The first story I ever wrote about African hunting was titled “Sunset Safari in Kenya.” By lucky chance I hunted there very shortly before the country closed, so perhaps I can be forgiven the article’s aura of gloom and doom. In late spring 1977, with Kenya recently closed and Tanzania closed for four years, most people with an interest in African hunting thought the end was near.
I’ve written about it before, but this business of “gloom-and-doomitis” is one of two interesting syndromes that seem to attack every hunter who journeys to Africa for the first time. The other is “know-it-allitis,” in that, upon completion of a first safari, he or she is amazingly transformed into the greatest African expert who ever lived. This is fairly harmless, and is simply a reflection of how Africa grabs hold of a person and truly never lets go. This malady can clearly be seen in all of the stuff I wrote after my first few safaris.
The second syndrome, “gloom-and-doomitis,” is much more serious. For some reason every hunter who journeys to Africa seems compelled to recount that he or she saw Africa at its best, and all who follow will see something less. Roosevelt did this in 1910. Hemingway did it in 1935. Ruark did it in 1953. Boddington did it in 1977. Good grief, is this a pattern?
Africa has changed, and African game has changed. As we know, some is for the worse, and some areas are still declining. Some is for the better. In 1977, Namibia was a quiet backwater, and there was very little hunting opportunity in South Africa. Few predicted or could foresee the growth in their wildlife, the efficiency of their wildlife management, or that those two countries would come to host the largest safari industries on the continent. Amazing. But perhaps not so amazing. The reality is wildlife is more resilient than we give it credit. Despite the worst of mankind’s ravages, remnants often hang on against all odds…and given a bit of husbandry, can rebound more quickly than expected.
Since 1977, and thanks to the value placed on wildlife by international hunters, we have seen game in Namibia and South Africa increase exponentially. The same can be said of Zimbabwe, except that, thanks to Mugabe regime’s “land reallocation” program, wildlife carefully nurtured on private land from 1980 to 2000 is now pretty much gone. Tanzania reopened in 1981, and remains a staunch and solid hunting country. Botswana recently announced it will no longer issue hunting licenses–squeezed by the country’s lucrative ecotourism industry. Cameroon, once a quiet backwater to C.A.R., has become a key safari destination for both forest and savanna game. C.A.R., Ethiopia, and Zambia have had ups and downs and occasional closures, but remain important safari countries. But this is far from a complete picture of the hunter’s Africa in 2011.
During my lifetime, many African countries have changed names – and certainly some of them change governments like I change socks. But the basic political map of Africa hasn’t changed much, and there isn’t a lot of opportunity for genuinely “new” countries to open. On the other hand, some traditional African hunting countries shut down nearly a generation ago, and have been unavailable ever since. So one of the most exciting things in African hunting today is what you might call “recycled” hunting countries, countries that were once open, and now are again open to hunting.
The star player in this role is Mozambique. Ravaged by a brutal civil war for nearly two decades, her wildlife was at such a low ebb that, in 1989, I personally thought it could never recover. That was pure gloom and doom, and I was dead wrong. It has taken much time and effort both by enterprising outfitters and a supportive government, but today the hunting in Mozambique is fantastic. This is not true in all areas. Some areas are still recovering, and a few may never recover, but the hunting is now very good, and will probably just get better.
Mozambique competes with Zimbabwe for the most available and most affordable buffalo hunting, with her numbers increasing every year. She has no competition for the most available and most affordable sable hunting. Her indigenous rarities are few, but a buffalo hunt in Mozambique includes a goodly selection of plains game, and she is “the place” for Livingstone’s suni and red duiker, and her native range-free range nyalas are increasing rapidly. Hunting isn’t new there, pioneering outfitters started up in the late 1980s, really before the shooting stopped, but things were pretty tough back then. Today there are more areas, more outfitters, more game, and more opportunity. I’ve hunted and filmed in Mozambique for the past several years, and it has become one of my favorite hunting countries.
Uganda, reopened for just a couple of years, is in some ways where Mozambique was 20 years ago. Wildlife suffered under Idi Amin’s regime and during the civil war that followed, and today must be considered to exist only in pockets. With protection and the value placed by hunting this will get better, and you have to start somewhere. Uganda’s “somewhere” is really a pretty good position. The country is exceptionally beautiful (Churchill’s “Pearl of Africa”), totally peaceful and safe, and Uganda’s game is very interesting.
Most of her races and subspecies haven’t been hunted for many years, so even her common game – Uganda kob, Nile bushbuck, Jackson’s hartebeest – are extremely desirable. It was the chance to hunt the almost-mythical Sesse Island sitatunga piqued the interest of a lot of collectors, but one of the things I learned is that, on the mainland, Uganda has a large and very widespread population of East African sitatunga. This animal’s swamp habitat has been penetrated very little. It’s my judgment that Uganda offers the best sitatunga hunting on the African continent.
There are big Cape buffalo, and Nile buffalo to the northwest, but while there are good populations in some parks, Uganda’s buffaloes are very much a remnant population. Hunting is possible, with a number of great Nile buffaloes taken on the boundary of Murchison Falls National Park. It’s going to take time, but buffalo hunting will get better – along with everything else.
The West African nation of Ghana is a brand new hunting country. Although explored, exploited, and poached, she was never open to sport hunting until very recently. The incentive was royal antelope, the world’s smallest ungulate. This cool little animal is fairly widespread from the Dahomey Gap westward, but it appears that Ghana holds a major concentration. Until Ghana only a handful were taken historically, mostly in Liberia. In March 2011, mine was the 14th royal antelope outfitter Steve Kobrine has taken, and there have been more since.
Like most forest hunting, Ghana has among the most specialized of safaris, with just a small selection of forest duikers and small predators also available. However, there is potential. There are bongos in some forest reserves, and the country also has reasonable numbers of West African savanna buffalo, West African kob, and Nagor reedbuck.
Benin, long known to French-speaking hunters but new to the American market, has emerged in recent years as sort of an “alternative” safari destination. I haven’t been there yet, but certainly intend to. The game is pretty much the same as northern Cameroon, except there are no Derby elands. So West African roan is the premier antelope species, and this area also offers Nagor reedbuck and West African kob, along with other plains game, savanna buffalo, and the occasional lion. Hunting in Benin has been extremely successful, but, absent bongo and eland, at a much reduced cost from hunting in C.A.R. and Cameroon.
The age of exploration is long since finished. Several expeditions have penetrated the forests in search of a rumored dinosaur that lurks there, but I don’t believe there are any large animals still awaiting discovery. Undoubtedly, as our record-keeping system continues to mature, there will be reclassifications and new categories, but genuinely new animals are unlikely.
On the other hand, across the vastness of Africa recent discoveries provide hope and, once again, prove that wildlife’s will to survive can endure despite even the worst of mankind’s excesses. After the long civil war in Angola, most of us thought there was absolutely no chance that the giant sable might have survived. We were wrong. In the late 1990s, a seriously threatened population was found in game reserves in the Malanga District, north-central Angola. Most reports suggest that things have not gone well for this population, but with live captures and genetic research, captive breeding programs are underway that will ensure the survival of this incredible animal.
From a hunter’s perspective, North Africa is perhaps the most unknown part of the continent. From Morocco to Egypt there are pockets of aoudads, there are gazelles, and Egypt holds the largest African range of the Nubian ibex – but so little is known. A decade ago, when I hunted Chad, the folks there absolutely assured me that scimitar oryx still persisted in remote wadis along the Libyan border. I can neither prove nor disprove this, but the Sahara region remains huge and largely untraveled, so I think it’s very likely that oryx persist, and possibly addax and Dama gazelle. Now that Ghadaffi’s government has fallen, there may be greater interest in seeing what wildlife remains in the great Libyan desert.
As stated earlier, historically Ethiopia has been on-again, off-again as a hunting country. More recently, she was closed from 1994 to 1999, but since then has been a solid, if specialized, hunting destination. Ethiopia is a huge country, and not all areas are available. With southern Sudan closed for nearly 30 years, the Gambella region of southwestern Ethiopia – unhunted for many years – has held the only hope for “Sudan species” such as Nile lechwe and white-eared kob. Reports have been conflicting. Do these animals still occur in Ethiopia, or have they been exterminated by meat poaching?
Thanks to Ethiopian wildlife biologist Yitbarek Tibebe and photographer Bingam Admassu, we can now answer that question. Both the Nile lechwe and white-eared kob occur in huntable numbers in southwestern Ethiopia (which implies they probably do in southeastern Sudan as well). Access is an issue, and no outfitters are currently operating in this region – but they can, and probably will.
I wish I could say that Kenya was one of them, but despite 34 years of rumors, nothing has happened. Perhaps it’s just more gloom and doom, and thus to be taken with liberal doses of salt, but I don’t think we’ll see Kenya reopening. Some of her politicians and wildlife managers would like to see it, others wouldn’t, but I don’t think it’s likely. Realistically, after spending several months in Kenya on a military mission in the late 1990s, I am not convinced that Kenya, with a burgeoning human population, has enough wildlife remaining outside her parks to allow a viable sport hunting program.
This is a problem across much of Africa: The barn door has been open too long, and the horses are gone. But it is not universal. There is quite a bit of untapped potential for hunting tourism, and wildlife conservation efforts that can be realized by both direct monies and the local employment that a hunting safari brings to town.
We know that aoudad rams are dying of old age in Morocco, and hunting is open there – shotguns only – for birds and wild boar. Importation (or availability) of rifles has been a long-standing issue for aoudad, but there is potential for gazelle and Barbary red deer as well as aoudad. Morocco is a possibility. Just a few years ago, one knowledgeable agent was taking deposits for aoudad and Nubian ibex in Egypt. The final permits weren’t issued, but there remains strong potential. As mentioned earlier, Libya’s government has now changed (at long last) – and although it might take quite a while, there is potential there as well.
Moving down into Central Africa, just a few years ago an international survey revealed significant – if not amazing – quantities of game in Sudan’s Eastern Equatorial region, essentially southeastern Sudan. The south now has independence from the north, and as peace comes to the region, hunting is very possible – with a treasure trove of races and subspecies that haven’t been hunted for a generation. Pioneering outfitters are already working with the local government and scouting. I think this one will happen, but exactly how soon is unclear.
Also in Central Africa, Congo-Brazzaville has been on-again, off-again on a limited basis, almost never with more than one outfitter. Hunting is technically open, but logistically difficult, and at least one outfitter is again offering hunts there. “Congo-B” has all the basic forest game of southern Cameroon and C.A.R., possibly with fewer bongos, but almost certainly with more forest sitatungas and dwarf buffaloes. One outfitter doesn’t make an industry, but “Congo-B” has great potential for specialized hunting.
I wish I could predict that Gabon would reopen. With great mineral resources and a small human population, this country has one of the best herds of forest elephant, plus all the forest game (like “Congo-B”, fewer bongos, but more buffaloes and sitatungas). I’m sure there will be more opportunities to hunt there, but who knows?
In Southern Africa there has been some discussion about Malawi, but I don’t see it. There are lots of nyalas and a scattering of other species, including elephant, but a large human population and limited opportunity. Otherwise, Southern Africa is open to hunting, except what may be the crown jewel – Angola. Although I’m sure we will never hunt giant sable, Angola is a rare place where everything comes together, kudu, sable, roan, sitatunga, lechwe, and so much more.
With the long civil war finally concluded, enterprising outfitters have already established camps and area, and report surprising concentrations of game. The stumbling block is that, currently, there is no game law in Angola. But there will be, and there will be great hunting. When Kenya closed, those of us (me included), who predicted an end of African hunting were just plain wrong. Isn’t that wonderful?– Craig Boddington