Dying for a buffalo

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It was a crisp autumn morning. I was overlooking the river, having coffee, when the Facebook message stunned me…

Not six weeks previously I had spent a night in the Makuya Game Reserve, a community-owned reserve bordering Kruger National Park, and arguably one of the finest truly big-game areas in South Africa. Claude Kleynhans, PH & owner of Guwela Safaris had a 10-year concession in the reserve, and had invited me to see this incredible area. Years back Claude and I had met through his best friend Natie Oelofse, with whom we published The Practical Shot. Natie (who had touched many lives) had entered a battle with cancer which, after giving it a really good go, he would eventually lose.  Claude and I became great friends over that extremely sad time. Catching up with Claude this past January at Dallas Safari Club after so many years, was just fantastic.

It was ironic that the name of Claude’s safari business was Guwela Safaris, meaning “an old buffalo”, a Shangaan word from the tribe native to that area of the northern Kruger. Because, being Africa’s most iconic hunting trophy, it was the animal that would ultimately take Claude’s life.

Claude had safely guided his last buffalo hunt. With his loyal and right-hand tracker Simon, he was cutting a path to retrieve the felled trophy when, out of nowhere, Africa’s bushveld debt collector came calling – unannounced, on a mission, and for no reason that we will ever know. In seconds this gentleman of the African professional hunting industry was gone.

A deep love and understanding of nature; decades of hunting experience across the continent; having every skill – it all counts for nothing when it is your time. And so it was for Claude. Doing what he loved in the area he had told me was the finest bit of bushveld (next to Tanzania) that he had ever hunted. He had found the lady and soulmate of his dreams – Merissa – and had started a long business relationship with the people he loved, headed by Esther Netshivhongweni for whom he had the utmost respect.

But so soon? Those left behind feel it the most, and that beast of the bushveld could have at least waited a few more years – but we are not here to try to understand.

This prompted in me some questions: If there is anything you can do in your own way – whether you are a hunter who loves Africa with many friends and connections, (perhaps some with considerable influence), or an outfitter with a dozen, or hundreds of clients – just think.

Just think: If someone is prepared to die for their profession

  • Why the questioning of what’s ethical or not, when really, ethics are personal, and all that should count is obeying the law?
  • Why run a fellow PH or outfit down because he is from a different country, nationality, or area. If he is legal and he is in the same industry, trying to make a living doing something he loves, that must count for something.
  • Why fight over what is free range, game-fenced, managed or cattle-fenced, when the animal is still ultimately the same species?
  • Why fight over how heavy, long, old, or inch size – when it should be your individual experience of the African hunt that matters.
  • Why squabble over all this? Unnecessary infighting, when there is a much greater battle to embark on. The future of our industry is at stake and we need to work together.

Dangerous game is called this for a very good reason. So whether you hunt Africa for the sheer magic of this land, or you hunt Africa to share the magic of this land – be careful.