Huntress Diana and PH Zeriah Steyn - Always a Lady
by Tamara Oberholster
PH Zeriah Steyn, one of only a handful of registered female PHs in South Africa, is pictured here with Texas fire chief Roger Woodard, who took his first impala with Zeriah in 2006.
Hunting has traditionally been a man’s world, according to South African PH Zeriah Steyn, although she notes that this has changed over the past few years. She herself pioneered the way for other women to follow in becoming licensed PHs. And by setting up her professional hunting academy, she continues to make her mark in the industry.
Steyn is a wife, mother of three, outfitter, and licensed dangerous-game hunter. In January 2008 she will become the first woman to start a professional hunting academy in Africa.
Her love of nature can be traced back to her parents and visiting her mother’s family in the Soutpansberg area as a child. Her father, a policeman, taught her about rifles, and she would accompany him on hunts from a young age. However, the person who most influenced her is her husband, Fanie Steyn whom she met him at the tender age of six. “I was always madly in love with him,” she smiles. “We got married many, many years later, and in the time I’ve known him he has taught me so much.” Fanie grew up on the family game farm, and today he and Zeriah operate Thabo Mmoyo Safaris, which they set up together in 1981, on that same land in the Northern Province of South Africa.
Thabo Mmoyo (meaning ‘baobab mountain’ in Northern Sotho, the local language) offers over 200,000 acres of prime hunting land and a selection of hunting safaris, from plains game to small cats, dangerous game, and bowhunting. The Steyns also offer photographic and hunting safaris around South Africa, and in other African countries.
When she was busy with her own professional hunting training, Steyn was the only woman at the hunting school. “I remember all the men looking at me strangely and wondering what I was doing there. ‘You must be here to support your husband,’ they’d say, and I’d answer, ‘No, actually I’m here in my own capacity”.
Today she is one of only a handful of female registered PHs in South Africa, is certified to operate tours in all the provinces of South Africa, and has been featured in Fiona Capstick’s book, The Diana Files, winner of the 2005 CIC Literary Award (and reviewed in ASG Vol. 10 Issue 4), which chronicles the lives and escapades of some of the world’s greatest huntresses. She is a life member of PHASA, SCI, and Dallas Safari Club.
Steyn particularly enjoys hunting big cats, saying, “Stalking a big cat is harder and your risk of getting killed is much greater, which makes hunting them a bigger challenge. You have to be ready for anything, and you can feel your heart pumping in your chest the whole time”.
She tells of her first leopard hunt. “We put out bait, we tracked the animal, and we tried everything,” she says. “Eventually we just waited in the pitch black. You couldn’t see anything, you could just hear you own heart and occasionally a honey badger. You wait night after night”.
Eventually the leopard arrived and she heard him crunching on the bait. “I will never forget the first time I heard that sound,” she says. “I switched on the light for the client and there he was – a huge male leopard – nowhere near where we’d expected him to be, but right under a nearby tree. And the client couldn’t see him! I pointed him out and eventually we got him”.
Zeriah's father, a policeman, introduced her to rifles, surely never thinking his daughter would be taking hunters after the Big Five, like this leopard, taken by Scott Thomas with Zeriah at the foot of the Saltpansberg Mountain Range in South Africa.
Steyn is also passionate about nature and culture guiding and plans to teach these skills at the hunting academy. “I’m very excited about it,” she enthuses. “It has been a big struggle to achieve this, especially as a lady, and it’s taken me seven years. It’s not about who you are or who you know, it’s about deciding whether you can or can’t do something. And while there were moments where I was just about ready to throw the towel in, I was overjoyed when I finally got the green light this year to go ahead”.
Steyn was motivated to open the academy by frequent requests from people for training. She says that the school will give its pupils, many of whom are previously disadvantaged individuals, internationally recognized, world-class qualifications. More than equipping people to hunt though, Steyn wants to instill in them a deep passion for nature.
Zeriah guides her clients throughout South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, and Zambia where, in 2005 on the Luangwa River, Jeff Philbrook (pictured here with his wife, Fran) took this excellent 46-inch sable.
“The schooling is only the tip of the iceberg, and I want to get that through to students,” she says. “I want to show them what it’s all about – empower them with knowledge and skill, but also teach them how to relate to clients and show them the importance of reaching out to people. It’s the same thing I want to teach my kids, and it’s a lifelong process”.
Steyn has had to overcome many obstacles in setting up this school, the greatest – proving herself in the industry. “Being accepted as a woman, with the same skill and knowledge as the guys, has been one of the most difficult things,” she says. “I’ve had some clients who where really surprised at having to deal with a lady PH, but after the second day, when they’d been offered a chance to change PHs, they all said no”.
She points out that hunting is not about money – it’s about passion. “You work long hours and there’s no set salary,” she says. “You do it out of a love of nature.” This has been passed on to her children, who all have a keen interest in hunting.
Balancing being a wife and mother with her demanding job is often difficult. “I’m a wife and mother and a lady first and foremost,” she says. “You don’t have to wear big boots and act like a man just because you hunt. I go out with my pink nails, wearing make-up, and I outshoot the men”.
She says that from her children’s perspective it might at times be hard having a mother whose job is being a hunter. “After all, other kids introduce their moms and they’re all neatly made-up, whereas when my children introduce me to their friends, I’m usually in hunting gear and about to leave with my rifle”.
She laughs about some of the experiences she’s had in a male-dominated profession, like the amorous Italian client who had more interest in her than the game they were stalking. “I kept my tracker very, very close to me,” she says. “And I figured the best way to deal with this man, who was very charming but very persistent, was to take him into the mountains and walk him until he was exhausted and all his intentions went down the drain.” She did exactly that while tracking a kudu bull through the bush.
As they were at last nearing the animal, the fatigued man called for her attention. What now? she thought. They were so close to obtaining his trophy. “Do you know how they communicate in the mountains where I come from?” he asked and began to yodel at the top of his lungs. “Of course anything living in the area was scared off,” she says. “I told him, ‘That’s great. Let’s go back now. That’s the end of our hunt”.
Steyn guides throughout South Africa, Zimbabwe, Namibia and Zambia, and she says that hunting in each of these areas is different. “The terrain is different and the animals are different. For example, Zambia is much greener with more water, and you have to be far more cautious about mosquitoes and snakes.” In Zambia, she loves hopping into a charter plane with the client “and in two hours, you’re away from everything. In South Africa you can get into your vehicle and drive pretty much anywhere.” In Zambia, she also enjoys visiting small mission villages and showing the clients the Victoria Falls.
Although she continues to guide, Steyn is busy preparing for the opening of her hunting academy, and guarantees that it will offer its students “more than a place that teaches professional hunting skills,” but also a place where ladies, previously disadvantaged individuals, and those with a deep love of nature can come together to acquire world-class training.