Tupa Nyuma Hunting
by Ian Parker
Editor’s Comments: We must differentiate between the hunt, deeply rooted in the evolutionary history of mankind, and the hunter. The hunt is not a bad thing because some hunters misbehave. And some hunters do misbehave (just like some lawyers, some doctors, some government members, some anti-hunters, some conservationists, in short, some of every conceivable group of people).The percentage of hunting misfits seems to be larger in Africa than in Europe or North America. The reason is simple – because the hunting laws and regulations are strictly enforced there and anyone breaking them suffers dire consequences. What we need in Africa are comprehensive modern game & hunting laws and their strict enforcement. The US Lacey Act and certain EU regulations are useful examples! An internationally recognized certification and standardized norms of/for hunting operators, hunting concessions and hunting laws would also assist!
Hunting has underpinned conservation policies over so great a span of history and across so wide a range of cultures that this record, alone, makes a powerful case to continue it. Today, worldwide, it is still by far the greatest use of wild animals which simply restates the case. If illustration in detail is called for, then for sheer scale and an impact on habitats at a continental level, the record of Ducks Unlimited in the USA must be one of conservation’s great achievements.
Why hunt? What are its rewards? How does it equate with the injunction “thou shalt not kill” that underpins the modern world’s “United Nations” culture? The most fundamental and widespread reason for hunting is still for food. Even where the main drive is recreation, most quarry is eaten. How does killing equate with a general ethic against it? Therein lies nature’s great enigma: life needs death to sustain it. That might sound a trifle Irish, but with the possible exceptions of simple forms around volcanic fumaroles in the ocean deeps, all living things depend directly or indirectly on the deaths of other forms. Nutrient chains may have few links, as in active predation, or many involving complex decomposition where plants are concerned, but nothing can change the fact that living depends on death. A great marlin will surely die and why it should be ‘right’ for a tiger shark to prey on it and ‘wrong’ for me to do so, is moot. The bottom line, philosophically, is that we are both predators. After that point, views diverge irreconcilably. Suffice it that, even in this soft modern world and regardless of the arguments for and against, hunting is still the most general and powerful force for conserving.
I have hunted widely. As a brat collecting butterflies, I hunted. Still the same brat collecting birds for Kenya’s National (then Coryndon) Museum, I hunted. At both levels I did so, not because I had to, but because I wanted to and securing the rare specimen was enormous reward that added to the sheer fun of the activity. Later, and with a .22, this extended to duiker and bushbuck. I confess that as an adult, hunting mammals for recreation faded away. Taking lion, leopard, rhino, hippo and elephant certainly produced occasional moments of excitement (as does driving on Kenya’s roads), but it was not something that I was ever moved to do for fun. As a warden where this hunting was routine work, in which quick, slick killing was professionally called for, the recreation did not figure. This is in contrast to professional hunters with clients where excitement is the product on demand. The exceptions were buffalo. Charging around on the heels of buffalo in the densest vegetation in the wake of a pack of dogs was exciting. The victim was never taken unawares, by the time one caught up with it (or them), it was very angry, very active, and recognized the source of its problems as soon as it set eyes on you. Not many of us were engaged full-time in this activity, but of those who were, the number who got ‘bent’ was high. Only one other form of hunting topped it for sheer excitement and the volume of adrenalin sent flooding through the system – and that was hunting an armed and alert human who could see you coming and was as keen to do you mischief as you were to do him.
Make no mistake: the all-out thrill of hunting something dangerous is the same thrill in all-out physical fighting. It re-appears in highly doctored forms in competitive sport generally. Its great rewards are internal, totally personal and have to do with the psyche. Only those who have also experienced them and the self- confidence they impart can appreciate them. Of course this is why trying to explain hunting on film invariably fails so badly: it is not a spectator sport. All that comes across is killing an animal which, like all death, is a grotty event. I have written the foregoing to make a point. While no great hunter myself, I understand a bit about it. One way or another, I have certainly hunted more than most, and it is from this point of view that I comment below on some of the hunting which is taking place in Africa today.
Among the many impulses that lead a person to hunt big game is to acquire a sense of achievement: to have done something difficult and possibly experienced physical danger. That being so, the modern white hunter starts off at disadvantage. Lets face it, killing a lion or a buffalo with a spear is an infinitely greater achievement that shooting it with a rifle. It calls for greater bravery and physical prowess. Yet, while it is still done widely by black people in parts of Africa, it is illegal and I only know of a couple of white compatriots who have hunted thus. Nevertheless – taking big game with a spear sets the measure against which killing something with a rifle must stand.
This brings me to the tupa nyuma hunters. The Kiswahili verb tupa means to throw, cast or fling. The adverb nyuma means after, behind, at the back of or in the rear of. The tupa nyuma hunters are those professionals (and their clients) who shoot animals from a vehicle, drive up to the victim and shout to the staff in the back tupa nyuma! then drive on to the next victim. This form of hunting – if indeed it is hunting – must be the nether pole to taking one’s quarry with a spear. It calls for no bravery, no physical prowess and, if it induces a sense of achievement in its practitioners, then it merely establishes what pathetic standards they hold. It is said that 80% of game animals shot in Tanzania, Zimbabwe and South Africa are shot from motor vehicles. I cannot verify the statistic, but it originated from among hunters themselves. I have personally heard well-known PHs acknowledge that most of their clients’ quarry is taken from a vehicle. They argue that as the client has paid to shoot an animal – or will pay the landowner whatever the going rate is for the animal – it is up to him to then take that animal as he sees fit. If it is from a vehicle, then so be it, then it is up to his professional hunter to get the vehicle as close to the quarry as possible.
And then there is ‘canned’ hunting in which animals – predators usually – are bred literally as domesticants, before being turned loose before a sportsman to shoot. While this appears to be a South African speciality, its apogee was surely that instance reported by Newsweek a decade or more ago from the USA, where a ‘hunter’ was presented in succession with a chained lion, a chained tiger and a chained cheetah, and which he shot in turn. That he was highly excited make no mistake. He fainted three times during the ‘hunt’.
Hunters often say that the actual kill is but small part of hunting’s thrill. The attraction lies in exercising the skills of tracking, stalking and getting close to the quarry, being ‘out in the bush’ and the ambience of getting away from it all. However, all this is rendered so much old ‘cobblers’ when animals are shot from vehicles or in virtual domestication. In all such cases, there is no skill, no tracking, no stalking and the sole ambience is that of sitting inside a motor vehicle. In such circumstances it is obvious that the sole reason it is indulged in, is to kill something.
PHs taking clients killing like this aim to satisfy the client as efficiently as possible. How clients can be satisfied by this ersatz ‘hunting’ they must explain to themselves. Suffice it that many are elderly and infirm and quite unable to physically partake in any sport that would entail running. Here note that, like football, mountaineering, or skiing, real hunting is primarily a youthful activity. While fit people may carry on into middle age, these fields are closed to old age. Money and the internal combustion engine give geriatrics access to much of Africa’s game: but it is not hunting. What is all this about? Because, like many of my contemporaries in Kenya, I support hunting as a primary cause for conservation, but I cannot find anything admirable in the tupa nyuma hunting so prevalent in Africa today.
The principle that it doesn’t matter so long as it brings in the cash, also underwrites prostitution. Pimps and tupa nyuma hunters share that in common and it has contributed substantially to anti-hunting feeling in Kenya. Ironically it has greatly diluted support for hunting from those who would otherwise have come out foursquare for it. What can be done to rectify matters? I’m not sure. Perhaps publishing an annual Pimps’ Roster of all the tupa nyuma hunters and their clients’ names in African Indaba might be a disincentive? I’m not so sure, however, because if the hunters themselves don’t have an internal barrier against this sort of activity, then they will always be predisposed to continue and hope to get away with it.