As I’m writing this post, words really alude me, I don’t know where to begin really because so many emotions and thoughts are going through my mind at the moment. I’ve been home a few days now from our most recent trip to the Limpopo province of South Africa. We were about 30 minutes from the Botswana border. Tucked away in the bushveld at Quagga Safari’s, a bush lodge catering to safari hunters which lacks none of the modern conveniences. This was our second trip with Quagga Safari Outfitters. The first safari in 2012 was so life changing I knew it was just a matter of time when we would go back. That happened on March 21, we boarded the plane from Atlanta to Johannesburg and arrived there a day later.
Our family lives a subsistance lifestyle. That means we hunt, we fish, we garden, we gather; all in an effort to be a good steward of the Earth and to respect the bounty that it provides to us. We eat wild game at nearly every meal, we don’t buy much at the grocery store. We’re conscious about what we are eating, where it came from, how it is processed and prepared. We live as organic as we possibly can without being fanatical about it. And it’s those values that drive us to do what we do. Along the way we support the conservation of animals and their habitat through the fees we pay to the conservation agencies of the states we hunt and fish in as well as to the countries that we visit on these international trips. These fees go to help manage animal populations and their habitat, provide jobs and improve the economy. We also support organizations such as the Dallas Safari Club and Safari Club International that take this effort worldwide ensuring conservation and sustainability of these resources, not only for us personally, but for future generations all over the world.
There are those that have and would greatly criticize me for my lifestyle and I have been the target of threatening mail because of my choice. I understand that not everyone will agree and they have that right. They feel that hunting – beautiful exotic animals, especially those with stripes, spots and polka dots- should be forbidden, that it’s rather cruel and abusive and on the surface, just looking at it at face value, without any knowledge, it would be hard to argue that they are wrong. No one likes to be judged folks, not me, not you, not anyone. I’m sure if you’re reading this, you would find it very offensive if someone misjudged you, especially if they didn’t know all the facts. So, in all fairness, shouldn’t all the facts be weighed before we, me, you, everyone jump to the wrong conclusion?
Unfortunately, we are tainted by society, the media. They have a way of ” not letting the facts get in the way of a good story”, especially when that story comes to hunting legal animals. I’ve seen the internet blow up recently over a lady posting a picture with her legally shot giraffe. Animal rights activists calling her vile names, profanity, wishing her dead. Really? How dignified is their behaviour to their cause. It’s amazing to me that people actually differentiate between species of animals. Post a picture of your slew of fish you caught that day, or the deer you took on opening day of deer season….nothing….yet, pose with a giraffe that you legally hunted and will feed thousands in Africa and suddenly you’re an axe murderer. How can you say that a beautiful giraffe should be left alone, but it’s okay to hunt a lowly warthog, cuz, you know – it has a face only a mother could love…… Really? We get to choose whether something lives or dies because it’s cute? or not? Strip off all the cuteness, and the uglies and what’s left is life. All animals are living, plants are living, insects are living….you can’t pick and choose- life is life. Simple Fact. Animals have to be managed to remain healthy, plants have to be managed to remain healthy and insects have to be managed to provide balance in our eco system and hunters are a vital part of that process.
The question of “why would you kill a zebra who is minding his own business” has been asked of me before by non hunters and animal rights activists. And here’s what I tell them: Any animal – no matter where they live in the world needs to have the population of their species managed. It’s called balance of the eco-system. Without animal management and a value placed on the animals (such as the fees etc) these animals over populate, become a nuisance to the locals and then become targets for poaching. Poachers+Animals=Extinction of the species. I would venture to say that regardless of whether your a hunter or not, no one wants to see an extinction of any species. But that is the REALITY. Plain and simple. Without value – anything ceases to exist.
Poachers are those who do not value animals and who kill animals only for their trophy value and leave them for dead, suffering. Manage the poachers not the hunters. (in fact, did you know that while we were in Africa, Poachers laced salt blocks with cianide which killed around 70 elephants in a mass massacre only to harvest their ivory?- a hunter would never do this) I value life no matter where I am in the world. You can not place a value on one animal and not on another simply because they are cute or beautiful. You must do your research and learn what the truth is – not just about this, but about everything you do and believe in.
We only take legal animals and never hunt animals that are on the endangered list nor kill animals on an endangered list. To Afrikan’s our animals in the USA are exotic. To Americans their animals are exotic. But in reality they’re all animals and their population must be managed to ensure the sustainability of their species for us and future generations regardless of whether you hunt or not. I am not out for blood sport or to hear how many times my rifle can fire. My conscience requires me to take an animal legally, humanely and to make sure that every part of the animal is utilized for the benefit of my family and others. That means the meat and organs of the animals we’ve taken in Africa go to the villagers, the money we spend goes to their wages, building schools, enhancing their lives as much as possible and what’s left over – well that can go to the lions.
Before I was married to Dana, I too was a little caught up in the lies the media spreads about hunting – I wasn’t a fanatic about it, but you know, I probably would have believed everything I saw on TV about how elephants are on the verge of extinction and all that nonsense.
Until, I decided to find out for myself and I’m sure to no suprise, you’ll find that I have quite a different story to tell.
So here you go….My African Safari – Here’s what the media doesnt tell you story begins…….
To be honest, until this trip to Africa, I did not consider myself a true hunter. It wasn’t a passion. If you would have talked to me about this subject 15 years ago, I would have said “to each his own, but I don’t get it”. I wasn’t really opposed, but I thought the whole idea of chasing animals around to kill and eat them didn’t sound very appealing. I didn’t fully get it, until,I married Dana and saw the true full circle of life -from the harvesting of select animals, the processing, the preparing of meals, utilizing every part of the animal possible, there is so much personal satisfaction in being self sustainable and living off the land. I though, was missing one part of the circle – until I went to Africa.
My first trip to Africa in May of 2012 was primarily as an observer. Dana had a life long dream to hunt there and of course, as an adventurer, I was along for the ride. I’m not sure what kind of vision I had in mind but for me, I was there to document Dana’s dream trip and capture beautiful portraits of exotic animals in all their glory. I bought an expensive camera to do just this. But this isn’t a zoo folks, this is real life! And I quickly found out that animals in their own habitat are beautifully camoflauged, extremely dangerous and quick. Instead of capturing animals faces, I have load of pictures of animals bums running away. In the wild, these animals are hunted continuously, not just by humans, but by everything. As the days went by capturing every detail of the trip from the hunt to the landscape and everything in between, my desire to become part of this experience increased. I began to see the necessity of the “circle of life” and how these animals are utilized in every way possible for the betterment of their kind and for humanity and the African economy.
Now fast forward the present, We’ve just arrived in Johannesburg, greeted by our PH (Professional Hunter and Guide) Etienne and will soon make a four hour trip north to Ellisras in the middle of the bushveld. South Africa is a gorgeous country, much like the US in that it has vast farm land and beautiful mountains.
As you make your way towards Ellisras now known as Laphalele (Lap-ah-Lolly), you get a glimpse of the lifestyle and poverty that many African’s experience.
Labor is extremely cheap in SA and many earn only $200 US (about R2400) per month working 160 hours. It is customary for each working person to leave their family to work on game farms, mines or really wherever they can find employment. They send their money back home to support thier parents who raise their kids. Generally, each person supports up to 17 people on their monthly wages. They live in villages made up of homes that are literally put together with anything they can find – metal, old wood. Some buy a few bricks at a time and begin stacking them. When they get more money, they buy more bricks and eventually build their house which can take up to 5 or more years.
They purchase their food monthly which consists of a months worth of Braaipop – we would call it porridge. They eat it for every meal, preparing it differently for breakfast and dinner. I’m sure there is only so many ways you can fix it and so it makes me thankful that I have a varied diet. Meat for them is generally out of the question because it’s too expensive to buy in the store. And really, there are no big stores around in the villages, they have small markets with a few market staples, that’s about it….
I’ve been called out on the table in the hate emails I’ve received to “let them hunt their own” or give them the resources to hunt their own, great in theory and seems like such an easy solution as we sit over here in America and type behind a keyboard. The reality is, in real life it just doesn’t work. PERIOD! Fact of life folks, there is no getting around it. This isn’t the USA – this is Africa. It’s just simply not their culture, or how they do things. We have to get over that – we have to support them how they want to be supported, not try to force our western ways on them. It doesn’t work. Period.
They could grow a small garden, but with the rainfall being about 8″ a year at best you can just imagine how productive that is. About the only thing they grow is dirt and more dirt. There is no opportunity for them to hunt their own meat, because all of the land in SA is privately owned. There is no public hunting available and if there were, where would they get the firearms,ammo, weapons or whatever to hunt? They have no skill. Most older ones dont even have an education. I suppose they could learn some modern skills, but you have to realize that this also has to do with the way their government is set up. It’s not as free enterprising as what we have in the US. It just doesn’t work. What does work is the hunting industry, through the money it raises, it is able to build schools in the bush, feed local villagers and coordinate conservation efforts to maintain sustainable resources such as water, hunting of animal game, habitats and education and give them a job, where they can learn a few skills and feel good about themselves and what they can accomplish. I can assure you that none of the black Africans I met would ever berate the hunters who do so much for them that is beyond their reach.
After our 4 hour trip over the mountains , we have made the turn off the “tar-road” onto a very primitive (by US standards) main road full of ruts. We’re almost there. As we near the “camp” we’re greeted by a rather curious daddy ostrich who wants to know just who’s coming into the Quagga Safari camp because he has 8 little ones to keep an eye on and that’s not such an easy job! This group of Ostriches happens to be thier breeding herd that they are managing. These are free range birds that are not allowed to be hunted at the moment.
For our wildlife and viewing pleasure, Quagga puts out alfalfa each day to bring in various kinds of animals. It’s not uncommon to see everything gather here in the evening, from warthogs, waterbuck, wildebeests, they all come to the food plot to eat and we get to enjoy them in their natural environment – better than the zoo!
The accomodations here at Quagga Safaris are 5 star and we literally lack nothing even out in the middle of the bushveld. It’s quite the oasis. And if you listen intently you will hear a variety of birds welcoming as they serenade you with their local bird calls.
Instead of chickens “cock-a-doodle-doodling” at 5am in the morning, your bush wake-up call is the sound of 3 lions off in the not so distant area. Our outfitter has special permits that allow them to keep 3 male lions on the property under a 2 acre enclosure. There are strict guidelines for their maintenance and treatment and are closely monitored by the permit issuing agency. You don’t get this close to lions at a zoo- that’s for sure.
I’m not exactly sure how to describe a lions roar, but, when I first heard the noise and didn’t know there were lions on the property, I thought the neighbor in the next chalet over was a really loud snorer!! Like MEGA loud!!
Since our first trip, Quagga has added a spa where you can get massages, facials and extra pampering all while viewing the lions and yes of course we took them up on the offer. We were pleased to be Natacha’s first clients since she just finished her massage therapy degree!
Those are some lazy lions right there! Sleeping with their paws up because they have sweat glands in their paws to keep them cool. It was only 105 degrees that day.
We had a long list of animals to hunt while we were there and a short amount of time to do it. As hunters, we strive to be humane. It’s important to not wound animals and allow them to suffer. So to begin any hunt, we head to the shooting range to sight in the rifle. This is also known as practice for me! I got two shots, both within the target range and so my practice was over and the hunt began. (Dana forgot to get my picture…..)
I only had one animal on my list and that was a zebra. Dana’s list included an Eland (great steaks by the way), Bushbuck, Waterbuck, Tsessebe, Sable and a Red Hartebeest.
You would think that this would be an easy “canned” hunt as some have called it, because property boundaries are marked by high fence. However, you’d be wrong-ola! Properties are fenced but to clarify, this property had a fence which marked the border of it’s 20,000 acres. Being inside of 20,000 acres, can hardly be considered canned or fenced. Not to mention the animals are not bound by fences as they are able to bulldoze over, jump over, dig under or simply jump through the fence. It’s mostly meant to keep out poachers, not trap animals.
here’s a hint – he’s towards the upper right. The animals are very smart and keenly aware of their surroundings and just because you hunt, doesn’t mean you’ll get what you hunted for. But along the way as you travel on the various winding roads in the property, you do come across a variety of wildlife
A sable bull – gorgeous. They have black stripes on their faces and are very equipped at using their horns to impale, especially when they are fighting for breeding rights.
While on a hunt for Tsessebe, we encountered a whole family of sable and here’s some adorable babies that were in with a mix of sable and impala.
Notice that this warthog is feeding on alfalfa hay. Our outfitter feeds their wildlife because the season has been so dry that their natural habitat has dwindled – again sustainability of the species. This is a female and well, she ran away too quick before I could get a picture of her with her babies. They’re so “ugly their cute” – and may I add quite tasty too!
Often times, you track game simply based on animal tracks. Our PH Etienne and all the Trackers are very keen on these tracks and can identify which animals are where, which direction they are going, if they are males, if they are injured, running – who knew there was a whole other language devoted to animal tracks? These are Kudu tracks – I think……But today, we’re not hunting Kudu….
Were’ after these tracks….
It isn’t long till we find zebra tracks and I jump out of the safari mobile to get a closer look and to follow tracks. I’m accompanied by Ettiene, our PH and Dana. We haven’t seen the zebra, but according to ET we are on fresh tracks. It’s hot and the sun is swealtering down on us as we go through thickets of thorn bushes and trees with thorns as big as the Empire State Building. I tell you everything out here in Africa is out to get you – even the bushes and I’m wearing shorts! Say WHAT???
We did get a glimpse of their herd, but they also got a glimpse of us and galloped away. So close and yet so far, so it’s back in the safari mobile. Around and around we went for three days, tracking, walking, nearly coming up on them before the wind changed….and then after a 3 1/2 our long hunt in the 105 degree heat. It happened. A big zebra.
Im just amazed at this beauty and even more amazed at what this hunt means to the thousands of people there – They live to survive. This means everything to them. It’s their life and interestingly enough, they’re not complaining one bit when they get the meat. To them it’s another zebra, or lion, or animal that provides for their needs. I’m so honored to be a part of this conservation effort in Africa as well as here in the USA. I’m proud to now be called a HUNTERESS!