As always, written so well. My better half has no interest in looking at AH, but I always read your reports to her and she always enjoys them. All I have to say is "Hank has another report", and she is all ears. That says a ton for your writing skills!
Somethings never end. Others just seem endless. This is one of the latter.
Day After the Hunt
We slept in today, had a full breakfast at 8 am, packed our bags, and were on the road for Bulawayo by 9. All of my previous trips to Zimbabwe had been solo, so once my hunt was over, I headed for home. On this trip, my wife and I decided to spend a couple of extra days in Bulawayo to see some of the sights, and we are glad we did.
Dean is also a registered guide, and guides in Matopos (or Matobo) National Park, one of the largest parks in Zimbabwe, and the home of the largest number of white and black rhinos in Zim.
Matopos is about 20 miles from Bulawayo, so very close. We joined up with a group of Swedish tourists who were on a tour with the company Dean guides for (and who were staying in the same hotel as we were). The guide gave us an excellent introduction to rhinos, and the problems they face. He was quite eloquent and passionate – he clearly loves these beasts, and fears for their survival under the current CITES regime.
I could see that he made quite an impact on our Swedish friends, as he did on my wife. I have some confidence that each of those who were with us that day will carry the message that there are some Africans who really do care about rhinos, and that countries with no skin in the game perhaps ought not to be telling Africans what to do, particularly since the current regime has seen the decimation of the continent’s rhino population. Imagine that – a ban on the trade in rhino horn is followed by extinction of the rhino. Would that be considered a success story by someone? Anyone? Does anyone think that rhino would be on the brink of extinction if there was legalized trade in rhino horn?
After the talk, we were joined by park rangers (carrying AK’s which I doubt could even fire from the looks of them). Rangers are assigned to protect certain rhinos, which they know by number. This means they should know where the rhinos for which they are responsible are at any given time. Our two ladies were no exception. They directed our guide to a particular spot, where we got out and began to walk towards a mountain. Within 10 minutes or so, our guide took over and moved us to a particular location on the side of a rocky outcrop. I wasn’t sure where we were supposed to be looking. Our guide was pointing, and I kept looking in the direction of the point, but couldn’t see anything. I then realized I couldn’t see anything because I was looking some hundreds of yards out, when there was a rhino sleeping under a tree 10 yards in front of us. And she had a calf with her – less than three weeks old. Magnificent. The calf was unconcerned with us – curious, if anything, but didn’t want to get too far from mom. Mom, once she realized we were there, got up, took at look at us, and then lay back down. Incredible, but the price of habituation to people is that some people are poachers. Most horns are cut off in Matopos, but the stumps which are left are still worth more than most Zimbabweans will earn in a year.
After seeing the rhino, we drove around the park, getting out to sample bushman’s soap among other things. We saw blue wildebeest, kudu, sable, warthogs, impala and the odd cow (which aren’t supposed to be there . . .). A great tour by a great guide.
After we left our Swedish friends, Dean took us to wonderful spot where he set up a magnificent lunch under a huge boulder. We sat back and enjoyed the lovely day.
After lunch, we visited the grave of Cecil Rhodes. He chose the spot where he wished to be buried, and a beautiful spot it is. Apparently he would ride to the rock where his grave now is when he needed to think.
Nearby is a monument to Leander Starr Jameson, who led the Jameson Raid (and got in a fair bit of trouble for doing so, the politics of the situation between Great Britain and South Africa having changed while he was in the bush).
The monument to the Jameson Raid
We then went to see the cave paintings which are also found in the park. Another fascinating spot, and well worth the journey.
That was enough for the day. We returned to Bulawayo, and went out with Dean and his lovely wife for a great dinner. The next day we had just enough time before our flight to head downtown and stop at Giga’s & Sons, where Mr. Giga, one of the largest retailers of Courtney boots in Zimbabwe (if not the largest), outfitted me with a great pair of Courtney boots. What better way to end a trip to Zimbabwe than buying a pair of boots made just across town?
My wife was really very happy with her “photo safari”. She had tracked animals in the bush, and had seen, up close, elephant, black rhino, buffalo, kudu (lots of females and some males), waterbuck, eland, blue wildebeest, zebra, impala, giraffe, steenbok, warthog, lions (male and female), jackals, honey badgers, hyena (spotted and brown), genet, civet, bush babies, porcupine, bat eared foxes, klipspringer and an amazing variety of types of eagles, vultures and other birds, including beautiful storks and herons, kori bustards and secretary birds. When I add the white rhino and sable in Matopos, and the crocodile and hippo in Vic Falls, it’s hard to see how we could have done better.
In the spirit of endlessness though . . . I have a few observations from this hunt:
1. BVC is a spectacular piece of lowveld, and the concentration of animals is high. Having said that, if you are after particular species such as sable or nyala, you need to let your PH know in advance because there are nine hunting blocks and not every species is equally distributed throughout the conservancy.
2. Staff were great. Cook is fantastic – we had game virtually every night. From eland and kudu steaks to buffalo shin and oxtail, and the full gamut in between. Everyone aims to please, they all appear to be well trained; and our laundry was the best I’ve ever had. On top of that, the water for showers was kept boiling hot, and there was never any lack of it.
3. While we didn’t see many lions – two lionesses , one cub and four young males, we saw plenty of evidence of their presence. Tracks are everywhere. From the relative absence of night critters (and larger animals which you would normally see at night), the lions clearly own the night. If you want to hunt night animals, there may be better places. The lions also take a pretty high percentage of young animals. We saw dozens of giraffes, but only two which seemed less than a year old. In a herd of over 18 giraffe, we saw only one which seemed to be less than a couple of years old. We saw well over a hundred zebra and only two foals. We also found numerous kills as we were driving around. Follow the vultures.
4. There are lots of buffalo on the BVC, with both big herds and smaller groups of dugga boys. The lions might also explain the lack of lone dugga boys – strength or safety in numbers perhaps. I shot a rough looking buffalo, but win fairies to the BVC, I was looking for that and we had a much harder time finding him than we would have if I’d been looking for a 40 incher.
5. It was amazing to see black rhinos in the wild. I had never seen any – wild or in zoos (likely too temperamental for zoos), and to see three or four here was very satisfying. Keeping the rhinos safe is a difficult job, and the week before we arrived, a poacher had been killed by the game scouts, but not before rhino had died. The anti-poaching corps is more than 90 people, they are well trained (by ex military officers) and are well equipped (no AK-47s here – the scouts carry South African automatic carbines (5.56) and are trained to use them). You encounter scouts throughout your hunt, as some camp in the bush, and they are always on patrol, both on foot and in vehicles. After hunting the BVC for a certain mount of time, your PH may be relieved of the need for a scout, but not to radio in your shots. Dean was new-is to Lamulas camp, and we were lucky with our scout – not only did he know the terrain and road network like his backyard, but he was a valuable spotter with great eyes, and a willing helper when we needed an extra pair of hands (and was happy to teach my wife the Shona name of every animal we say – I only know the Ndebele names! Regretably - for him - my wife decided to teach him English grammar on the back of the truck! We got off one day and we heard her saying "Repeat after me: a, e, I, o, u and sometimes, y! Poor guys!).
6. Zimbabwe’s economy seems to be on the verge of collapse (again, or perhaps still). Lines for gasoline are hours long, and some products (such as coke) which need to be imported are essentially unobtainable. People are stockpiling and hoarding. There is virtually no US currency in circulation, since as soon as someone uses it, it goes under a mattress. You can only withdraw a maximum of $50 per day from the bank, so no one puts money into banks (US$, or bond notes), exacerbating the problem. A black market is developing for USD, which sounds odd, since it’s the local currency, but the official exchange rate of dollars and bond notes of 1:1 doesn't seem to reflect reality.
7. We never felt unsafe, whether in the cities we visited, or on the roads or in hunting areas or parks.
Simply wonderful. I deliberately waited until you were (finally ) done so I could read the narrative end to end. Well written, and it had to be an enormous amount of fun. Seeing a black rhino is truly a special thing. I pray it will be common again in the future, but I suspect not. My only experience with the bees was a huge swarm which flew over us in Namibia. Seemed like an insect equivalent of passenger pigeons. The noise was unbelievable. Very best of luck with that eland.
"Hopefully you chased him to Nengo and he'll decide to lay low there for about 10 months. "
Nengo is a great camp and area with excellent variety of habitat types and game!! You should do well there! The camp is built into a small kopje where there may live a large monitor or two. The only downside is chalet #1 and possibly the others may a bit of aroma-de-bat... but they do keep the bugs under control.
Greetings all! I've been a hunter for 50 years, but only now planning a trip to Africa. I was fortunate and successfully bid on a couple hunts for plains game in SA later this year and next. Also a rare Native Texas (5th generation) and USMC Vet. Hunt safe y'all!