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Conservation and Hunting


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For all peoples of southern Africa, hunting has always been one of the most important livelihoods and nutritional bases, which has hardly changed over the long term, even from the beginning of European settlement. Real overexploitation of nature only came into fashion much later, when wealthy colonial officials, senior officers and also the rich farmers and plantation owners began to live out big game hunting as a sport and empty entire areas in some regions.

However, well into the 1930s and 1940s, there were still huge wild game populations, including dangerous big game, in remote areas of South Africa, the League of Nations mandate Southwest Africa, British Betchuanaland, Rhodesia (Southern- and Northern Rhodesia) and British Njassaland.


African Buffalos on the Okavango - near Bagani / Namibia

African Buffalos on the Okavango - near Bagani / Namibia


The big slaughter came later - just from the mid-1930s and early 1940s. Because of the increasing population, the higher demands, and of course from the pursuit of profit. The commercial farms, and of cause the indigenous herd keepers as well, needed land for their cattle. Nobody can drive a flock of springboks to the train station and load them onto livestock wagons. There was also no realistic way to utilize the amounts of biltong (dried meat) that would have been produced. At the time, they simply didn't have the technical capabilities and not nearly the infrastructure that would have been necessary. There was neither the technical nor the financial capacity to at least partially use the country's game wealth commercially, and preserve it thereby. Of course, large game reserves and national parks have been established since the end of the nineteenth century, but outside of them, the big game almost completely disappeared from huge areas of southern Africa.

Most contemporary people, who grew up well protected in the affluent societies of the western world, lack the experience of hunger and poverty. At this time, however, only the offspring of a very small upper class were born into a largely secure material situation. First of all, you should be one of those, who are able to afford a moralizing point od view. The farmers and planters of that time mostly could not. It was the government and its authorities that ordered the complete culling of certain animal species in some areas, such as has happend to the Knysna Forest Elephants in the early 1930s.

However, a movement developed in southern Africa very early, on that was committed to the preservation and recovery of natural and near-natural habitats - even among large, personal casualties. In the case of the Knysna forest elephants, it was even the affected farmers and professional hunters who stopped the complete cull of the whole subspecies by buying land at their own expense to set up a wildlife sanctuary. Later, today's Addo Elephant National Park was created out of that.

At the same time, plans developed to reconcile the idea of nature- and wildlife conservation with the economic requirements and opportunities. This brought another aspect into focus: the sensitive water resources in the arid and semi-arid areas. The domestic game consumes only a fraction of the amount of water that is required in conventional livestock farming. In addition, game does much less damage to vegetation and soil. South Africa even pursued plans to domesticate various species of antelope in the 1960s. However, the attempts to achieve that, failed - for some reasons. 


Angola black-faced impala in the Etosha

Lions on the Okavango

Burchell's zebras near the Nxai Pan

Wilderness - the hunters and the hunted: Angola black-faced impala in the Etosha - lions on the Okavango and Burchell's zebras near the Nxai Pan.


But what brought the game back to many regions from which it had partially disappeared over a hundred years ago?

In addition to many other factors - including tourism (see the comments on this!), we owe this to technical developments, which also created the economic conditions for that. Because of the financial effort, to switch from conventional farming to extensive farm management with game, is enormous. And the requirements are strict: A prescribed minimum area size per game, high game-safe fences - at least towards the roads, and a biodiversity that is adapted to the region must be guaranteed.

The farmers, whose focus is on meat production, also have the problem that the meat growth is by far lower than in conventional farming. This is at least partially offset by the fact that fewer workers are needed. But in turn, exactly this is what causes problems on the local labour market.
The process is as follows: A diverse range of game, adapted to local environmental conditions, is released into the wild, and after four to six years a specialiced company arrives with two large trucks. One truck ist the slaughterhouse, the other one is a cooling store. The game is shot as agreed with the the farmer and processed immediately on the spot. This type of game farming is particularly common in southern Namibia and in some areas of the Great Karoo and Kalahari.

This is where trophy hunting comes into play, because it requires a relatively large number of staff: in addition to the farm workers and mechanics, hunting outfitters, guides and assistants, people who process the meat on site and prepare the trophies and those who bring the venison to the market or sell from the farm, kitchen staff, cleaners, waiters and bar people, taxidermists... etc.
Hunting farms, where the focus is on trophy hunting, can be found mainly in the Kalahari, east of Windhoek and then north of Windhoek - via Okahandja, Otiwarongo up to behind Grootfontein and Tsumeb - and of course all over South Africa in all provinces. Of course, locals also hunt there - not just tourists. This is absolutely necessary in order to maintain a natural structure of the game population. But these so-called "meat hunters" pay much less. However, because they don't hunt the rams for trophies and therefore, they settle with the farmer the meat only. Without the local meat hunters, the farmer would have to send his own hunting guides, or even professional hunters. And: of course, the meat hunters are not allowed to shoot "trophy holders" ... - but if they do, even by accident - it will be expensive.


Masarwa-Bushmen / H.A. Bryden 1892

//nhoq’ma (Nhoma) north of Tsumkwe / Namibia

San-hunters protest the 2014 ban on hunting

Masarwa-Bushmen / H.A. Bryden 1892

//nhoq’ma (Nhoma) north of Tsumkwe / Namibia

San-hunters protest the 2014 ban on hunting


Both types of game farms are part of the closely interlinked interactions between environmental and species protection on the one hand and the necessities of economic development on the other. If even only one of the two aspects is not sufficiently taken into account, there is neither one nor the other. And another thing: Species and environmental protection includes much more than just protecting the local wildlife - this also includes the protection of vegetation, water and soil protection. Subsequent- ly, all of this together, has in turn an impact on the regional climate.

If one would only consider isolatedly the protection of game, which would actually be grossly unscientific: Even then one would see that hunting - both, pure meat hunting as well as trophy hunting - cannot be taken "unpunishedly" out of this complicated network of interactions. Botswana is almost twice the size of the United Kingdom. (So much only, to make the dimensions comparable to our European guests.) But Botswana has only about 2.2 million inhabitants, and even those are too many people, to be able to assume that the balance of nature will somehow regulate itself.

Where there is official hunting within the legal framework, in addition to the hunting guests, professional hunters, hunting guides and professional game wardens are also on the go. There is virtually no poaching in those areas. Botswana has had extremely bad experiences when the government let themselves got talked into a ban against legal hunting by various European tour operators in 2014. One probably wanted to curry favour to a well-to-do and ethically very demanding clientele.

However, the result was devastating. The professional hunters and game wardens left and the poachers moved in. Even the Army of Botswana - a disciplined force that gets excellent training in collaboration with the US Army and the British Armed Forces in Sandhurst - was not able to master the situation. As a result of that, the ban was lifted in no time. The professional hunters, game wardens and trophy hunters came back and poaching came to an abrupt end - at least in those areas.


the African Buffalo - the object of desire

the African Buffalo brought down by a hunting bow

The object of desire....

...brought down by a hunting bow.


I want to leave it at this for now. We will certainly consider the various aspects of this topic - here (or on our facebook account). Experience has shown that above all, on tours into the wilderness, you will witness hot discussions - whether involuntarilly or intentionally. And thereby very often you will be confronted with superficial knowledge, which is sometimes presented with incredible stubbornness.

My advice: stay calm and relaxed, ... - and above all, talk also to the locals sometimes !