Lifting Snares and Dodging Charging Buffaloes in The Omay Area of Zimbabwe.

I hate wire. Whilst it may look like a harmless barrier for most people, to many of us it represents pain, death and the desperation of hunger and poverty.Whilst elephants and rhinos are usually poached using guns, more animals as a whole die horrible deaths from snares made from plain old fencing wire.These are typically set, often in lines, along game trails frequented by the targeted species of animal or even any animal. The intention is usually for the poor victim to be caught round the neck and strangled. Such a death is slow and agonizing, usually lasting days.Anti-poaching teams spend a lot of times searching for and removing these snares.

A Bumi Hills Anti-Poaching Unit Scout Holds Up a Wire Snare Removed from The Omay

Sadly, many other animals, including elephants and other big game get limbs caught in snares and end up dying just as miserably and even more slowly.

Remains of a buffalo killed slowly by a snare which can still be seen wrapped around the face.

With the economic crisis many poor people in Zimbabwe have turned to snaring, hunting with dogs and other forms of poaching as a way to supplement their meager diets with some real protein. Even worse, some unscrupulous individuals have turned this into an industry, snaring on an industrial scale so as to sell the meat for financial gain.

Whilst I was working with the Bumi Hills Anti Poaching Unit recently we received information that this was taking place in a neighbouring concession. The team of poachers would sneak in, lay snare-lines, scare a herd of buffalo into running through it, kill and butcher any caught and then lift the snares and go, leaving little trace.

Reports came in of lots of cheap buffalo meat being secretly sold in nearby villages. In the space of two weeks four buffaloes were also found wandering around with snares attached to them. Although the nooses had tightened the buffaloes had broken the wires free from their attachments to trees or even torn the tree out of the ground.

One morning, just as I was about to set off on a training patrol with the anti-poaching team, word came in of a buffalo with a snare around its leg in a nearby area. Andries Scholtz was on his way by boat from Kariba to dart it and remove the snare.

Andries holds a dangerous drugs license from the veterinary department which authorizes him to purchase and handle dangerous narcotics and to dart animals.

We offered to assist and joined up with Andries by boat. The young female buffalo was lying next to the shore near a gulley shielded by bushes.

Unfortunately for us she moved into the gulley. This would make the approach to dart her and the four minute period before the drugs took effect much more dangerous.

We moved along the shoreline and around a “point” and moored the boats there. It was far enough away to be out of earshot from the buff and downwind from where the buffalo was hiding in her gulley, so a good place to begin the approach. Andries began preparing the drugs and dart gun.

Someone would have to “back up”. This means shoot the animal if things go wrong and it charges. Mitch Riley and I and I are both licensed for this work. As I had a video camera we agreed that we would both go in with Andries but Mitch would back up and I would record the event.

I admit to being nervous about this. I have followed up and shot many wounded buffalo and checked out many but rarely without a heavy calibre rifle in my hand and never whilst looking through a viewfinder. I would have to trust Mitch to make the right call and do what would have to be done if it became necessary. Zimbabwe is well known to have the most difficult and rigorous licensing system in the world for Professional Guides and Hunters. An important part of the training is the shooting of dangerous animals that have to be put down at close range. The experience and training are so hard that very, very few ever make the grade.

Once Andries had his dart-gun ready we discussed the approach. Andries would go in first, followed by Mitch and then myself. Any trouble and Andries would drop back and Mitch would take over. I would keep filming as long as possible.

We set off upwind towards the buffalo’s hide-out. The mopani scrub gave us enough cover but we had to step carefully as the ground was littered with dry leaves which made a loud noise when stepped on. We hoped that she would still be in her gulley and not on the top of the bank.

We crept up and found her wedged into her hiding-place.

Andries fired the dart which sounded like a champagne cork popping whilst Mitch kept his rifle trained on her. She burst up the bank through the bushes and bolted away from us. Now the race was on to find her. The drugs would take effect in four minutes. We began to track her.

After four minutes we hadn’t yet caught up with her. Andries called in all the helpers to spread out and search quickly rather than track now that she was unlikely to be on her feet. Within a minute someone found her. Everyone raced to where she lay and got busy.

Andrews daughter Kylie brought his drugs and he began monitoring the buffalo and getting the antidote ready while Kylie’s friend Dean began cutting off the wire wrapped tightly round the animal’s ankle.

Although the wire had not broken the skin because it is so thick (much, much thicker than a cow’s-more like an elephant in fact) it had obviously stopped the blood flow. It was also still attached to the stump which had been torn out of the ground making it even more difficult for the buff to walk.

Just when the wire had been taken off and things were looking good, she stopped breathing. Andries immediately gave her some of the antidote and told everyone to get ready. He couldn’t wait any longer. She was not responding well and her breathing was stopping and starting. He had to revive her immediately.

Everyone picked up the equipment as Andries injected the rest of the antidote into her. Most of the group were sent well back whilst Andries, Mitch and I waited with Dean to see whether she would be okay. She got up. She looked at us. She was not happy. I decided to keep filming as long as possible.

Andries told us to get ready to run. I looked back for a suitable tree to go up and saw none. Oh dear. She charged.

Initially she headed for me but then veered towards Mitch who was over to my right. I waited for the rifle shot.

Nothing happened. Another split second passed.

The buff is on the left now and you can see Mitch’s arm on the right. Bear in mind that this is all happening in split seconds. 

Still he didn’t shoot.

Closing in..

By now I’m wondering what he is planning as he hasn’t raised his rifle. I would have shot it by now.

Mitch begins to side step her as I turn to run:

You can just see him starting some sort of matador move as she turns past him. Riley is as Irish as a name can get. I didn’t know they were part Spanish though..

Unfortunately I was no longer thinking about filming but instead about saving my skin so didn’t get much on camera after this.

Having missed Mitch she swerved my way. Dean threw his pack at her, which is the blue thing in the following picture, just as I began to do a neat turn into a sprint. She ignored the pack completely.

The view from the camera of Dean throwing his pack just as I begin to destroy Usain Bolt’s best time.

She turned away and having made her feelings known she headed off. None of us were hurt and thanks to Mitch’s judgement she is still alive and kicking.. Or charging rather..

After she went past him he aimed to shoot if she didn’t turn away and looked about to gore someone.

Laughing and letting off steam after the adrenaline rush!

Andries and his family do this work for free and never turn down a call out. Very often they also cover all the costs of the exercise out of their own pockets. This amounts to many animals a month. I feel honoured to know these people. It is thanks to all the efforts and sacrifices of people like them that there is still hope for Africa’s wildlife. And if this war that is being fought to save the animals is ever one it will be thanks to the efforts of the “small”, great people like Andries and his good family.

Thank you family Scholtz!

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Is it unethical to eat animals if you aren’t willing to kill them yourself?

Answer by Rory Young:

Good question. Here is a little story I wrote about issue from past experience:

Ying and Yang

I lay there, immobilized with fear, as the dentist approached me, instruments of pain and suffering in her hands and a look of the utmost contempt on her face. I tried to speak and failed horribly. The clamps, pads and other foreign objects stuffed into my mouth prevented anything but an incoherent gurgle.

Desperately, I tried to gesture to wait and ended up banging the tray of instruments that hovered over me, earning a sharp rebuke from the enormous Zimbabwean nurse, together with a vice-like grip on my wrist. I was close to panic, I could only imagine what this gargantuan helper would do to me if she felt she needed to or in fact she wanted to. Then I noticed the voice in the background. It was ACDC’s Brian Johnson singing “highway to hell”. No doubt about it now, I was in a living nightmare. My shoulders slumped as I realized the terrifying reality of my horrifying situation. There was only one option left. I began to scream shamelessly

A short time earlier, my pretty little dentist had been smiling, Cliff Richard had been singing “Summer Holiday” in the background and the nurse had been half the size. It had been like a little sanctuary of peace in a timeless paradise.
Then, the stunning reason for my wanting my teeth checked out said, with her sexy Polish accent, “you not from here, why you in town: special to see me?” (The last said with a look that could drive men mad).
“Sort of“, I replied innocently giving her my best smile in return. I had been brushing my teeth 12 times a day to prepare for this. ”I have been in the bush for so long and unable to get back to see you; but I had to pass through town so thought I’d seize the opportunity”.

Then I made my fatal mistake. “I have to shoot a buffalo not too far from here tomorrow” I said, naively wondering to myself when I should ask her out for dinner.

She passed out of sight and I assumed the silence was due to concentration as she picked up the mouth thingies.

As her gorgeous face reappeared over me and she began to insert the hardware into my mouth, I began to notice that her previously sweet, sparkling eyes had changed from those of an angel to those of a hound from hell. Then a now demonic-sounding Slavic voice emanated from her, saying, “you kill nice animals. I not like people who kill nice animals”.

I wanted to tell her that it was a wounded animal that was suffering and needed to be put out of its misery and how ethical hunting was a natural thing to do that help support the Parks, and so on and so forth, but it was too late!
Then I heard a clunk as the hypodermic containing the anaesthetic I was pinning my fading hopes on was dropped into the bin. I was doomed, doomed, doomed. . .

Seriously now; this may come as a surprise but I have a great respect for vegetarians. I’m a bit nervous of militant former Soviet-bloc vegans, but all in all I appreciate the fact that vegetarians are people who practise what they preach.
To be frank, what I really find intriguing is the position of people who do eat meat… and are against hunting.

When asked what they feel about hunting most people in the Western world will come out in opposition to it. Yet, strangely the vast majority of these same people will happily sit down and eat a steak. Pretty weird some would day, or even hypocritical…

It is quite obvious that the vegetarians would be against it, but meat-eaters?
Is it really hypocrisy? Could it be ignorance maybe? Or even something else entirely, such as hunters behaving badly? How about a combination these?
Well it’s easy enough to find out. Next time you are sitting with a group of non-hunters, ask them. I do it all the time and invariably receive the very similar answers.

The first thing point to come up will usually be the perception that hunting is destructive to the environment and in particular certain species, especially endangered ones. This sometimes comes as a shock to responsible hunters.
However, perhaps they are just ignorant rather than deliberately hypocritical, so let’s be open-minded. Put yourself in the shoes of these non-hunters for a second. Assuming, that you are just an average person who lives in an urban area and doesn’t actively seek out very controversial subjects. what would you pick up in the media to lead you to form such an opinion?

Picture this scene. A television journalist, shaking with outrage, tears streaming down her cheeks, points to piles of migratory birds of prey littering the ground on the small Mediterranean island she is investigating. Next a series of loud reports interrupts her choked words and the camera turns to a small cinder block bunker-like construction from which shotgun barrels protrude. Then, more shots are heard. This time, accompanying recoils and fumes from the shotguns are clearly seen.

We jump forward in time. Now our heroine is bravely confronting the “hunters”. She is insulted, threatened and the camera-man is assaulted. It all ends with the accused racing off in a battered sedan, rude gestures showing clearly out the windows and leaving their kills to rot. Mostly endangered or threatened species of course…

Never mind the average non-hunting, European town-dweller; I too was outraged by this barbarity. In fact I was shaking with anger and ranting and raving about how these maniacs should be hunted down themselves. They weren’t hunters of course. They were poachers, the lowest of the low as far as I am concerned.
Sadly the same behaviour continues in many countries quite legally, thereby making them not poachers but legal “hunters”. Quite obviously what these morons were doing is bad for the environment and that is unethical and therefore unacceptable. Personally, I believe that only ethical hunters should be called hunters, full stop. The rest should be referred to as poachers, regardless of whether what they are doing is legal or not. Poaching should refer to both illegal AND unethical hunting.

Let’s get back to our non-hunter question and answer sessions.
The second thing that usually comes up is cruelty or suffering caused to animals hunted.

Now the deliberate wounding of or cruelty to animals is usually covered by the law. Well it is in civilized countries anyway. I think any hunter with a normal upbringing, living in a normal community and not currently institutionalized will agree that anyone who is deliberately cruel to animals should get help before they move on to mass murder or serial killing. However, the non-hunters see hunting as often cruel and the cause of suffering.

On this point, aside from the bad behaviour of medical hunters, I believe the television and film industries are partly responsible for perpetuating the myth that wild animals in the wild live an idyllic existence without any pain or suffering. Obviously that’s nonsense and only the ignorant and out of touch with reality wander around believing that. Unfortunately though, there are plenty of people who really are that ignorant and out of touch with reality wandering around!
At this stage I usually ask the non-hunters if they prefer “free-range” meat or battery-farmed” meat. Of course the answer is always “free-range” (even if they secretly buy the cheaper stuff). Why? Because it’s a nicer more natural environment for the animals to live in and invariably the meat will be healthier to eat too.

For some reason our non-hunters don’t usually notice the obvious; that wild animals are the most “free-range” animals under the sun. This point usually makes a big impression when pointed and is often accompanied by remarks such as “‘I never thought of it that way” and “wow” (accompanied by distant look).

After a while they will usually return to the point about suffering in this vein, “but farm animals die a more peaceful death than animals that are hunted.”
After explaining that an animal that is shot correctly by hunter using the correct calibre endures a lot less suffering than one that endures the small and sounds of an abattoir or one that dies a more natural death by predator, disease or old age.

That also makes an impact but very often the response is only too true, “that’s all very well as long as the hunters do actually use the right weapon for the quarry and kill  cleanly”.

Yes, back to ethics. Again we are embarrassed by those fools who can’t behave or who don’t educate themselves. Someone who is not competent simply shouldn’t go near game or firearms.

Let’s move on to the third point that comes up. The story of those fools slaughtering migratory birds over the Med also falls into this category: Waste.
Many people feel hunters are only interested in hunting only so that they can mount a trophy on the wall. Well it’s true in some cases in many places and in many cases in some places. Furthermore, although some countries have laws that require a hunter to remove the entire carcass from the hunting area, I have yet to come across a law that says that nothing if possible, should be wasted.
It may not be a law but it should certainly be standard good conduct for all hunters anyway. Surely the animal deserves to be honoured and respected by all hunters?

The last point that usually arises is image, or the perceived psychology of the hunter may be a better way of putting it.

People who have never hunted often view the killing of an animal as a necessary evil and therefore the thought of enjoying it is somehow very wrong. I believe most Europeans fall into this category. This I believe is a result of a total disconnecting with their natural environment whereby they do not have any experience of the entirely natural thrill of hunting that is a built-in part of us.
I am sure you will agree that the combination of challenge, outdoors, thrill, danger , objective and more is impossible to describe to someone who has absolutely no experience of anything like it.

This is the toughest of all to change. How does one convince someone that a hunter has more right to hunt than a non-hunter has to eat meat? How do you explain to them that they have lost the innate understanding that all men once had; that life is about struggle and death as much as it is about beauty and peace – Ying and Yang?

I guess the conclusion to these musings is that hunters need to think about what they do and how they do it and make sure they do what is right. At the same time non-hunters need to be educated and a few, who really are hypocrites, like the bad hunters, should be exposed for what they are. I do however strongly feel that these dishonest people are, for the most part, a minority. The real problem is ignorance.

As for me, I need to brush my teeth at least twice a day and keep my mouth firmly shut around vegetarians.

Rory J. A Young
22nd March 2013

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