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LEARN – HUNT – PROTECT


THE SOUTHERN AFRICAN WILDLIFE COLLEGE IN KRUGER NATIONAL PARK TRAINS STUDENTS IN CONSERVATION AND SUSTAINABLE HUNTING. THIS PROVIDES A LIVELIHOOD FOR LOCAL PEOPLE, WHILE AT THE SAME TIME DECLARING WAR ON POACHING. 

The first buffalo are mere passing shadows on the savannah in the early morning light. At sunrise, the first silhouettes appear in the haze. The snorting, grunting, and rumbling of the cattle grows with each passing minute, while the noisy chatter of the Red-billed Oxpecker announces the approach of the herd. The day has fully dawned when the first two dozen animals gather at the waterhole to drink – massive black bulls with heavy horns, sturdy cows, and a few tiny brown calves.

 

“Looking at the color and shape of the bulls; the development of their neck and shoulder muscles, the hardness of their horns, and the sharpness of the horn tips tell us the age of the bull,” explains Dr. Kevin Robertson of the Southern African Wildlife College. For him, the herd is an open book. He is out in the wild with a group of students enrolled on the 18-month course to become professional hunters run by the College’s Sustainable Use and Field Guiding department. It provides a mixture of intensive theoretical and practical tuition at the college, followed by a season’s training with a registered safari operator.

 

This course is one of many offered by the Southern African Wildlife College, a leading specialist center for training, education, and skills development in the field of nature conservation. The location of the campus in the Kruger National Park gives students unparalleled access to what is probably the best and – at nearly 2 million hectares (5 million acres) – definitely the biggest “lecture hall” in the world.


PROFESSIONALIZING THE INDUSTRY


“In 2011, a number of organizations from the Southern African Development Community (SADC) approached the college with a request to develop a specialist training program for field guides and professional hunters. The reason was obvious: the hunting industry had to change so that local communities could share in the economic benefits of sustainable wildlife use,” says College Director Theresa Sowry. In the past, and particularly in South Africa, most training courses for field guides and professional hunters were essentially “finishing schools” for individuals who had grown up in the hunting industry. “But this excluded the local people, who are exposed to the risks of living in the wild but are unable to derive any economic benefit from it,” she notes.

 

“Since then, the College has made a major contribution to professionalizing the hunting industry in the Southern African region. Graduates are equipped with the necessary skills and practical experience to manage complex ecosystems, preserve wildlife, and strengthen local communities. The sustainable use of Africa’s fauna is an essential part of this,” says Robertson, who believes that the protection of Africa’s wildlife can only be achieved if people reap a direct benefit.


WILDLIFE COLLEGE

TRAINING PROFESSIONAL HUNTERS

Training as a professional hunter
at the Southern African Wildlife College takes 18 months and comprises 44 modules, including studying animal and plant life, basic ecology, ethology (animal behavior research), firearms and ballistics, tracking, first aid, survival skills in the bush, hunt planning, hunting ethics, hunting law, nature conservation, wildlife and vegetation management, and many other subjects.
wildlifecollege.org.za


WILDLIFE PRODUCTS PROVIDE A LIVELIHOOD


Hunting in Africa is always controversial, even if it is sustainable. But much of the criticism is voiced by people who have little understanding of the concerns and problems of local people. “Many people in the region are affected by unemployment, poverty, and hunger,” Sowry stresses. “Involving the local population in the cycle of sustainable hunting creates a new awareness of how to deal with wild animals. It creates jobs and ensures a supply of meat products to the villages.”

 

She explains how the hunting bans demanded by opponents of hunting would not have a positive impact on the animal world. The ensuing conflict between locals and wildlife would inevitably lead to an increase in poaching.

 

The Southern African Wildlife College also plays an important role in managing these conflicts and in the fight against poaching. By educating and working with the local community, it is making a key contribution to a change of mindset. For example, the number of rhinos killed illegally in Kruger National Park is slowly decreasing. However, highly trained rangers, dog teams, and surveillance from the air are still vital for protecting game. These costly measures are financed by the income generated from commercial hunting.



SUSTAINABLE HUNTING PROMOTES NATURE CONSERVATION

Legal, well-regulated hunting not only provides economic benefits but also preserves the habitat of many animal and plant species. Without sustainable stock management, this habitat would be used primarily for agricultural purposes and be lost to wildlife as a result.

 

However, the key is sustainable hunting. “It has to be financially, ecologically, socially, and genetically sustainable in the long term,” says Robertson. “But in trophy hunting, as we know it today, the last factor is often ignored. It is essential that the industry puts the conservation of a species first and takes into account its impact on wildlife. As long as we continue to think that bigger is automatically better, we may be hunting the wrong animals,” stresses Robertson.



SETTING NEW STANDARDS ON HUNTING BUFFALO 

Against this backdrop, the Southern African Wildlife College is also involved in pioneering research. For example, it is trying to understand more about how hunting has a long-term impact on the overall trophy quality of the buffalo population. It uses high-resolution aerial photographs to determine the sex, age, and trophy size of entire buffalo populations. It compares an area in which hunting is permitted with an adjacent area in which it is prohibited. With the help of students from Oxford University, the college has developed sophisticated algorithms that reveal that the trophy size of buffalo in parts of southern Africa has changed dramatically over the last thirty years.

“Research has shown that buffalo hunting as it is currently practiced is having a negative genetic impact on the buffalo population in the long run,” says Robertson. 

“The studies suggest that the current points system for buffalo trophies has resulted in bulls being hunted that are not sexually mature or actively involved in reproduction. The largest, best, most impressive specimens are shot for their trophies while they are at their reproductive peak. This means their genes are not passed on. We must stop this development within the industry, otherwise the age of hunting buffalo for trophies will soon be over.”

 

Comparative studies of this kind are an important element of the applied learning that forms part of the courses at the Southern African Wildlife College. The college also collects valuable practical data, which in turn forms the basis for continuing to improve modern game stock management and associated training courses.

DR. KEVIN ROBERTSON

VETERINARY, HUNTER, AND TEACHER
Dr. Kevin Robertson discovered his passion for the animal world and especially for buffalo in Zimbabwe. After completing his veterinary training in 1981, he emigrated to the newly independent state to open a large animal practice and cattle ranch in northwestern Mashonaland near the famous Zambezi Valley. He then trained as a professional hunter, became a safari outfitter and guided hunting guests as a “PH” (Professional Hunter) for two decades. As the only vet in Zimbabwe who was also a professional hunter, Robertson began to teach young hunters the anatomy of wild animals, resulting in the publication of his international bestseller The Perfect Shot. In 2014, Robertson joined the Southern African Wildlife College, where he now heads up the Sustainable Use and Field Guiding department.

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