Hunting > African Game

A Ride-Along with Stewards of Africa's Wild (Page 3)

Africa keeps its wildlife wild and free only by adhering to a strict conservation philosophy that includes all stakeholders—government entities, ranchers, hunting outfits, professional hunters and human inhabitants in the bush—putting skin in the game.

Much of the funding for this PH program comes from DSC. Their head professor, a retired game ranger, shows us their difficult curriculum. We learn that outside the classroom these PH students are required to make hundreds of successful stalks on various species. Each is even blindfolded and left sitting near a waterhole frequented by lions and elephants. Someone is watching, of course, but they all say they get this feeling of total vulnerability and that soon they’re smelling and hearing things they never could before. The PH students take us for a hike, guns loaded, into the bush in hopes of seeing rhino and elephant up close. We don’t, but we see these young students moving confidently in the bush.

We cap the trip with a sundowner. We climb off an all-terrain bus, ride to a wild spot and open a few beers as the sun sets into Kruger. As we talk three bull elephants begin feeding up a grassy hillside toward us.

Richard Sowry, a section ranger for Kruger, is standing beside me talking about rhino poachers. He says, “Hunting is a conservation tool that has helped rhinos in many areas outside South Africa’s national parks. Hunting is actually why rhino populations have done so well in recent times. Continuing to realize value from rhino, through conservation initiatives such as hunting, photographic safaris and game sales, is essential to the long-term survival of rhino in Africa.”

So here is a ranger, a man on the front lines of protecting rhinos from poachers, arguing that hunting has helped and can continue to benefit rhinos. This is like hearing a police officer explain the practical side of law enforcement away from the spin of politicians. Sowry then explains that poachers often come in from Mozambique. They find a rhino and stay near it until near dark. Then they shoot. By the time rangers or the army can get mobilized it’s dark. The poachers then slip back across the 225-mile-long border under the cover of darkness with a horn worth perhaps $50,000 per kilogram in China and Vietnam. As of last November, poachers had killed an estimated 860 black and white rhinos in South Africa in 2013 alone. There are perhaps 8,000 white rhinos and 800 black rhinos in Kruger.

Richard pauses. The closest elephant, now about 30 yards away, has stopped and become rigid. Suddenly the elephant swings his head and then his body toward us and charges through a small tree. Richard shouts at the bull and the elephant stops at 20 yards. The bull holds its head as high as he can to look even bigger as his eyeballs strain to look down at puny us, but then he turns and saunters off shaking his great tusked head.

Richard lets out a long breath and on the end of it says, “He was just letting us know he’s as big and wild as Africa.”

I glance at Richard. The sun is falling softly into Kruger behind the elephants. I take a deep breath myself and ask him, “Can Africa keep its wild parts?”

“Only if we do,” Richard replies.

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