Don Meredith Professional Writing

Guided Huntsby Don H. Meredith © 1999
(published in the December/January 1999/2000 Alberta Outdoorsmen)

"Does going to a foreign country to shoot an exotic animal, located for you by a guide, enhance your own cultural and environmental awareness?" — Ann Causey, 1992 Governor's Symposium on North America's Hunting Heritage.

Until I heard Ann Causey ask her question, I hadn't thought much about the morality of guided hunts in foreign countries. Like most hunters, such hunts have interested me but I never thought I would be able to afford one. So, of all of Causey's questions, this one was going to be the most difficult for me to answer. Then I remembered my friend and colleague, Tom Bateman (Executive Director of the Conservation Education WISE Foundation), had taken an African safari a few years ago. I asked him if he would reply to Causey's question. He kindly provided the following article.

Two game wardens from opposite sides of the world

Cultural and Environmental Awareness
through Huntingby J. Tom Bateman © 1999

In 1996, I had the opportunity to participate in an African safari. The hunt took place in Tanzania and the whole experience was an education beyond compare. I almost resented the time we spent sleeping because there was so much to see, do and experience. The African jungles were way more than I had imagined. The sounds, smells, together with the sights and tastes of the camp meals and fellowship of all involved blended together to make a rich and rewarding time. The great variety of East African wildlife — consisting of birds, mammals, snakes, lizards and insects together with all the vegetative species — is really difficult to describe.

We were there to hunt and we did, but the need to shoot an animal receded way into the background. I became totally engrossed in all there was to see, hear, smell and enjoy.

Did I shoot some animals? Yes! How many? How big? What kind? Those things don't really matter. The experience of the safari is part of me now and it is far too special to mess up any part of it by attempting to quantify the success. This safari was also a cultural experience and I saw first hand how the natives in the jungle value wildlife. To them, wildlife is food! They eat just about every animal and they eat all of the animal. The natives on our crew began to urge me to shoot some animals and birds because they got to use the meat.

Some of the crew were the finest trackers I have ever encountered. Wildlife is an important part of their heritage and is probably a major part of their education. When wildlife is food there is added incentive to learn everything about their habits and life cycles. The natives were experts in their home turf and my non-native guide relied on them to decide how we should approach the actual hunt.

The wildlife was very wary and the hunting was fairly difficult. Some of our stalks lasted several hours. When we were moving on foot through the jungles, the natives communicated with clucks, low whistles and hand signals. I could understand their signals even though I could not understand their language. After an animal had been killed, the natives performed their own rituals. Some animals, such as the leopard, required an elaborate rite involving a large number of natives who celebrated the life and death of one of their traditional enemies by singing in beautiful four-part harmony.

Tanzania is a poor country and wildlife management is not a high priority. Hunting rights are often owned by outfitters and they do most of the management. I believe they do a pretty good job. Our outfitter was trying to incorporate the natives into his operation and he employed about 150. He also drilled water wells in some of their villages and built schools. He is trying to persuade the natives that wildlife has value beyond being a basic food source. One of the natives on our crew was a government wildlife official and the only way he could cover his territory was by riding with us each day. I really enjoyed his company in spite of the language barrier.

We encountered evidence of poaching camps. In one case bones were piled in a 100 foot diameter circle. This camp had been in operation for a long time and hundreds, if not thousands, of animals had been butchered there. My guide immediately burned the drying racks and the shacks where people had slept. He told me about an incident three years earlier when he had been ambushed by poachers and shot. His crew tracked the perpetrators and killed seven of them. He obviously had recovered from the wound in his thigh. The ones who shot him were apparently attempting to supply the traditional markets in South East Asia where wildlife parts are in great demand as medicine.

If I had visited East Africa as a regular tourist I would never have experienced the reality of jungle life. I believe this reality is best seen through the eyes of a hunter. I have been a hunter for 55 years and I will always be a hunter. I love hunting even though I have reached the age where I very rarely take the life of an animal, bird or fish.

The African experience provided a rich treasure of memories. It was also a wake-up call. Wildlife everywhere needs our help. We need to get serious about ensuring that wildlife has a place in our future. Hunters and non-hunters must join together in their efforts to make certain that wildlife is part of our world for generations to come.

The short answer to Ann Causey's question is yes. We may be home, traveling or in a remote part of the world; but wherever we are, it's wildlife that contributes the most to the enjoyment of the experience. The presence of wildlife provides a sense that all is well. The absence of wildlife makes any area boring and depressing by comparison. Should we photograph wildlife, study it, sell it, paint it, hunt it or worship it? All these questions become academic if we don't have any. So our number one challenge is to get together to ensure we have wildlife.

Hunting exotic animals in a foreign country was an incredible educational experience and left me with a much deeper appreciation for the importance of wildlife in each of our cultures. That importance may well be a common denominator that can help societies understand each other and work together in a world wide effort to help wildlife. It's worth it!

Next month, Series Conclusion.

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Check-out Don's adventure novels:

Grizzly One
The Search
for Grizzly One
Dog Runner
Dog Runner