How can you shoot lions and elephants, you horrible man?
Look, mankind has cocked the whole balance of nature thing up already. But with professional hunting, we’ve saved the animals of South Africa. Organised hunting brings in rich overseas clients, and the value of hunting – and therefore the animals – has gone through the roof. All the guys with farms have now brought game in, because that game is worth a hell of a lot of money. We’ve put a value on the animals’ heads, and their environment and continued existence is now safeguarded in our country…
If you only knew what goes on in unregulated countries like Zimbabwe, it would break your heart. I’ve seen baby leopards shot, three-month-old lions poisoned, baby elephants walking around without trunks because they’ve been ripped off in a snare. That’s the true face of uncontrolled hunting and poaching.
Have you ever made a poacher pay?
I’ve tracked plenty of poachers, caught loads, had all sorts of fights with them, but never killed one. Yet. The majority of poaching now in South Africa is for meat purposes – local men selling the meat on the black market. It’s no longer the ivory poaching it used to be – that has been virtually eradicated here.
So can we just rock up with a rifle and start blazing away?
No way. Game hunting here is very tightly controlled. There’s a permit system, and if you shoot an animal without a licence you end up in jail. African jails are not nice places to be.
So how much will it cost to bag a buffalo head for the living room?
It’s around £20,000 for the permit to shoot a single buffalo. Then you’re looking at a minimum of 21 days in the country to hunt it at £500 per day because it’s dangerous game, and then there’s accommodation and food. Your average hunt is around £35,000 – it’s huge money.
What’s the hardest animal on the African plain?
They’re all hard! Piss off any animal and you’ve got a problem, but the hardest would be the buffalo, he’s like a bulldozer. And if you wound a buffalo, he’ll do something called a P-formation. He’ll run away, then loop back round and stop just off the path he ran along and wait. He knows the hunters will be following his track, and as you go past him he’ll come bursting through the bush and flatten you. He’ll wait there to kill you.
And the smartest?
The one animal we all fear to hunt is the leopard. Hell of a good memory, gets himself out of tricky situations and disappears into the bush: these animals know when they’re being hunted. He’s very quick, very intelligent, and if you wound one it’s more than likely you will get mauled. He’ll scalp you with his claws, then hold you to him, bring his powerful rear legs up to your stomach, and disembowel you. A friend of mine shot a leopard, but missed his aim and got it in the stomach. The leopard then charged him; his friend fired and – instead of hitting the leopard – shot my mate in the stomach and blew his guts out. Either way, when you wound animals, you pay.
Any other cases of a hunt gone wrong?
I know some guys who shot an elephant from 30 metres out. It dropped, then, when they approached, it jumped up and killed four of them. It was faking its own death so it could take them out. And recently one of the game rangers at one of the reserves near here was walking with a client, and they were charged by a bull elephant in musk – basically a horny little bugger. It was trying to impress the females, and the ranger never got a chance to even bring his rifle out. The elephant put his foot on the ranger’s chest, and using his trunk tore the poor guy from limb to limb. Ripped him into little pieces.
Ever found yourself being tracked by the animal you were hunting?
Yes. I was hunting some rogue lions that had gotten out onto the game reserve. I shot one of them, and we were looking for the other lion. We were walking and tracking, until we came right round in a circle and saw his footprints directly on top of ours. He was just behind us, waiting for the right opportunity to strike.
How many different kinds of animal shit can you recognise?
I can recognise every kind of animal crap there is here in Africa. I could identify probably 60 to 70 different kinds of animal shit straight away.
What’s your view on zoos?
I can accept that zoos teach people about animals; if the animal is endangered I can see that they need to be in a zoo, but just incarcerating an animal so people can stare at it? Bullshit. I don’t like that.
Who would win in a shoot-off: yourself or an army sniper?
From 500 metres, if we were shooting at a moving target, I think I’d give a sniper a good run for his money. They practise on stationary targets all the time, but if the target was moving at the speed a buck does in this country, I’m sure I’d be on it. Animals here can go from nought to 50mph in a couple of seconds, and you’ve got to know where and how to take your shot.
Anything fancy in your armoury?
We use a .458 hunting rifle, a very big rifle. The cartridge is nearly half-an-inch in diameter.
Which animal would you be least saddened by if it became extinct?
I’d be sad if any animal was extinct in my lifetime – I have such a passion for all animals. But I suppose if I had to pick one, it would be the crocodile. He’s a nasty character. A friend of mine was killed by a croc just six months ago. He went for a swim in a river, his wife was stood behind him, he was about to jump in and then a croc just leapt out from under the water and grabbed him – when a croc’s on you, he’s on you.
Do you have back-up in the bush?
Yes, my tracker. Your tracker is one of the most important things out here. He’s your eyes in the back of your head. You’re vulnerable to everything from snakes and spiders to malaria, crocodiles and hippos. There are plenty of black mambas in the bush – get bitten by one of them and you don’t have much time to say goodbye.
If you had no clothes or weapons, how long could you live in the wild?
Finding water out here is easy enough: at the bottom of hills you’ll find ravines, and you’ll find water. And to eat, there are berries, eggs, grasshoppers – there’s plenty to eat in the bush. Even an idiot from the city could survive for a while out here, maybe as long as five days if they didn’t get bitten by a mamba or eaten by a leopard – which is pretty likely.
Is the myth of the man-eating lion just that?
No. Humans have a very high salt content in our meat, and lions get addicted to it. They crave it. That’s the problem with lions that have escaped from reserves and killed humans or cattle – you can’t catch the lion and put it back in the reserve, because it’ll just leave again in search of human meat. Getting a taste for human flesh is not just a phrase, it’s real. To the point where if a lion sees a zebra walking down the road, and then it sees a human, it’ll go for the human. We’re not very fast or difficult to kill!
Which tastes better: elephant steak or lion burger?
Never eaten lion, I wouldn’t touch it. Elephant is shit eating, you have to chew for about four hours before you can swallow. Snake is very tasty; crocodile is good – wild croc is even better; grasshoppers are disgusting and I’ve never eaten a spider.
Finally, if you had to be killed by one animal, which would it be and why?
I wouldn’t mind getting knocked by a lion. It would be one hell of an experience. Just the awesome power and speed of the things, the adrenalin would be surging, you wouldn’t know what was going on and then your head would be off. Rather that than a car crash any day.