MEMORIES – by Coenraad Vermaak

I had a vision many years ago. A vision that one day I would be a professional hunter (or “PH” as we are called). I set about this career earnestly in 1968. But as the years rolled by, I started to doubt that “PH” really stood for Professional Hunter. I soon discovered that “PH” actually stood for “permanently homeless”. However when clients were scarce I decided it stood for “probably hopeless” which meant that it also stood for “permanently hungry”. And if that was the case then “PH” stood for “Potential Hobo”. Fortunately things didn’t work out that way and I was able to turn my favourite hobby into my career over 40 years ago.

I am going to share with you a little bit about how it was in those early days when I started hunting professionally and how it is today. In those early days safari life was very different to what it is today. Significantly different in fact. For instance:

  • We did not have an apparatus called a GPS. We had to make do with what we had – the sun, stars, a compass and instinct.
  • There were no satellite telephones – we used a temperamental VHF radio or a runner.
  • We did not have range finder binoculars – we had to estimate distance correctly, the first time!
  • Green hunting or dart hunting would have been a joke as, in my opinion, it should be today. It contributes little to conservation, is woefully abused and plays right into the hands of the animal rightists.
  • In those early days, we hunted wild lions with trackers – these days some so-called PH’s simply open a can.
  • In those days, we shot birds – not wings. I don’t know where the term “wingshooting” came from. Imagine saying at lunchtime “ let’s go out this afternoon and shoot a few wings for the pot”.
  • In those days, there were no Toyota Land Cruisers – we had to make do with what we had …….. Land Rovers! You see, when the Boers surrendered and the 2nd Anglo Boer war came to an end, a few English soldiers were having a beer or 2 with a group of Boers. To make friends again, the Englishmen told the Boers that although they had won the war, and dished out a severe defeat, it was nothing compared to what the Boers were going to get in 1950 when Land Rover came to South Africa! (With apologies to “Landy” owners and those trusty old work horses!)

But on a serious note, there were other big differences:

Compared with today, there was very little game on private land. Hunting was cheap and if you were invited, it was free. Largely as a result of the demand created by hunting, there were at least 9600 game ranches in South Africa in 2010. And as a result, of the total 28 million hectares set aside for conservation, only 36% comprises provincial and state owned protected areas. 64% is privately owned.

The North West Institute for tourism and leisure studies, confirmed a 2008 study revealing that hunting alone generated revenue of R4.4 billion, excluding live game sales, taxidermy, eco-tourism and meat sales. Including these, the total was around R8 billion and counting, as the wildlife industry and all its facets blossomed. We have more game now than we did 150 years ago. Just one example: It is a little known fact that there are over 20 000 Buffalo on private land today.

In the 1960’s a friend of mine and I started what was to become one of the first game ranches in South Africa on my farm Vermaakskraal in Northern KwaZulu-Natal. We paid R10 each for Springbok. Wildebeest cost R20. Today they, as well as Zebra (which cost R30) and other species now cost thousands of Rands. Impala were free. All we had to do was fetch them from the Natal Parks Board at Mkuze where they were caught at night with a spotlight. And when my neighbours saw our first White Rhino, which cost R150 delivered, they all said “that man is crazy!” Today a Rhino is worth hundreds of thousands. Later, those same neighbours all joined together to form one of the first wildlife conservancies. Those were the pioneering days of which I have wonderful memories.

Now, just a few interesting values from 1968: For purposes of marketing trophy hunting in South Africa my first overseas brochure advertised a rate of R50 per day for hunters and R15 per day for non-hunters. The trophy fee for a Nyala bull was R50. And my client paid R500 for the first White Rhino I hunted. 10 Years later, when it took $1.34 to buy one SA Rand, my daily rate was R250. Some trophy fees were: Impala R45, Kudu R250, Gemsbok, Waterbuck & Eland cost R350. Buffalo were R400, Leopard R750, Lion R1000 and White Rhino R2000. So that’s how it was.

Let’s see how it is today: These days, (and again I refer to hunting in South Africa) daily rates for a plains game hunt are around $300 – $500 …. and more for a big 5 hunt! Trophy fees today are more or less the following: Lion (not the canned variety!) – half a million rand plus, White Rhino – even more, Nyala & Kudu – $2000 to $3000, Blesbok – $600, Eland – $3000. How times have changed.

Sadly in 1976 Kenya closed hunting. Not only did some of the PH’s from there head south, but the focus for hunting clients became South Africa. The industry here blossomed then erupted. That was good, but there were also some threatening negatives and consequently a hand full of concerned PH’s founded PHASA in 1978. Today PHASA (The Professional Hunters Association of South Africa) has well over 1000 members. Over 8000 overseas hunters visit South Africa annually and figures for 2008 reveal that over 57 000 trophies of some 40+ different species were exported (that’s in one season!). So it’s indisputable; give wildlife a value and it will stay!

The biggest difference for me between then and now however is the advent of what I refer to as the so-called “jet age” safari of 7 or 10 days which has regrettably replaced those care free and leisurely safaris of no less than 3 to 4 weeks. A time when the record books were irrelevant and there was time to smell the roses along the way. Fortunately though, hunters of today, despite the time constraints inflicted on us by the pressures of the 21st century, still take time to savour the great outdoors, accumulating a treasure trove or precious memories.

I have often said that although we are in the hunting business, it is true to say that our real business is the memory making business because that is what we really do – we make memories for our hunter friends and their families from around the world. And that’s really what it’s all about; experiencing the sights, smells and sounds of our wonderful wildlife and bushveld, quality time with loved ones, stories around a little camp fire under a twinkling universe in some remote corner of Africa and most of all …. creating a lifetime of precious memories.