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Conservation in Africa - A little note.

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It doesn’t matter how much you read or how many people you talk to you can never truly understand something until you have witnessed or experienced it firsthand.

After a recent trip I can now say that I am lucky enough to have seen how hunting in South Africa benefits the wildlife, the people and the country as a whole. Coming into the trip I hadn't realised that in South Africa there is very little public land where animals can live. The small amount of land that does exist is heavily poached, so heavily that the animal numbers are almost non-existent. Unfortunately I learned that the poaching can be just as bad on the Private Game Reserves.

What do people envision when you say South African Hunting Property? I've heard all sorts of terms used by the media, hunters and the general public. Things like 'canned hunt' and 'shooting fish in a barrel' come to mind. People think high fences, paddocks, pens, enclosures, small areas, even tame animals. Well that wasn't my experience.

The "farm" I hunted was 10 thousand hectares or approx 25 thousand acres, not exactly a small area. The only fence in sight was the perimeter. Each day i awoke to a beautiful African landscape. Apart from a few man-made waterholes everything else was natural. The dry, rocky ground stretched out before me. Mopane trees and baobabs providing cover for the animals. The wildlife was just that; wild. The farm was the bush and the animals lived as they would without the fence except for the fact they were relatively safe and their wellbeing was cared for. The water holes are kept full as it's extremely dry this time of year and to help care for the animals their diet is supplemented with lucerne and feed blocks. This didn't make the experience any easier for me. Hunting the animals on this game farm was just as challenging as any public land sambar hunt I have been on. We walked and stalked, sat in blinds, followed countess spoor (tracks) and most days came back to camp with only the stories of that days hunt. I hunted Gemsbok for 3 days and didn't see a single one. It wasn't like they were just standing around the waterhole waiting for us to come over and have a shot. Not like shooting fish in a barrel at all. I could tell you every little detail about my hunt but that's not really what I'm writing this for. What I want to share with you; the biggest thing I took away from the experience, is just how beneficial hunting is to preserving the future of African game species.

The animals on the farms are bred to be hunted. Without these private game reserves and the hunters that visit them the animals simply wouldn't be there. The money that trophy hunters pay to hunt is what keeps the farms running; it pays the staff, buys the feed and keeps the animals in a healthy condition.The game that hunters take is selected and controlled. Trophy hunters generally hunt older animals that are past breeding age. All game animals on the farm that are hunted are in sustainable numbers. If the animal numbers weren't sustainable then the business would not be sustainable. Throughout the year there are even auctions where game animals are bought and sold. This is not just done for profit. The practice again strengthens the existence of these animals as blood lines are changed and added. While the animals themselves are wild the business model behind the hunting properties is not all that different to farming cattle and sheep.

If you've had anything to do with farming you'll know that you can only put so many cows in one paddock if you want them to do well. A huge key to conservation is controlling numbers. The neighbouring property to where I hunted currently has around 70 elephants but the land can only sustain 40. The overpopulation causes over-gazing, destruction of the vegetation and habitat damage. As a result the elephants would eventually become malnourished and other wildlife populations would also suffer. The solution to this problem is to control the elephant numbers using hunters. Hunters pay to hunt the elephant, they control the numbers and the area benefits both ecologically and financially.

The financial benefits to the communities are another reason I am in support of private game reserves. The amount of paid work created by trophy hunting was hard to imagine before I got there. From PH's to house staff hunting was creating a living for all sorts of people; chefs, guides, trackers, skinners and drivers the list goes on. All of these people had jobs because we were there. As for the products of our successful hunts not a thing was wasted. When an animal is taken the whole body is loaded in the truck brought back to the meat shed. NOTHING is left in the bush.

Once in the meat shed everything is processed and used. Skins and horn for trophies, meat to feed the camp or local church/village and anything left over feeds the lions. It was very humbling to know that the meat we had hunted was going back in to the community to support people that had so little. It was great to see that not a single thing is wasted in South Africa.

After 14 amazing days hunting we packed up and said our very sad good byes to Peet and his family as we headed 6 hours east to a luxury resort on the boarders of the Kruger national park and Timbavati private nature reserve. I was very interested to see what a photography safari trip was going to be like compared to a hunting safari. The resort was incredible. We had our own butler who thought of everything including hot water bottles for the cold morning safaris. The food was... Well let’s just say my jeans must have shrunk while there. Of course this place was fairly “Anti Hunter” but that's ok, I am used to different opinions on what I love to do. Here, at the resort, it didn't take long to realise why the people that visit these kind of resorts have a very different idea of what "Trophy Hunting" is compared to the reality of it. A Safari in the national parks is no different to visiting a zoo. The animals here were so humanised that we could drive right up to them. The rhinos didn't even look up from their food as we drove in for a close up photo. The lions napping in the shade didn't even open their eyes even though we were only two meters away. We had a leopard pretty much scratch his back against the bumper of the car.

Is this what the people here think its like when we hunt? Do they think we are getting 2 meters from a Zebra then shooting it? That's really not how hunting works.

After a lovely drive around the park, taking some amazing photos of the animals and of the landscapes we returned to the beautiful dining room for dinner. Served up tonight was Kudu. It was delicious and helped me to realise just how hypocritical the 'Anti-Hunting' vibe that existed here was. At the end of the day the result was the same, find an animal, appreciate the beauty of the animal and then eat the animal. The only difference was, on the game reserve, we were responsible for bringing the meat to the table. That reality the 'anti-hunting' safari guests chose to ignore.

There is plenty of literature to support conservation models that are based around hunting. There are examples world wide to prove that sustainable hunting has benefits for animal populations and the economy alike. Anyone who has ever hunted in South Africa will tell you how nothing goes to waste and how good it is for the country but until you are actually there speaking to the guides, seeing the animals, taking the shot and tasting the meat it's hard to fully appreciate just how beneficial hunting is. Being a part of the experience is different to watching it from the sidelines. I know I have a whole new appreciation for conservation and hunting on game reserves.

Thank you for taking the time to read my little note on my experience of conservation hunting in South Africa. To keep up to date with my hunting adventures please follow my Facebook Page Bec Brammer - Huntress.

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