MOST men, since we crawled out of caves, have seen themselves as hunters; I’m no different.
Early memories are of hunting rats at harvest time on a neighbouring farm, armed with sticks, stones, scythes, shovels, old golf clubs .177 and .22 air rifles, 3-bore garden guns, .410 shotguns an uncle’s dangerously sharp World War II Gurkha kukri and excited yapping dogs. We exterminated many hundreds of the vermin: their repulsive grey carcasses piled as high as a man’s shoulders, to be burnt.
We moved on to grey squirrels, threatening the native red squirrel population, eating eggs and chicks of valuable game birds, poultry and nesting wild birds and destroying saplings in natural and planted forest. As we earned half-a-crown (2s 6d) for each “tree rat’s” tail, when airgun “slugs” were 5s for 500, profit added considerable spice to fun and thrills.
Paid to decimate a wood pigeon population whose ever increasing numbers (and their bodily functions) threatened the wooden structure of a paper mill, we carried out duties with alacrity, selling victims’ corpses to a local pub for pigeon pie (with delicious game chips), hunters’ stew etc.
I’ve hunted small game for the pot on three continents.
I covered, photographed and helped a hunt for three man-eating lions which had strayed from a national park. Having tasted human blood they had to be dispatched before killing again.
And I’m not sorry that several years later I helped hunt man’s most cunning foe: man; hate-filled killers of the likeable farmer who’d led the team of hunters who’d shot the lions which had slaughtered his black neighbours.
But for many years now, I have hunted only with a camera.
And my most successful “bag” ever in one day of “shooting” big (and small) game was in Chobe National Park, northern Botswana on a day trip from Victoria Falls. Even the much vaunted Maasai Mara, in Kenya, pales into insignificance at the side of Chobe.
For US$150, then — it’s now US$175 — I went early from stunning Victoria Falls by coach to Kazungula border post, where the frontiers of Zimbabwe, Zambia, Botswana and Namibia’s historic Caprivi Strip meet.
Then by Botswana-registered bus to wildlife rich Kasane-Chobe, where we had coffee and snacks at Chobe Marina Lodge: a Three Cities hotel. On a morning boat trip and afternoon guided jeep tour of the world-famous Chobe National Park. At 10 566 sq km it’s home to the world’s largest elephant population (an estimated 45 000) we saw and photographed:
- Hundreds if not thousands of jumbo (probably seeing some herds more than once);
- Hippo, both swimming and grazing on shores, some mixed with small elephant herds;
- Cape buffalo: the bundu’s most dangerous beast, in large numbers;
- Lion: two young females asleep after a kill;
- Black-backed jackal: single male;
- Kudu: plenty;
- Impala: small herd;
- Eland: several in the park (and roast leg of same, with game chips, salads and pickles for lunch at the Marina Lodge!);
- Sable: extended herd;
- Warthog and bushpig: lots;
- Giraffe; several small groups;
- Zebra: family;
- Crocodile: six or seven in the river or basking;
- Baboon and grey vervet monkeys: hobboes!
- Leguaan (or monitor lizard): one
And thousands of birds: especially raptors such as the graceful African fish eagle with its haunting ringing cry of “kyow-kow-kow”, bataleur; Cape, lappetfaced and whitebacked vulture, brown and blackbreasted snake eagle, Ayres’ and African hawk eagles, many smaller riverine and terrestrial birds, magnificent waterfowl and countless LBJs!
The previous time I was in the Chobe I was “hunting” for a story and/or pictures of then newly re-married (at Chobe Safari Lodge) Hollywood divorcees Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor more than 30 years earlier!
Tracking their spoor on honeymoon to the original Elephant Hills Hotel, on the site of the present one at Victoria Falls (one of the Seven Wonders which I’m sure the couple never saw!) Burton’s otherwise monosyllabic minders threatened to feed me to the crocs.
I decided discretion was by far the better part of valour!
(Do check competitive offers for Chobe tours from the Falls. On the occasion described above, I was told everyone charged the same and the fee must be paid in hard US cash, with which — just pre-dollarisation here — I was reluctant to part. Returning a month later, I heard a rival company offered an almost identical excursion at US$135 and international debit/credit card payments were fine. With any choice in the matter, I’d also reverse the sequence of events, certainly in winter, when it was chilly on the river in a late June morning; as hot as Hades in the arid bundu in the afternoon.)
- Dusty Miller is overseas researching some of his popular travel stories.