My thoughts on hunting the Caprivi Strip

by david on March 16, 2015

I have been back for some weeks now. Although everything is put away, my mind is still in Africa. During this same time, despite my best efforts to combine my thoughts into some coherent form, they are still running helter skelter through my mind. Unable to come up with some sort of well-thought-out plan, I made the decision to simply start writing and see where I ended up. The more I thought about it, the more it seemed like the correct path to follow. Perhaps the randomness once applied to paper will effectively mirror the randomness of my emotions and observations as my trip unfolded. Here goes nothing. First off and foremost, the Caprivi is one place in Africa that is still teeming with wild life. In a 40-minute water taxi ride I saw more elephant than in all my previous trips to Africa. They were everywhere. Add in thousands upon thousands of buffalo and zebra, the total numbers of the three species combined had to be in the tens of thousands. Add in waterbuck, lechwe, impala, baboons, monkeys, wildebeest, hippos, crocodiles, giraffe, kudu, eland, roan, sable, warthog, lions, leopards, several hundred species of waterfowl, birds (and the ones I have temporarily forgotten), and you get the picture. Wildlife was in any direction you cared to look and it was there in considerable quantity. That is the good news. My concern is that the wildlife is becoming too habituated to man and machine. For those of you somewhat unfamiliar with the Caprivi region of Namibia, it borders Angola, Zimbabwe, Zambia, and Botswana. We were hunting in the Salambala and Kabulabula conservancies and directly across the Chobe river from us was Chobe National Park in Botswana. We traveled frequently by river and wildlife was constantly visible as we went up and down the Chobe. Also visible were photographic safari vehicles as they bounced along the rough roads inside the park. It was very cool to pull the boat to within a few feet of the riverbank (when the ladies were along and wanted pictures) and view the animals only a few yards further away. I reasoned that the boat was not loud and since no harm had come from the boat the animals just figured it was some kind of aquatic animal and let well enough alone. If the picture-taking sessions became extended, I started looking around at the larger picture. Not only were the animals paying us little to no attention, they were doing the same to the safari trucks. Some of the trucks were actually leaving the roads and driving along in between groups of animals. Were these animals really still wild? I know they can still be dangerous, especially the cats, hippos, elephants, and buffalo, but would truly wild animals put up with a boat drifting a few yards away or a truck driving in their midst? I do not know the answer to that. Is truly wild Africa a thing of the past, or is the wildlife simply adapting to modern times? I do not know if I should be concerned or happy. Only time will tell. One area of change in Africa that has absolutely no bearing on me but it upsets me all the same is the effort to wipe out some of its past. Recently, Namibia decided to rename the “Caprivi Strip” the “Zambezi Region”. The reason behind it is an effort to remove any connections to the “colonial” past of the region. In my opinion (for what little that is worth), this is a mistake. First off, it could lead to a major marketing problem in the future. Ask any hunter that has ever dreamed of hunting in Africa if he would like to hunt the Caprivi and the answer will be a resounding “yes”, if not a “hell yes”. Ask the same person if they would like to hunt the “Zambezi Region” and the answer will more than likely be “where?”. The same applies for the photo safari industry. The Caprivi is well known for its wonderful diversity of wildlife and is a primary destination for photographers around the world. The “Zambezi Region”, not so much. Perhaps more relevant to my thinking is that history and heritage are important. Just because they might not have been the best of times, we all need to remember history and learn from it. Just because we do not care for it seems to be reason enough to forget it or change it for that matter. An old history professor in college once made a statement that did not make much sense at the time but as I get older, I see the truth of his words. He said, “The winners get to write the history”. I see it quite frequently here in the US and it should not surprise me that it happens elsewhere. I just hope the other saying, “Those who forget history are doomed to repeat it”, is not too difficult a lesson to re-learn. At the end of the trip I learned of another effort to wipe out the memory of the colonial times, this time coming from Zimbabwe. Their president wants to (and perhaps has by now) change the name of Victoria falls to “Smoke That Thunders”. “Smoke that thunders” is the translation of the local language “Mosi Oa Tunya”. This name would undoubtedly make sense to anyone first approaching the falls, as the spray certainly looked like smoke, and the noise made as the water flowed over the edge and into the gorge would certainly sound like thunder. Although this could be considered going back further into history, I am not sure it is a good idea. I have already (probably inadequately) touched on the phenomenal amount of wildlife in the area and the opportunities to view it both as hunter an as a photographer. I want to take the opportunity to mention an observation between the two. Due to a snafu, we ended up staying at a public lodge rather than a normal hinting camp. Our group was the only hunting group during our eight days in camp and I had the opportunity to interact and observe a great many photography only groups. I was really surprised to discover how little game the photography only groups actually saw. A herd of 50 zebra was cause for great celebration (while hunting, I saw a conservative estimate of 800-1000 in one spot. A single croc or hippo likewise caused quite a stir. I saw multiples of each every say. Getting within 150-200 yards of an elephant was the experience of a lifetime. I stood in the midst of a herd of 20-25 at a distance or 25-30 yards more than a dozen times. My wife, a devout non-hunter, got to within 40 yards of some elephants for some real close ups. Maybe I am spoiled. No, I am definitely spoiled when it comes to seeing wildlife. Being on foot and stalking in close is what draws me to hunting Africa. I came close on several occasions to mentioning the difference in my day compared to the day the photographers but, I elected to keep quiet. If they were happy great, I will be content to keep me on foot in the bush seeing things up close and personal and letting the photographers ridding around well out of my way. I will offer a bit of advice, however. Even if you do not hunt, go with a hunter when you take a photo safari. That will make all the difference in the world.

Tomorrow, Part II: What a difference hunting makes.

Buffalo and elephant by the thousands.  Buffalo and elephant by the thousands. Looking over all the buffalo and wishing I had a buff license.  Looking over all the buffalo and wishing I had a buff license.

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