|A Mountain Nyala Hunting Adventure in Ethiopia:
A Lesson in Breathing from Your Nose, Mouth and Ears… Bring an Umbrella, Too
By Robert Duhadaway, AKA Bwana Bob
I believed that Ethiopia was going to be arid desert, boy was I wrong. The town of Addis Ababa was around 5,000,000 people. The country of Ethiopia had 79,000,000 people. The main road that we traveled was the North Djibouti Road, the ultimate end being the Djibouti port located on the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden. This road was the main highway traveled by many large trucks, all of which were belching out high amounts of diesel smoke, and the air smelled of diesel fuel. It was a wonder that half the population hadn't died.
There was a massive amount of road building going on as well as new bridges. Guess who was paying for this? It was not the USA, but China. Boy, the Chinese have their hand in everything.
As we drove on, we eventually got into the Arba Gugu Mountain Range and the Sorroro River area. This area was where we were to hunt the mountain nyala, Menelik bushbuck, and the spotted hyena. As we neared the area the terrain changed to farming. The farmers plowed and planted every little area that could be cultivated. The main crops were maize, sorghum, naf (used to make ijera, their bread and main staple), cotton, coffee and chat. Chat's leaves are chewed to induce a high. It was very easy to tell who used chat; their teeth were green. We were told that it was very bitter and didn't have a good taste at all. I took their word, but Crocodile Cathy had to give it a try. The leaves were no sooner in her mouth then she spit them back out. She said it was terrible; my answer was, "They told you that."
The hunting costs as well as the length of the hunt were determined by the Ethiopian government. The mountain nyala was a 21-day hunt. If you finished in two days you still paid for 21 days. The trophy fee for the nyala was $15,000, and the Menlik bushbuck was $6,000. The spotted hyena was only $180. What a deal! I was hunting with Northern Operations Africa, owned and operated by Dave Rademeyer and his wife, Maria, "Beba." The government allows only two mountain nyalas and four bushbucks a year. Hunters won't come to hunt just a bushbuck because of daily fees and trophy fees. So, only 2 nyalas and two bushbucks are taken. Literally the mountain nyala die of old age because of the lack of a higher quota. The trophy and daily fees are split between the government (EWCA) and local tribe. The split is 40% to the EWCA and 60% to the local tribe. That is an incentive to watch over the animals and not take them for food.
The camp consisted of Dave's right-hand-man, Berhan, who was our driver, tracker, and skinner. Then there was Berhanu, a local Ethiopian professional hunter. Next were two scouts, one being a federal scout and the other a regional scout. Next was Shafara, the camp manager. Then Welde, the camp cook, and lastly, three trackers, Clutch, Ashfelt, and Moconde. Yes, by the way, they all received a tip at the end of the hunt.
Saturday, May 5, started our hunt. We were up at 5:00 AM and had breakfast by 5:30 AM and were driving before 6:00 AM. The sky was turning a soft light pink as we traveled to the hunting area. We were sitting on the hillside by 7 AM glassing the surrounding hills and open areas. Making our way to the hillside, we had already spotted a troop of baboons in the rock ledges of the cliffs. Bushbuck (male and female) just about everywhere. One was really nice but not on the first morning of the first day. The animal of the day was mountain nyala. We even saw a bedded down spotted hyena. Man, we couldn't ask for anything more. As we continued to glass we could hear the baboons calling and barking in the distance to our left. To the right, the calling of the hardeba ibis.
We continued to glass as we sat on the hillside and hoped for the best. If nothing happened by 10 AM, we would return to camp. By this time of the morning the nyala would be heading into the thickets. Dave received a call on his walkie-talkie from Makonde. They were in another area that they had walked to from camp. They had located a very nice nyala bull not far from camp. It was around 8 AM when we started back to the vehicle. By the time we reached the area it was 9 AM. We walked and glassed and glassed and walked without any luck. The only animals we saw were bushbuck.
We made the decision to return to camp, since it was 11 AM and by this time the nyala were in the thickets until late afternoon. At around 4 PM we were back in the area where the nyala was seen. I figured we would sit and glass until dark, or something happened. As we glassed Dave received a call on his walkie-talkie from Ashfelt, who had sighted 10 nyala down in the valley about a kilometer away. The chase was on. We had about 1,000 meters to walk back to the vehicle, then another kilometer of a drive. We then had to make our way down a finger that was pretty steep to the area that the nyala had been sighted in. After a number of slips on the stones and dirt and a few falls we finally made it. The sweat was running everywhere when we reached the ledge that held Dave and the trackers. They had located two nyala well over 200 meters below. I had a devil of a time locating the first one in the thicket after getting into position. The first one was a very young bull, way too small to shoot. As we continued to glass by and by, out from the thicket stepped a much nicer one in the range of 31 inches, a very respectable animal. Dave agreed that it was very nice but was also young. His comment was that it would be a monster in a few years. So we continued to glass.
It was 5 PM and just beginning to get dark. Dave said we should start back to camp because it was getting late and we to climb up. So Cathy and I started the trek up with one of the trackers. We were only into the return about 10 minutes when Safada came running and yelled that we had to return. When he calmed down, he told us the big boy had shown up. Boy, those up and down steep hills were enough to give me a heart attack. So, once more we started down. In the back of my mind I could only think about having to climb back up again. Once back on the ledge I positioned myself next to Dave. He was trying to describe its location. I had a heck of a time before I finally located it. Dave said this was the one. I chambered a round and rested the rifle on a tree stump. I again had to locate the nyala and that took a little more time. The distance was 240 yards downhill at about a 30-degree angle. I lined up the crosshairs on the right shoulder, removed the safety, and squeezed the trigger. I could hear the bullet when it impacted the nyala with that distinctive thump. The nyala turned, rose on its hind legs and fell over. Being on the incline, it started to tumble downhill. After congratulations all around and with the lateness, Dave had us start before dark set in. It was too late to see the nyala and climb up to camp.
Dave and the trackers climbed down to locate the fallen nyala. Dave had three of the trackers spend the night to protect the nyala from hyena and leopard, so I had to wait until the morning to see my trophy.
Sunday, May 6, was day 2. The ritual in the morning was just like the day before, with the exception that everything was about an hour later. We made the decision to walk from camp, so off we went, downhill all the way. I really thought that Dave was trying to kill Cathy and me. Ever since we left the camp the skies had continued to darken, which wasn't a good sign. The fog hadn't lifted, either. Every now and then the fog moved out and the sun tried to make an appearance. As quick as that happened it was back to fog and clouds. It took us a good hour to descend to the nyala. What my mind continued to tell me was 'what a climb back up.' When we finally got to the fallen nyala it was huge. After setting sight on the animal, it was truly beautiful. I was amazed by the size, which was comparable to an elk and every bit as big as a bongo.
The bullet had broken both front legs and passed low in the chest cavity. I would guess that it had slid well over 150 yards downhill to its final resting spot. I couldn't stop thinking 'what a fantastic animal.' The neck was massive like a whitetail buck in rut. We took a lot of pictures, with everyone getting in on the action. The nyala was skinned and butchered on the spot. It was much too massive to have tried to move it anywhere. Dave had planned ahead and two young boys showed up with two donkeys. I'm sure glad that I didn't have to pack the nyala out.
Cathy and I started to ascend before they were finished butchering. We had no sooner started then it began to rain. The climb up was a killer. We would pick a landmark and climb to it, then rest and catch our breath. We couldn't rest for long once it started to thunder and lightning and the rain picked up. We made the return trip to camp in just under 40 minutes and looked like a couple of drowned rats. Oh yes, most everyone passed us except our two guides. Needless to say the first thing we did was change into dry clothes and go to the mess tent for some hot tea to drink. It continued to rain and thunder and the wind picked up. I knew that we would not be going anywhere the rest of the day. I would guess that it rained a good 1½ inches.
Berhan and Dave measured the nyala. The left and right horn both measured 34 4/8. The circumference at the base of the horns both measured 11 5/8. The horns were massive. Dave said the nyala was very old and didn't have many years left.
For dinner that night we had nyala tenderloins, homemade French fries, and rice with corn and peas mixed in. Everything was quite tasty, very good. The next day would start the hunt for the Menlik bushbuck.
Monday, May 7, was day three of the hunt. The stars were out and it looked like a nice day. We were up and off before 6:00 AM. The drive wasn't very far to the hunting area. The walk from where we parked was about 1 kilometer and relatively easy walking. We sat down and started to glass the meadows and edges of the fields. I would guess we saw about 25 bushbucks between males and females, but not the one Dave was looking for.
We had been glassing for at least 45 minutes when Cathy saw a male bushbuck approaching from the right. As luck would have it we were looking to the left. After glassing the bushbuck, Dave commented that it was a very nice one. Dave wanted to get a good look from the front, but the bushbuck wasn't cooperating. Instead, he went into the bush and went up.
So Dave, Berhan, Cathy and I again were on the move climbing up the hill on the quest for the bushbuck. I will say it again, Dave was trying to kill us. Something that I didn't mention was that we were at a 9,000-foot elevation. On some of our climbs I think I was breathing through my nose, mouth and ears to get oxygen. Now back to the hunt. The bushbuck was playing a game of hide and seek. We were using the thicket for cover as we climbed higher and higher. We finally sat down and began to glass the thickets.
It is really unbelievable the number of bushbuck that we saw as we glassed. We even watched nyala browse in the thicket. I feel blessed for the number of animals we saw daily. There was no lack of trophy quality. And after glassing for a good half hour, Dave picked up the bushbuck we were looking for. The bushbuck was high on the hillside on the edge of the thicket grazing. We were off again up the hillside.
We managed to get within 210 yards, giving me a prone uphill shot. I had no problem picking up the bushbuck in the crosshairs. He was broadside just inside the brush, giving me a great shot. I slid off the safety and squeezed the trigger. I could hear the impact of the bullet and watched the bushbuck stagger. When he dropped I lost sight of him. When he fell he slid down the hill to our left. When we got to the spot there was no bushbuck. After looking, we discovered he slid about 20 yards down the hill. My shot was on the right shoulder. He never knew what hit him, and he was a beautiful animal.
After pictures the trackers carried the bushbuck down the hill to the vehicle. Next they skinned the animal, did a little butchering, and hung the carcass in a tree. I hoped the meat would draw out a hyena. I have to back up, as I got ahead of myself. When we were taking pictures, the skies were becoming black again and the wind was picking up. As if that wasn't bad enough, then the thunder and lightning started. Not a good sign. Before they finished skinning and butchering, it started to rain.
By the time it was completed and hung in a tree, everyone was as wet as the return trip from the nyala hunt. Our plan was to return early in the morning. We would walk and hope we didn't spook the hyena that we hoped would be there.
Tuesday, May 8, was the fourth day of the hunt. It continued to rain at least half the night. During the night we heard hyena calling and hoped it was a good sign.
We were up by 4:30 AM and walking by 5 AM when of course it started to rain again. The rainy season wasn't supposed to start for another month. As we looked out into the distance, to our left we could see lightning dancing in the sky and to our right was blue sky. Where we were it was drizzling rain and starting to lighten to a ghostly gray. As we got closer to the bait we slowed down and used the brush and trees to help conceal our approach. Dave saw two hyena with the help of his binoculars. There was one male and one female, and according the license I could only take the male. As I lay in a prone position, Dave said the hyena would approach the bait then turn around and run off. He was watching them through his binoculars, describing their movements. I couldn't even find them in my scope because of the lack of light. Dave said the hyena on the left was the male and to get ready to shoot. I finally managed to pick up the hyena in the scope as it was heading away from the bait. The distance was around 110 yards and I told Dave I would do the best I could. I really couldn't pick out the crosshairs. All the while the distance was becoming greater, I finally squeezed the trigger. Needless to say it was a clean miss. Honestly, I should never have even pulled the trigger. I didn't have enough light to see well.
That afternoon we came up with another plan to try again. The trackers took down the bait and returned to camp with it. I was told if they didn't the scavenger birds would have picked it clean in no time. The plan for that evening was to place the bait closer to camp. The guides said they had seen three hyenas the last couple of nights. We went out just after dark. We put down a mat in a depression where I was to lay in a prone position and wait for the hyenas to arrive. After I got comfortable it started to rain. I figured we would never see the end of the rain. The fix to keep me dry was to cover me with two umbrellas to keep the rain off. It was better than nothing. It now became a waiting game. As I lay waiting and looking at the horizon, all around me the lightning was lighting up the sky. It was like big flash bulbs taking a picture. Meanwhile it continued to rain.
Unless you have tried laying on your stomach in the dark and rain, you haven't lived. The rain would slow down and pick up again. I had left the scope cover on and tried my best to keep the rifle dry. Boy that was a major chore.
Dave reached over and touched my leg. He whispered that there were three hyenas under the tree. I removed the scope cover and tried to locate them. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn't. Then Dave whispered they had run off. I put the cover back on the scope to protect it from the rain. At this point I could feel my pants getting soaked from the rain even with the umbrellas. It was really uncomfortable. Finally, one hyena returned, but continued to stay behind the bait tree. Finally, Dave said that the hyena was in front of the tree. I removed the scope cover again. Then the fun began, looking through the rain and trying to locate the hyena by flashlight. It's not easy. I lined up the shot the best I could, removed the safety, squeezed the trigger, and hoped for the best. All I knew was that I was continuing to get wet and needed something to happen. Well my shot was on the mark and the hyena dropped in his tracks. Boy was I happy. Pictures could wait until tomorrow.
We took pictures the next morning and Berhun skinned the hyena. We departed camp and headed back to Addis Ababa, not foreseeing any problems as we figured we should arrive at the hotel before dark. We changed our return flight and headed home early.
It was a very interesting hunt and very successful. The people and country of Ethiopia were very eye-opening as well as educational. I would recommend this hunt to anyone looking to hunt a mountain nyala.