‘I know I’m paying for taking a life’

2008-07-18 00:00

DURING the 2005/6 hunting season, professional hunter Ian Cundill Dodds took a charge on behalf of his client from a wounded leopard. The attack left him with multiple gashes that called for about 160 stitches. But at least his high-paying client was left unscathed.

Cundill Dodds, of Hunters Africa Group based in Hilton, recalls that his client was “nervous” and placed the shot too far forward on the leopard’s body. Cundill Dodds says the incident fills him with embarrassment. “I shouldn’t have let the client shoot and wound the animal in the first place,” he said.

For professional hunters like Cundill Dodds, shot placement and the distance at which shots are discharged are the most critical factors. “If you put the bullet in the right spot, the animal is dead before it hits the ground.” He spends a lot of time with his clients making sure they feel confident and capable of shooting accurately.

“We don’t want the animals to suffer,” he said. And having to search for wounded animals in the bush wastes valuable time. “Not many of our clients fly in to Africa for one animal and fly back home again. They are here for five to seven days and they want five to seven animals in that time.”

For most African animals, a shoulder shot is usually “a perfect kill shot”, according to Cundill Dodds. It’s also an easily-defined area, referred to in the hunting world as “the engine room” at which the client can be taught to aim.

If done correctly, such a shot usually disables the animal instantly. “It’s likely to pierce the heart, lung and break a leg or shoulder and the wound will bleed, so if it doesn’t die immediately, we can find it quickly,” said Cundill Dodds.

Although one shot should be sufficient to kill an animal, this doesn’t apply to buffalo, which, Cundill Dodds said, could take anything up to two to eight bullets. “It depends on how strong and angry he is,” he said. Seventy percent of Cundill Dodds’s clients come to shoot buffalo.

Hunting is a regulated and costly activity, generating high revenues for conservation bodies and contributing significantly to tourism revenue.

A 21-day hunt costs in excess of $100 000, if the client shoots “the whole bag”. This includes concession fees and individual animal licences.

From rabbit to rhino hunting, there are laws governing every aspect, including the calibre of the rifle used to shoot particular animals and the distance of the shot from a water source, boundary or vehicle.

No females of any species can be killed and an official game scout representing the home government accompanies every hunt to monitor the proceedings. Minimum size of the prey is also regulated. In the case of elephant bulls, it’s the older and less fertile that are chosen.

“The bigger the better is the general rule,” said Cundill Dodds, who can estimate the size of a pair of buffalo horns “within an inch”.

While Hunters Africa has hunting concessions in countries such as Tanzania, Botswana and Zambia, Cundill Dodds says he likes people to “earn their colours” in SA before they move northwards. Here, where the movement and flight of animals is restricted by boundaries, hunters can learn techniques with low financial and physical risk — to both animals and humans.

Cundill Dodds says most of his clients use their cameras more than their rifles and pay not only to shoot animals, but for the privilege of being almost alone with nature. “For three days after killing an elephant, I never see any wildlife,” he said.

“I know I’m paying for taking a life. We will account for it somewhere. But I find more of God in the plains of Africa than in any church.”

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