In South Africa's Northern Limpopo, almost on the border with Zimbabwe and Botswana, there is a tiny little town called Alldays. Two weeks ago, you would have been hard pressed to find a foreigner who had even heard the name.
It is a farming town, with most of the businesses around here built around the highly profitable hunting and game breeding ventures, and supplying accommodation for tourists, hunters, and high level contractors to the mining industry. The farms here are prime real estate, some of the best land that money can buy in South Africa, and it is breathtakingly beautiful, with abundant wildlife. You can hardly drive down the road without seeing at least five different types of game. There is a predator park in town, so the lions even roar right in your ears, in the middle of town.
The story goes that a local person drove by on his normal route, when he suddenly saw a strange sight. Rows upon rows of wooden platforms stretched out as far as he could see, on both sides of a wide clearance where all the bush had been removed, and the grass cut.
Just over a week ago, information was leaked to Carte Blanche, a major South African Television Program for Investigative Journalism. They aired their findings on a Sunday night, and the next morning, Alldays was flooded by journalists and protestors.
In the dawn's light, it is a chilling sight that starts becoming evident about 16kms out on the Breschau Rd, on the way to the Ammondale Lodge and Braam Farm.
These farms had been prepared for a DRIVEN HUNT. The farms are divided into roughly square blocks of 1 – 2kms wide. The shooting platforms of about 3m high, line the sides, scattered along the cleared pathways, around 50 – 100m apart. There are 600 of these platforms. There is nothing that can prepare you for the sheer scale of this.
A DRIVEN HUNT works as follows: There is a human chain of around 75 workers that start along a fence or path. They are spaced around ten metres apart, and start walking into the bush, talking as they go. They are the Chasers, the people who scare the terrified game to run away from them, and directly into the path of the waiting shooters on the platforms. On the driven hunt that we witnessed, the first hunting platform we observed was as little as 200m from where the chasers started. The first shots rang out within a few seconds after the chasers started walking. With 13 hunters attending this event, and an estimated 2 set-ups per day, each hunter kills approximately 2 animals per day. Because it is a moving target, the probability of wounding an animal is very high. This is why there is a specially trained sniffer dog to hunt down wounded prey, which would then be followed, and shot dead, if it can be found. The DRIVEN HUNT is the bloodsport of choice of a number of European Hunters, and this event was specially organized for them. It has received so much publicity, that every single driven hunt at this lodge (Ammondale Lodge) from here on is probably already fully booked.
This was not a cull either, which is part of necessary wildlife management. Culls are done in completely different ways. Not to mention the fact that several animals were brought onto the farm only a few weeks before this event, specifically for the DRIVEN HUNT.
DRIVEN HUNTS are not illegal in South Africa, merely because it is not even mentioned in current legislation. It is a European invention, and Conservationist John Varty said in a facebook post that it was invented for kings who were 'too fat to walk'.
Wild Heart Wildlife Foundation's Paul Oxton was on site for most of the week-long event, and he has very strong views on this. He said that just because something is legal, it does not mean it is ethical. The animals are being unfairly coerced into the sights of the waiting hunters, where they normally never would have been. This cannot be called hunting, because it is just killing. It is a fact that a certain percentage of the animals chased, will end up dying because they cannot get away. It smacks of canned hunting in a most disturbing way. Oxton said that Wild Heart Wildlife Foundation will definitely be involved in the upcoming push to ban this kind of barbaric bloodsport from South Africa. He said that the method of this hunt is the main problem, the way it is being done is completely unethical and the word 'hunt' should not even be included in the description. Wild Heart Wildlife Foundation is a registered South African Non-Profit Organization.
In town, speaking to local lodge owners and residents, it was clear that very few people approved of the DRIVEN HUNT. A relative of some of the Chasers employed by the lodge, said that she begged her family not to go. She was terrified that they might get killed by a bullet, being in such close proximity to the shooters. A prominent Lodge owner said that all 'they've' (The Hunt Organizers) done is 'ruin it for everyone. We are losing business. Alldays is losing huge chunks of income, because ethical hunters are cancelling their trips, as they want nothing to do with this kind of killing'. Another prominent businessman said: 'No-one here wants anything to do with this. This is not hunting.' Judging from the registration plates of most of the vehicles entering and exiting the killing fields, it seems like a lot of people were brought in from the Cape Province, where driven hunts are more commonplace. It certainly seems like the Alldays people are a little bit fed up.
The contractor who built the platforms is hiding at a lodge far away from the killing fields. He would not have done this if he had known what the fall-out would be. He told the lodge owner where he was staying that he fears his business is ruined if his name comes to light.
A previous owner of the Ammondale Farm with its brand-new five star lodge where the hunters stayed, said that he was heartbroken. Coming from a hunting family, he could never reconcile his beliefs with this kind of killing. He said that he had come to say goodbye to a place he loved, vowing to never return.
While speaking to a hunter in town, also opposed to the DRIVEN HUNT, he said that if he paid the ZAR5000+ a night to stay at the Ammondale Lodge, he would expect management to shield him from all unwanted attention and scrutiny. He would be very upset indeed at getting the kind of publicity that the hunters got, and having his face plastered all over social media. But on the other hand, he would not be prepared to join a DRIVEN HUNT, even if it was sponsored, because he did not believe it was right.
The Hunt organizers have been playing a cat and mouse game ever since it became apparent that they would be under scrutiny. Sending out drivers in all different directions to confuse the observers, refusing the NSPCA entry to the farm while continuing the hunt, it all means that valuable time has been lost in documenting the driven hunt process. The NSPCA has not been able to obtain video footage of the actual kills as per their warrant mandate, as a result of the games played by the hunt organizers. If there was nothing to hide, if everything was done completely above board and legally, why would observers and press not be allowed to attend?
Elsje Baasden wrote on facebook that she could smell the blood and flesh at the cool rooms from the gate; the cool rooms are situated about 150m from the road.
Wild Heart Wildlife Foundation estimates that around 85 animals lost their lives during this week long bloodfest. There is no way of knowing the exact amount, as there is no transparency involved. Some of the animals are used to give meat to the locals, but more often just for the people employed by the actual farm anyway. There might be a couple of animals used for taxidermy, but normally in this type of hunt, it is not a trophy kill, as the animals are too riddled with bullets to still be regarded as 'pretty' enough for stuffing and display.
The NSPCA and other animal advocacy organizations such as BAT and Wildlife murder and Other Crimes have also strongly condemned this practice, calling it cruel, barbaric and unethical.
The Limpopo Rate Payers Association's Marius Gilfillan called upon Ammondale Lodge to send the controversial Hunt Investor, Anton de Vries, outside to face the cameras. He demanded to be proved wrong, that the hunters are in fact hunters and not just lazy, armchair shooters.
The road ahead is to work together to get the legislation in place in order to ban this cruel and barbaric form of 'sport' in South Africa. You can support the drive to implement correct legislation, by joining the social media pages of Wild Heart Wildlife Foundation, the NSPCA, and Carte Blanche, and make your voice heard. Registered NPO charities need your support to continue doing what they do. Please donate if you can, and share the awareness far and wide.
Please watch Carte Blanche on Sunday on MNet at 7pm South African time for the official coverage.
For those in favour of this hunt (whom I have yet to meet one) defending this, I say:
Legality is a concept from the Powerful, not the Ethical.
We are going to fix that.
Picture Credit Wild Heart Wildlife Foundation