The ‘catch and release’, that which is so prevalent in fishing today and that seemed to be forbidden to the hunter, is a reality. On his last trip to Namibia, the author had the opportunity to spend a couple of days with a team of veterinarians capturing live animals and then releasing them. This is the account of this singular experience.
Since my first safari in Namibia thirty years ago, things have changed a lot. In matters of nature, the term ‘change’ is almost always for the worse, and in this case that premise is confirmed. Enormous areas that were open spaces, where animals moved freely following their natural migrations in search of food, have now become fenced farms.
For me, who is an outspoken advocate of hunting wild and wild animals , this is a very negative part that civilization is bringing to the black continent, and it fills me with sadness to see those immensities limited by an increasing number of barbed wire.
But if we want to see the positive side of all this, the appearance of these fenced farms is due to the increasing value that hunting is having in these areas. The demand for trophy safaris has grown a lot, which has led to the growth of the companies that dedicate themselves to it, and therefore the area of territory that is managed for hunting, and which was previously dedicated to other activities. , mainly to livestock.
All this has contributed to the increase in the number of wild animals, both due to the care of the owners of the farms, and the increase in the number of water points available to the animals. In many areas of Africa, water is the limiting factor for wild populations to increase, and if water is put in, the number of animals increases dramatically.
As game animals increase, so do predators, and cats such as leopards and cheetahs have also increased in parallel, which is undoubtedly more than good news.
THE SETTLERS AND LIVESTOCK
But what I find most interesting is not the quantity itself, but the variety. With the arrival of the white settlers, in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries many changes occurred in terms of fauna and the environment. The main source of income for these people was livestock, a meager stockbreeding due to a semi-desert and hostile environment.
The stocking density of a 5,000-hectare farm (the average farm size in Namibia) is estimated to not exceed three hundred head of cattle. In addition, the country is subject to seven-year cycles (more or less) in which good times alternate, with more or less abundant rains, with periods of drought, which can be extreme.
These conditions made the colonists see the local fauna as a threat, due to competition for food, with the livestock system they were trying to establish in the area. For this reason, part of the work of the colonists-ranchers was to kill the wild animals they saw on their farms, so that the cattle had more food.
This meant that many species disappeared. Others managed to survive, largely due to their great capacity to adapt to the environment, their abundance prior to the arrival of the whites, and also – why not – because the farmers allowed a certain number of these animals on their land to be able to kill them from time to time. occasionally as a contribution of meat for the family.
Antelope meat is of great quality and flavor, but could not be sold and produced income to increase its income, so consumption was exclusively within the farm.
At this point, it should be noted that the country was divided into two – literally – by a fence hundreds of kilometers long. In the southern zone, all the species that could transmit diseases to domestic livestock were eradicated, such as the blue wildebeest , previously very abundant throughout the country, because it was a carrier and transmitter of foot-and-mouth disease, a serious disease that affected livestock. bovine. Something similar happened with the buffalo, also abundant in many areas, which in addition to foot-and-mouth disease could be a carrier of tuberculosis.
The reintroduction of species disappeared by human pressure is one of the jobs carried out by this team of veterinarians. The saber is one of the species that they handle.
WATER AND COMMERCIAL HUNTING
On the other hand, the first thing the farmers were looking for was to get water, since without this precious liquid their farms were not viable. Curiously, Namibia is rich in groundwater, so once the well was dug, it was possible to exploit areas where animal subsistence was previously impossible.
But this also benefited the species of the local fauna, causing them to
colonize areas where they could not live before, and which, if they were not
controlled by hunting, their number increased very rapidly, especially during
In the seventies and eighties of the last century, another factor entered the scene: international hunting . As an old farmer told me in a humorous way:
“In those years some very strange gentlemen began to appear, wearing even rarer hats, who liked to do our job of killing animals … and they paid for it!”
And safaris started to become popular. Improvements in air connections and the economic boom of Western countries did the rest.
Then there was a substantial change in the use of the environment by farmers. Now, wild animals that were worthless began to be appreciated, and much more, since they earned more income by slaughtering a kudú – for example – than a cow produced. What’s more, people paid just to see them, and nature tourism began to have a very important weight in the country.
This caused many farms to remove livestock and dedicate themselves to managing wildlife. In addition, wild animals are much better adapted to this difficult environment, having the advantage that they were better able to withstand droughts, parasites, diseases and predators.
It should be added that, if we analyze the different species of antelopes that inhabit the bush savanna of Namibia, we will see that, from the small dicdic of Damara (the smallest antelope) to the eland (the largest), each one takes advantage of a different level , so the carrying capacity of the ecosystem is greater. In other words, you can have far more antelopes of different species on a 5,000 hectare farm than cows or sheep.
THE HUNT WITH DARTS
All this had the consequence that the roles were reversed: the farmers who a few decades ago chased the animals almost mercilessly, have become wildlife managers and professional hunters, caring for them.
Not only that, but they try to make previously disappeared species return to the area, and this activity, DARTING or the capture of animals by means of sedation with darts , enters the scene for their management and repopulation.
The handling of darts, loaded with anesthetic products, was one of the most delicate parts of this job, which had to be carried out with extreme care and attention, especially when loading the rifle.
Currently it has become a small large industry, with people very specialized in the subject. We were with the veterinarian HO Reuters , from the company African Wildlife Services , which hunting professionals considered him as one of the best in this field.
For two days we proceeded to capture twenty nialas and several sabers . The animals were in enclosures of several hectares and subject to breeding programs, that is, they had a number of controlled males and females and certain specimens were extracted.
For this, an anesthetic rifle was used that fired darts with compressed air. This rifle, more like a military weapon than a hunting rifle, was equipped with everything necessary to make shooting as efficient as possible, without harming the animal.
In addition to having a scope, it had a meter that indicated the distance at which the animal was.
With this information, and using tables printed on the rifle butt, the gas pressure required by the rifle was calculated so that the impact was correct, strong enough for the dart to pierce the skin and inject the sedative, and loose enough not to hurt the animal.