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Monthly Archives: June 2017

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Damara dik-dik

Years ago, I cut myself badly skinning a whitetail on a hunt near Moosomin, Saskatchewan and had to have stitches done after I severed an artery near my thumb (another skinning lesson learned . . . ). The doctor who did the surgery happened to be from South Africa (it turned out all the doctors in the hospital at that time were from South Africa!); he told me that as I was a hunter, I should plan on an African safari to go after ‘The Big Five’.

He didn’t say anything about ‘The Tiny Ten’.

The Big Five, as many hunters know, are the elephant, lion, leopard, cape buffalo and rhino. For big game hunters, taking all of the Big Five is considered to be one of highest achievements a hunter can accomplish. The reason for this is the inherent danger in trying to hunt any of these animals; the term ‘The Big Five’ was coined years ago to say here are the five most dangerous game species a hunter can pursue. There were bragging rights to any hunter who could say he (or she) had taken The Big Five. Even today, cape buffalo are believed to gore and kill about 200 people a year (mostly hunters).

While there’s still a mystique in today’s hunting world around The Big Five, it isn’t what it used to be.

There are a number of reasons for this attitudinal change. First, whether this assemblage of African big game animals is indeed a list of the 5 most dangerous animals a hunter can pursue has always been debatable, but never more than today. In addition, hunting ‘dangerous animals’ isn’t a top of the list want for many of the hunters of today.  Finally, there are a lot fewer opportunities to hunt these animals than there used to be.

At any rate, hunting The Big Five has never been something I aspired to do, although it was certainly of interest to me, even those many years ago in Moosomin.

Back to ‘The Tiny Ten’. . .

Around the campfire in Namibia on our first night, talk of The Big Five naturally came up.

And that’s when I first heard about The Tiny Ten.

The Tiny Ten is a list of the following species of small antelope found in southern Africa:

  • Damara Dik-Dik
  • Blue Duiker
  • Common Duiker (also called Gray Duiker or Bush Duiker)
  • Red Forest Duiker (also called Red Duiker, Natal Duiker or Natal Red Duiker)
  • Cape Grysbok (also called Southern Grysbok)
  • Sharp’s Grysbok (also called Northern Grysbok)
  • Klipspringer
  • Oribi
  • Steenbok (also known as Steinbuck or Steinbok)
  • Suni

These antelope are really small; often they are referred to as pygmy antelope. For example, a mature Damara dik-dik is only about 30–40 centimetres at the shoulder and weighs only 3–6 kilograms. Tiny.

Yet all these pygmy antelope have horns.

They are also said to be a challenge to hunt.

During my hunt in Namibia, I saw Damara dik-diks, steenboks and duiker (I don’t know which species I saw). A couple of my hunting partners saw a klipspringer one day. One dik-dik – the one in the photo – was supposedly a real trophy, as was one of the steenboks I saw and photographed.

They are certainly interesting and it was great to see them.

But like The Big Five, hunting The Tiny Ten isn’t a goal for me.

I am glad I saw a number of them, and would certainly like to see all of them. Maybe that’s my quest.

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A free-range Red Hartebeest, hunted and harvested on a cattle farm.

A good comprehension of the answers to the question ‘who owns the wildlife’ is fundamental in understanding how wildlife is managed around the world. Despite the vast number of people, communities, corporations, agencies and governments that that have vested interests and ownership of wild animals, there are only two broad approaches under which wildlife management practices can be categorized, namely public versus private ownership of wildlife.

In North America, the model generally followed is public ownership. That is, the government owns the wildlife, regardless of whether the animals live on public (e.g., federal, state or Crown land) or private land. Under this scenario, government is largely responsible for monitoring and management of wildlife. This happened mostly because the early European colonialists came from countries where wildlife was owned by royalty – Kings Queens, Earls and such – and common folk had little access to wildlife, unless they were poachers. So when they came to North America, the people were bound and determined not to see that system happen again.

However, at first there simply were no laws. Even when governments were created and game laws were passed, most were quite lax. As a result, many populations of wildlife, especially those that were exploited for their meat, hides or feathers, saw catastrophic collapse; some, like the passenger pigeon, went extinct. Bison, which once numbered in the tens of millions, almost suffered the same fate. Beavers were almost gone. Large predators (e.g., wolves and bears) were wiped out over vast tracts of land. The slaughter was intense, especially in the late 1800’s – by the early 1900’s, wildlife was in a sorry state in much of the USA and southern Canada.

Fortunately, saner minds prevailed and actions were taken before it was too late. The banning of commercial hunting was a key in the recovery of many species. Over the past 100 years, there have been great strides in conserving and restoring many populations of wildlife in the USA and Canada. Proponents of the North American approach to public ownership of wildlife claim it’s a model that works and they’re largely right.

Still, all is not rosy with respect to wildlife management in North America. Large predators like wolves and bears remain absent over large expanses of their former range as the public simply won’t or can’t tolerate their presence. The same is true of other game species; for example, it’s unlikely that free—ranging bison will ever be seen on the prairies again. Herds of free-range bison and activities like grain farming are for the most part incompatible, so bison today are found only in selected places like parks and protected areas, or on private, fenced in lands.

Interestingly, bison, elk and other animals are today being commercially raised – by private interests – and their meat and other parts sold for profit. In fact, there are a growing number of private lands in both Canada and the USA that are fenced in and where hunting and access are limited for a wide variety of wildlife species.

It’s unclear as to what wildlife management in North America will look like in the future. While federal and provincial governments are still mostly responsible for wildlife conservation and management, there is a shift in Canada and the USA to give individuals and other private interests more responsibilities and rights to use wildlife, including Aboriginal governments and communities.  There’s little doubt changes are looming and how wildlife will be managed and allocated in the future, may have little resemblance to what we have today.

The second model by which wildlife today is managed has private interests owning and managing wildlife. Governments still have a role and may still have wildlife ownership in places like National Parks, but elsewhere, where land is owned by private interests, landowners also own the wildlife. That’s the situation in Namibia, where I recently hunted.

Writing in HUNTiNAMIBIA 2017, Dr. Chis Brown of the Namibian Chamber of Environment showed changes in wildlife numbers in Namibia from about 1770 to 2015. At the start of that time period, it’s thought there were around 8-10 million animals in the country. Numbers declined steadily until the 1960’s, when the animal population was estimated to an all-time low of about a half million.

In the 1960s and 1990s, rights to use wildlife to support a multi-faceted business model were given to farmers. As a result, farmers (for the most part livestock – cattle – farmers; in North America the equivalent would be cattle ranchers) could provide trophy hunting, sport hunting and use wildlife meat for food, including for sale. Surplus animals could be captured and sold. Some landowners have moved on from cattle farming and wildlife is now the primary source of income and the priority with respect to land-use decisions.

In 2015, wildlife numbers in Namibia were estimated at 3 million, the highest since the 1960s.

As one would expect, Namibia sees their wildlife model as a success. South Africa has a similar model and is also largely successful

Again, not all is rosy. Many farmers don’t like predators like lions, cheetahs or leopards for the same reasons wolves and bears aren’t liked by North American farmers. There are also concerns that the widespread use of game-proof fencing cuts off large scale movements of wildlife, an adaptation many species evolved with to survive in an arid environment prone to drought. Other issues involve world trade sanctions for species like elephants and rhino, which need to be managed – but any efforts to manage such huge species are also very costly. Namibia is one of the few places left on the planet with wild populations of cheetahs and black rhinos, but the country is finding it difficult to maintain them because of the actions from the rest of the world with respect to hunting and sale of wildlife, are more a hindrance than a help.

Public vs private ownership of wildlife; two very different approaches to how society provides for the management of wildlife. Both have strong points; both have weaknesses. I suspect that as time passes, we’ll see the two systems increasingly converge.

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I just returned from a safari in Namibia, Africa. A tremendous trip, but grueling to get to. We had got a good if not a great price for airfare, but paid for it with lengthy wait overs in Toronto and Amsterdam. Long distance flying in economy is not fun at all. We were packed like sardines in an Airbus 330 and a Boeing 777, both of which hold over 400 passengers and didn’t have a single spare seat on the flights over. But it was worth the pain, believe me.

We saw white rhinos, elephants, lions, hippos and all kinds of plains game like impala, zebra, kudu, sable and much, much more, in addition to birds and others, including a deadly black mamba.

Four of us took the trip and for three, it was our first to Africa.

We hunted plains game – with great success – and did some sight-seeing, including a trip to Etosha National Park. We did not hunt ‘the Big Five’, namely elephants, leopard, lion, cape buffalo and rhino.

One issue? It was cold! I never thought I’d be in Africa and be cold, but most mornings the temperature was only a couple of degrees above the freezing mark and once there was frost in some low-lying areas. It generally warmed up during the day, but I was never uncomfortable because of the heat. By 3:00 pm it would begin to cool noticeably and by 5:45 pm, it was dark.

Of note, we saw several rhinos, including cows with calves and none had been de-horned  to protect them from poachers. While there is some poaching, it’s apparently not the problem it is in many other African nations, including neighboring South Africa.

There were also black rhinos where we were, but our party did not encounter any. Black rhinos prefer thick brush, so are less likely to be seen. One of the outfitters we stayed with told us black rhinos were also much more belligerent and caused way more trouble than the white rhinos, which are relatively docile. At least as docile as you’d expect from a living tank. While the whole trip was wonderful (with some moments of anxiety, for sure), I have to say rhino sightings were always a highlight for me. Especially given the fact they weren’t mutilated.

Over the next while I’ll provide some insight as to what I learned from my African safari (especially with respect to game management) and share my thoughts. And I’ll be posting more photos.

Right now, I’m still ‘unwinding’.