe and knife throwing, longbow shooting, black powder rifle- and cannon shooting, salt and fresh water fly fishing and tracking. The art of survival is Wallace’s main field of interest and his passion is to transfer these old forgotten skills to young hunters.
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True North We are at war
n 605 BC Jerusalem was sacked by the notorious Babylonians. Among the hostages taken back to the city of the hanging gardens was a young man named Daniel. He becomes a sort of counselor among the royal cabinet, largely because God favors Daniel and reveals a number of mysteries to him which had stumped everyone else on staff. You might remember the famous episode when in the midst of a state function turned Mardi Gras, King Belshazzar sees the handwriting on the wall – literally. Mene, Mene, Tekel, Parsin. Actually, everyone sees it, but only Daniel can interpret what it means. The Hebrew exile is right again, the king dies that night, the Medes take over, and after a number of more years in the dangerous world of Middle Eastern politics, Daniel has another troubling vision. Let’s pick up the story there. In the third year of Cyrus king of Persia, a revelation was given to Daniel (who was called Belteshazzar). Its message was true and it concerned a great war. The understanding of the message came to him in a vision. At that time I, Daniel, mourned for three weeks. I ate no choice food; no meat or wine touched my lips; and I used no lotions at all until the three weeks were over (Daniel 10:1-3). Something has happened that Daniel doesn’t understand. I think we can all relate to that. We don’t understand about 90% of what happens to us, either. Daniel is troubled. He sets out to get an answer. But three weeks of prayer and fasting produce no results. What is he to conclude? If Daniel were like most people, by this point he’d probably be headed towards one of two conclusions: I’m blowing it, or, God is holding out on me. He might try confessing every sin and petty offense, in hopes of opening up the lines of communication with God. Or, he might withdraw into a sort of disappointed resignation, drop the fast, and turn on the television. In an effort to hang onto his faith, he might embrace the difficulty as part of “God’s will for his life.” He might read a book on “the silence of God.” That’s the way the people I know handle this sort of thing. And he would be dead wrong. On the 21st day of the fast an angel shows up, out of breath. In a sort of apology the angel explains to Daniel that God had actually dispatched him in answer to Daniel’s prayers the very first day he prayed – three weeks ago. (There goes the whole unanswered prayer thesis, right out the window). Three weeks ago? What is Daniel to do with that? “The very first day? But…I’ve…I mean, thank you so very much, and I don’t want to seem ungrateful, but…where have you been?” You haven’t blown it, Daniel, and God isn’t holding out on you. The angel goes on to explain that he was locked in hand-to-hand combat with a mighty fallen angel, a demonic power of dreadful strength, who kept him out of the Persian kingdom for these three weeks, and how he finally had to go get Michael (the great Archangel, the Captain of the Lord’s hosts) to come and help him break through enemy lines. “Now I am here, in answer to your prayer. Sorry its taken so long.”
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