By Brooke ChilversLubin
When I first started attending the SCI Convention in Las Vegas the 1980s, we all lived and exhibited together under the same roof, at the old Hilton Hotel near the airport. Its sizable half-moon bar, which PHs called “the office,” recalls the golden age when hunters and conservationists first really joined forces.
Among the hundreds of hunters and outfitters and thousands of hunting clients who roamed the convention, at 6’4” and a bear of a man, Volker Grellmann stood out as the voice of the Namibian safari industry, carrying its message from one association meeting to another: African Chapter SCI, IPHA, APHA, NAPHA, CIC, PHASA, GAME COIN, etc. The furry eyebrows, the impressive beard, the resonating voice sharing common sense and wisdom, Volker was the epitome of Namibian hunting and its acknowledged doyen.
Volker died in hospital in Windhoek following a heart attack on September 16, 2019. “He will be sorely missed by many,” wrote PH Jofie Lamprecht who first met Volker when he was six years old.
How surprised I was to learn that this Namibian citizen (since 1993) was actually born in Wittenberg, Germany, 60 kms north of Leipzig, in 1942. “We children emigrated with our parents to the then South West Africa and arrived in Walvis Bay in December, 1951. My father had been invited by an old school friend to join him in Windhoek in an engineering business,” recounted Volker while happily feeding the throngs of birds that find sanctuary on his beloved Etango Ranch, home since 1996.
“In his tailored safari suit, Volker demanded a presence when walking into a room,” wrote Jofie in e-mails we exchanged over the sad news. “Growing up in his midst, he was always gentle, humble and kind. We would schedule breakfasts, arriving promptly at 9:00, and it was often sunset by the time I left.” Jofie described his mentor as “A man not born in Africa – but its roots having grown deep into his veins. A son, father, grandfather and great-grandfather of Africa.”
Although graced his entire life by the love of nature, Volker actually started out as a furrier and designer. That was the man the lovely city-girl Anke Hinsch, born in Hamburg, married 53 years ago. Her father, an electrical engineer, brought his family to Namibia in 1953.
Together, they joined the safari industry in 1968, starting out part-time as a hunting consultancy. By 1970, they were organizing both ranch and open concession safaris which, for Anke, meant pitching camp in the middle of nowhere and pulling out her mother’s fine china, silver and linens to offer romantic candlelit dinners under African skies for their first safari clients.
In 1972, they registered their own hunting safari company: ANVO for ANke and VOlker. Their motto was, and is: “Conservation through selective Hunting.” This best describes the path of Volker’s lifeline, for he would join the International Professional Hunters’ Association (IPHA) in 1981 and become its Vice President, President-Elect and a Life Member, receiving its Award of Recognition in 1996; Founding Member and Life Member of African Professional Hunters’ Association (APHA); Founder (1974) and past President of Namibia Professional Hunters Association (NAPHA); International SCI Director and Life Member, winning its Outstanding International Professional Award in 1995 and its President’s Award in 1997; and serving on the SWA National Game Committee (1980); the Federation of Namibian Tourism Associations; the Conservancy Association Namibia; the Namibian Academy/Training in Hospitality; the Namatanga Conservancy; and helping create, with the Ministry of Environment and Tourism, a registry for a national Succulent Nursery.
Once big-game concessions were created in 1988, including limited quotas for hippo and crocodile, in Bushmanland and the Caprivi (now called the Zambezi Region), Volker famously began working with the people of Nyae Nyae, forging the way by hiring Ju/’hoansi as hunting guides. His knowledge, understanding and appreciation of San culture are yet another wonderful gift he shared with others.
Already in 1973, Volker began passing on to the next generation of PHs and hunting guides his knowledge of those professions’ special required skills, as creator and then Director and Chief Lecturer at today’s Eagle Rock Professional Hunting Academy Namibia (ERPHAN). He was instrumental in developing the programme’s curriculum, including for previously disadvantaged Namibians, along with the Ministry of Environment and Tourism and the NAPHA Education Committee. To date, there are some 800 graduates.
Around Anke’s wonderful breakfast table, I once asked Volker what makes a successful PH? “A love for nature and wildlife…willingness to serve and work with and for people…. a passion for hunting. Good eyesight. Bodily fitness.” And a successful hunting company? “Minute, detailed planning…well-trained staff…good equipment….reliable vehicles. It’s been proven many times over that a good husband and wife team is ideal.”
A wonderful storyteller, this “Father of Namibian Hunting,” recalled without nostalgia his close calls with the Big Five and hunting clients, not to mention various vipers in tents and showers, a certain wounded elephant, and one very misbehaving client. My favorite story is how, in 1973, Volker convinced boxing legend and avid hunter, Max Schmeling, to use his fame to help advocate for legislation that would privatize the wild animals on cattle ranches, making them the property of the farmer who could then generate income from sport trophy hunting while simultaneously financially supporting conservation.
Volker’s expertise, enthusiasm and tenacity were hugely important in establishing an exemplary code of hunting ethics that contributes to Namibia’s reputation today as a highly estimated safari destination. He recently wrote, “Additionally, we at NAPHA are presently working on a new, all-encompassing Code of Conduct which could become the National Code.”
He early recognized the importance of conservation legislation, and lived to see that “After 42 years, Namibia Nature Conservation authority is finalising the Protected Areas and Wildlife Management Act that will replace the Ordinance of 1975.”
Volker supported research demonstrating how hunting species such as cheetah, leopard and black rhino ultimately leads to conserving their populations. In Richard Conniff’s book, Swimming with Piranhas at Feeding Time: My Life Doing Dumb Stuff with Animals, the author carefully lays out the “Hemingway look-alike’s” argument of the importance of compensating ranchers for their losses to predators. If ranchers could invite hunters onto their property, Volker explained to Conniff, and charge them a substantial trophy free to kill an otherwise poisoned or trapped cat or an over-mature male of whatever game species available, with a percentage going directly to conservation and the rest benefitting both the landowner and the hunting guide, then cheetahs would become an asset – a valuable cash crop – rather than a nuisance to be exterminated. This is the very essence of “sustainable utilization.”
During our last visit two years ago, Volker said that, “Finally people have started to realize that cattle is not the answer to everything. Game and hunting have taken their rightful place in society. More and more areas are set aside for game ranching. Farms are diversifying. We have more game in this country now then we ever had before selective trophy hunting was initiated seriously 40 years ago.”
He recently wrote to AHG: “The game nowadays is treated with respect, and trophy hunting practices are on an absolute professional level. Game numbers have increased to their highest level ever and are gradually pushing domestic animals off their former primary position. Game is definitely not a liability anymore, but rather one of the greatest assets to landowners, conservationists, and tourism in general.”
Volker was a rare giant in the hunting industry, because he was involved in its creation and tracked it through all its evolutions. Although he recognized that there were still “challenges on the horizon,” he considered his country’s safari future very bright, especially for home-based ranch hunting. “In addition, there are the self-controlled conservancies, which gives unlimited good incentives for game management,” he said.
Volker always looked forward to having the time to sort through his thousands of photos and slides, and sitting down to write out his lifelong experience in the development of hunting in Namibia. If fact, we were going to do it together, “as soon as…” I can’t think of anyone who would be more qualified to write this book than gentleman and hunter Volker Grellmann. At least he had the joy of looking forward to looking back.
Volker is survived by his wife Anke, his two sons Michael and Robert and their wives, Tracy and Carmen, five grandchildren, and a great-grandchild, Maya, he’d just welcomed into the world. “Robert, who was already giving classes, together with the assistance of MET and many a willing supporter, will carry on with the hunting school – which was Volker’s baby over all the years since we started it,” wrote Anke.
Brooke ChilversLubin is the former editor of AHG. The wife of PH Rudy Lubin, she is the art columnist for Gray’s Sporting Journal and a regular contributor to Hunter’s Path magazine.