Peter Flack (born 1948) is a legendary African hunter and has published 13 books, 7 videos and several hundert articles on hunting. His book "Heart of an African Hunter" (1999) is among the 10 books I personally would save in case my house would burn down (short review here). Having met other international hunters in the various camps all over the world I know that this is not only my opinion.
Among the most important things I learned from his books are an understanding of the value of trophy hunting for conservation in Africa and the idea of fair chase and what it means under African conditions.
And finally, there is plenty of in-depths knowledge about the species to hunt in Africa which you cannot get elsewhere. I am therefore honored that he answered the following questions for my blog - particularly as the Covid pandemic is still threatening international travel and the absence of European and American hunters in Africa shows effect.
Trophy hunting is more and more endangered by Western governments, airlines and others trying to ban the import of trophies of legally hunted game. What would it mean for Africa, if American and European hunters stop visiting Africa as a result?
Peter Flack: "This is a very pertinent and important question and requires a thorough answer. Let me begin the reply by starting a few years ago. By the 1960s in South Africa, the blue buck and quagga were already extinct. Four other species were following hard on their heels. There were, according to Dr Ian Player, 28 white rhinoceroses left. There were only 11 Cape mountain zebra (on a farm owned by Herman Albertyn, of which only five were females), 17 bontebok and some 34 black wildebeest. According to the survey referred to in Farming the Wild or Wilding the Farm by Professor Jane Carruthers, in 1969 there were approximately 550 000 head of game left in the entire country. There were also only three properties that could be classified as game ranches.
When that selfsame survey was repeated in 2005, the numbers of game had increased to 18,7 million and, today, there are over 9 000 game ranches across the country covering some 20 million hectares or nearly three times all the land covered by the national parks and provincial game reserves put together, hosting more game than existed in living memory in the country. This hugely positive trend for wildlife and wildlife habitat was created without the government having to spend a single cent. What caused this dramatic reversal of the fortunes of wildlife and wildlife habitat in a country where game was once seen as a nuisance and pest by farmers? Where domestic livestock farms proudly included in their sale advertisements of the time, as one of the inducements to buy, that there was no game on the property!
A full evaluation of the major positive role played by hunting in driving the conservation of wildlife and wildlife habitat in South Africa is covered in the 1 ½ hour, two part, award winning documentary, The South African Conservation Success Story, which I produced in 2011. A copy of which can be obtained from SA Hunters and Game Conservation Association in South Africa for those who want a more complete answer.
In brief, in the 1970s, hunting was banned in Kenya and, for varying periods afterwards and for different reasons, hunting was also banned in Uganda and Tanzania. The demand for hunting did not go away, however. It merely moved further south to Mocambique, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia and South Africa. In the latter country, farmers were soon being offered more for a springbok than a sheep, more for a kudu than a cow and began setting aside land to conserve these and other wild animals.
This trend was enthusiastically adopted by more and more people from all walks of life, including a healthy number of people who were prepared to use their own funds for conservation of wildlife and wildlife habitat, as well as those who did so in order to earn a living, especially after the ANC government came to power in 1994 and removed many of the financial incentives and advantages farmers had previously enjoyed, on the one hand, and domestic livestock rustling became widespread and unchecked and farm murders and violence changed the dynamics of almost all farming communities, on the other hand.
In 2008, 16 309 overseas hunters visited South Africa, more than the total number of overseas hunters who visited the rest of Africa combined, given the relative peace and safety of the country, its advanced infrastructure, sophisticated banking, good health facilities, many tourist attractions and, of course, its extensive wildlife and wildlife habitats offering quality hunts for a wide variety of quality game. These hunters contributed approximately four billion rand that year to the economy for trophy fees and daily rates primarily in the rural areas which needed it most. This excluded other revenue for things like internal flights, sightseeing before and after the hunt, hotels, car hire, taxidermy, gifts, gratuities and so much more, which pushed the overall contribution to an estimated R7 billion. This at a time when the rand was seven to the dollar and not at the current rate of 15.
According to Wildlife Ranching SA, these game ranches also employed some 100 000 people at far better salaries than they earned on domestic livestock farms and contributed to food security as game is far more drought and disease resistant than domestic livestock. More game can be carried per hectare than livestock, given the much wider variety of plant species used by them. Venison is also one of the healthiest forms of protein being free of hormones and anti-biotics often found in domestic livestock meat, on the one hand, and hosting much lower percentages of fat, cholesterol and sodium, on the other hand.
Unfortunately, these overseas hunter numbers have never reached the same heights again and are currently running at just over half this number. Various negative factors contributed to this drop. The global financial crisis ensued, farmers who were forced to change from domestic livestock to wildlife given the machinations of the new ANC government did not have the same passion for conservation and many became embroiled in Ponzi schemes which produced artificially bred and genetically manipulated animals with exaggerated horn lengths and colour variations, as well as the equally unethical and disgusting canned and put and take killings.
These developments split the professional hunting fraternity between those who supported these grossly unacceptable trends and the majority who broke away to form a new body, Custodians of Professional Hunting and Conservation. Of course, the Covid pandemic merely exacerbated these negative trends but, in my humble opinion, one of the biggest reasons was that genuine, ethical hunters stayed away so as not to be tainted by or become embroiled, directly or indirectly, in canned killings and hunts which were not fair chase. The results are there for all to see. Live game prices have dropped dramatically. Land previously under game is currently being sold at bargain basement prices and converted to crops and domestic livestock with conservation of wildlife and wildlife habitat suffering the most.
If you go to the other extreme and look at Kenya, which banned hunting in 1977, the results of the ban can be clearly seen. In a report published by six Kenyan scientists in or about September 2016, they concluded, after studying the various biomes in the country for an extended period of time, that everywhere game was in major decline and nearly 80% of plains game had vanished.
In 1975, James Mellon published his magnum opus, African Hunter, and there were 36 countries in which you could hunt. Twenty nine years later, Craig Boddington and I edited African Hunter II and the number was down to 21, although when I edited Safari Guide three years later, the effective number of countries was 11. Today, some of these latter countries like Benin, Cameroon, Central African Republic and Ethiopia, probably host no more than a couple of hundred overseas hunters together in any one year and Tanzania has seen a drastic reduction in overseas hunter numbers due to government mismanagement and corruption. This is effectively the death knell for hunting funded conservation in these countries.
Personally, I have hunted in 19 African countries and, in all but a handful, there is almost no understanding of what amazing, renewable natural resources they have in the form of wildlife and wildlife habitat which, if only used sustainably, could provide benefits to a broad cross section of their populations for an indefinite period. Instead, their governments seem hell bent on destroying these wonderful resources as fast as humanly possible, sacrificing the future of their people on the altar of their basest greed and gross incompetence. Most national or regional parks and reserves in Africa are merely lines on a map, looted by the very people paid to look after them and now devoid of wildlife.
Travelling to many of these countries has become a trial given the time, effort and money it costs to obtain visas and firearms permits, paying meet and greet agents to help process you, your luggage and firearms through immigration and customs and the numerous road blocks or extortion points en route to and from the hunting areas or going to the alternative exhorbitant expense of hiring a charter aircraft. On my last hunting trip to the Republic of Congo, I went through 23 such points, covering 850 kms, over a 14 hour period in one day, because the president announced, without warning, that all internal flights were cancelled as he was expecting a visit by the neighbouring Gabonese president. I needed to reach Brazzaville in order to catch a flight to Johannesburg the next day or be stuck in the country for four more days. At the 23rd road block I was prodded repeatedly in the chest with an AK47 wielded by a very drunk policemen with his finger on the trigger, while screaming at me to pay him money. Needless to say, I will never return to this cesspit.
In Mocambique, the head of police at Beira Airport wanted to arrest me for possessing what he called “armour piercing ammunition” as I waited to catch my return flight to South Africa. A Norma manufacturer’s box with the remains of the ten 300 grain solids I had taken to the country for my eland hunt as per my Mocambican government issued firearm and ammunition permit was no help. I was surrounded by half a dozen soldiers he summoned and an equal number of police. I was saved by the pilot of the charter aircraft that had flown me to Beira who had the local police chief’s number on speed dial and managed to get him to the airport in the nick of time. Would you return if treated this way? International hunters can choose which destinations to visit to pursue their passions as can be seen by the increase in American hunters visiting Texas for this purpose during the pandemic.
Just as in days gone by, after hunters moved south from Kenya when it banned hunting, hunters will go elsewhere when conditions become prohibitive for one reason or another. That this will mean the end of hunting and the conservation that it supports in Africa is already self evident in all the remaining countries that still have huntable quantities of game in habitats overseas hunters wish to visit.
In brief then, to answer the question, let me state unequivocally that, if American and European hunters stop visiting Africa to hunt, it will be the final death knell of wildlife and wildlife habitat on the continent. As my favourite African hunting magazine, African Outfitter says, “Without hunting dollars conservation will only be a term used by animal rightists to enrich themselves.”"
How has trophy hunting in Africa changed since the year 2000?
"Far fewer quality hunting destinations exist and, barring a few exceptions such as Coutada 11 in Mocambique, lower game numbers and lower quality of game.
A greater awareness of the need for hunting to support the conservation of wildlife and wildlife habitat.
More difficult to travel with firearms.
Greater levels of corruption creating difficulties at immigration, customs and when travelling by road.
Difficulties in securing the safe repatriation of trophies.
Hunters losing the battle against animal extremists."
Do you have some advice for the travelling hunter of the year 2021?
"For many, many years I have believed there are only three things you need to do if and when you decide to hunt in Africa – research, research and research.
It stands to reason that your best chance of having a successful hunt, and by this I do not mean the best chance of killing the biggest animal or the most animals, I mean having a fulfilling and challenging, fair chase hunt in one of the best areas, at one of the best times of the year and with one of the best guides for the animal at the top of your wish list, is to carefully plan the hunt and all the aspects related directly and indirectly to it well in advance.
Clearly, part of the research includes the ease or difficulty in taking your own firearm(s) and, if this is not possible, then what firearms - and their measurements and sights - are available from your safari outfitter as this latter information will help you decide how much trouble you are prepared to go to in order to take your own. Nothing ruins a hunting experience more than wounding game, other than wounding and not finding the wounded game. Not having a firearm which fits you, with which you are familiar and have practiced extensively, is a recipe for wounding game.
There are many things that require research, the animals you are hunting, the best firearm/ammunition combination for the hunt, the best place, best time of year and best person to guide you, reference checking – I can go on and on. Suffice it to say that this all takes time and therefore you need to plan your hunts well in advance and, it is axiomatic that, the better your research and planning, the more likely it is you will have a successful and challenging fair chase hunt assuming, like me, that is what you want.
Eight years ago I wrote a seven part article for a hunting magazine entitled, How to Book a Safari, which is a far more comprehensive answer to the above question but clearly too long for this blog. However, if anyone would like a copy, please do not hesitate to contact me and I will email you one"