Last year during my hunting I experienced both the very best of what it means to be a professional hunter and I also witnessed the very worst: the dark side of a profession that has become all too glamorous and shiny, a profession that talks out loudly about it's benefits to conservation and preservation while on the other hand buries it's head in the sand about codes of conduct and long term commitment to conservation.
Usually, at the end of a hunting season when all the extras are taken care of and you have time to reflect on the year that was, you realize how fortunate and privileged you are in many ways, to be able to do what you do, get paid for it and wake up each day in the environment that you love. However it is more in the anticipation of your return to the bush that you realize what it truly provides, the peace it gives and the contentment when you wake from your first night beneath the stars.
To wake each morning to the call of the ground hornbill or satisfied leopard, to sit by dawns early fire with a steaming cup of coffee is reward enough. Often when the camp bull elephant drinks water from your shower drum or a hyena investigates your door and Lion call near the skinning shed, you realize that this is how it is meant to be, this is worth the toil and trouble you endure each hunting season, it is worth the many cold months holed up in a tiny Denver apartment, the long cramped flight to get here and then the 3 day trip into the hunting camp by cruiser - it is definitely a cause we have to fight for and preserve.
We are only here temporarily, we come in as operators, PH's or clients and our stay is one which cannot last, one we know will end soon and our reward of being here is already enough. This is the domain of the great beasts, the last of the worlds mega fauna and the magnificent large predators, it is the domain of the surly bovines and the elegant antelopes, of the dirty burrowing creatures and the swift birds. They are here much as their ancestors were thousands of years ago, albeit in smaller numbers, they are not contained or tied in by fences and remain the last vestiges of a continent that is under constant peril and strain.
My last newsletter pointed to some failures in our hunting industry and of course I got the usual 'you know jack' from the operators and PH's who may have been staring truth in the face. However I must most emphatically express that the wilderness is still there, in tiny pockets throughout Zambia you find eden's where the game is abundant, well looked after, even fat for some good biltong: in short, the hunting I knew as a kid and what you yearn for from the old books is still there, you just have to look a little harder, work a little more and most important know what you have let yourself in for.
So this raises the question of which areas are Zambia's best and from a personal viewpoint I can count them on one hand but many will disagree with me. The simple fact is that the way Zambia classifies its GMA's as prime, secondary and depleted is not your final almanac of where to hunt. There are many factors which you need to consider and they are more to do with the tenure and commitment of the safari operator and the PH's who have been in charge of the hunting blocks and your hunt.
Being a kind of freelance PH / outfitter I have the ability to hunt in any area in Zambia - which kind of suits me as I get to revisit places I hunted years ago. So what this means is I see allot of different approaches to how areas should be run, what is provided in terms of facilities - one mans chalk is another's cheese - and most important what each area holds now after 6 years of continuous hunting. No one is ever going to tell you that their area performed poorly on big maned Lion last year, they'll show you pictures of long ago, the grainy sepia toned ones. So these days, in a country like Zambia it is essential that you know what you are getting and which area you will be hunting in. Just as it is important that your PH knows not only the area but has 'Zambia' experience, so it is with your choice of hunting area.
as of 2009 Zambia has seen 6 full safari seasons go through her hunting blocks. During this time some areas were split and quotas doubled, in others quotas were too high from the start while most have now had their key trophy species reduced to acceptable. It's been a bumpy ride for Zambia's areas and if you merge this with unconcerned operators and PH's the recipe is set for the quick depletion of game.
This year will probably define Zambia's hunting industry as the upcoming CITES meeting in 2010 will have consequences on our most valuable trophy animal - Lion. I wholeheartedly agree with stricter controls on Lion, especially for Zambia, however there are others, and they do have a valid point, that will stand to lose a great deal while others have profited.
You see I liken it to farming: if you have a crop of watermelon and you tend them everyday making sure none fall to fungus or get bruised or eaten by baboons or stolen by your staff then you'll sit, at the end of the day, with a harvest that is likely to bring in more than your neighbor who sat on his butt watching the baboons eat his seeds. Now that you are ready to harvest your crop, some self assigned worldwide body suddenly says no, you can only harvest half of what you have, sorry the money you put in over all this time means nothing and you should have followed Joe Blogs' lead and sat on your ass
Herein lies the truth for some of the key hunting areas which as I said you can count on one hand. Over the last 6 years there is a small number who have looked at the long term of their hunting concessions and have more game now than when they first arrived - despite taking a healthy quota each season. If you look at this objectively it is common business and management sense when the tenure of the concession agreement lasts for 10 years. However there have been 'others' who wantonly filled their quotas each year and put no effort and money back into management (anti-poaching). It also transpired that these 'others', seeing their areas wane, departed on a hell bent strategy to disrupt and acquire, by any means possible, those areas where management and game were strong. They succeeded in a few areas while their motives of profit have not changed - so what does this say about our hunting future?
The point of all the drivel above??
In 2009 I will be traveling around Zambia in my beat up cruiser, some of it for hunting with clients and some of it for pure indulgence, with fishing rod in hand, a kind of road trip through my past hunting haunts looking for the things that were and the status right now. At the encouragement of many of you, my faithful newsies, I have decided to document this trip and will hopefully come out at the end, unscathed, black Mamba free and enlightened as to the best of Zambia's hunting - not just the typical classic or mini safari BS that you see allover the place, I know this country holds undiscovered gems where, if your attitude is right, you will experience a whole different Africa.
Here's what I'd like to ask from you:
Please let me have some comment and ideas as to what will truly make a great hunt: we are all different in our approaches and I believe that some treasure the open expanse more than the trophy itself; others simply want a big one, no matter how it is acquired.
EMAIL YOUR IDEAS HERE
It is my intention to come out of this trip with a new outlook on the possibilities of hunting in Zambia - those that are not restricted by government conditions and the old ingrained style train of thought. There are other ways to hunt and it may make for a tougher adventure but prices certainly will come down.
One thing I have realized over the years is a growing desire to experience Africa in what I term the proper manner - without all the fancy lodge tents, ice makers, silverware and uniform clad staff - without the noisy generators and lavender air fresheners - a proper hunt where you sleep out in the bush on the ground, next to the fire and keep your rifle close by much as they did when his country was first settled!
Join in on this trip it is going to be awesome!