A First-Hand Report On CAMNARES'
New Lord Derby Eland Hunts
Wayne C.W. Lau
(Editor Note: This is an excerpt of a more detailed report Lau has written for publication elsewhere.)
I returned to Cameroon this past February to help extend the community hunting program of non-profit conservation group Cameroon Natural Resources (CAMNARES). I had hunted bongo with them the year before in the forest area of central Cameroon, and now I was in the northern savannahs hoping to hunt the majestic Lord Derby Eland, the world's biggest antelope and, arguably, it's most beautiful eland.
CAMNARES was formed by Armand Arthur Biko'o and Maliki Birosse Wardjomto, Cameroon's first graduates of South Africa's Tshwane University of Technology's Nature Conservation Department. They had been sponsored by US-based Shikar Safari Club International, which provides scholarships to promising students from rural Africa who want to learn about conservation and wildlife management. CAMNARES uses the chasse libre (self-guided hunting) system in Cameroon to bring overseas hunters to hunt directly with local villages, employing porters and trackers and paying hunting fees directly to the community.
The savannah area has more infrastructure than the central area. There are reasonable roads, a network of villages with basic services and a camp comprised of comfortable cement huts offering sit down toilets, a few hours of generator power each day and a store with cold bottled water and drinks. The most pleasant surprise is the amount of game. I saw western roan, red river hog, kob, hartebeest, harnessed bushbuck, savannah buffalo and numerous duikers, including red, red-flanked and Peter's duikers.
In chasse libre a hunter's success directly depends on the skill and enthusiasm of his local team. Many chasse libre hunters don't respect or trust their team's knowledge, and that's a mistake. We made sure to show respect for our team and their community, and they generously gave their advice, which we followed carefully and experienced great success. We saw trophy game daily. The herds were healthy, fat and active. It was tempting to chase everything, but we were there for Lord Derby eland.
The first, we saw eland sign right away, finding fresh tracks and pushed over trees right next to the road. A spooked hartebeest herd and a raging noonday sun drove us back. Later, we spent the afternoon searching without luck. On our way back to camp in the dark, some huge shapes jump across the road. I thought they were buffalo, but our trackers assured us they were eland. We started off early the next morning and found the eland herd, but they easily spotted us. The challenge was going to be stalking close enough to find a trophy bull without spooking off the herd.
The team quietly fell into single file. Just as I was falling into cadence, I smacked my head into an overhead tree. Dieudonne shushed me with a finger over his lips. An eland bull was staring at us 300 yards away!
This bull was nothing like I've ever seen before in life or in pictures. He was very old. The front ridges of his horns had been completely worn away to ivory from fighting rival bulls and knocking down trees. His horn tips had long worn down to stumps, but his bases were enormously fat. He wouldn't score high in inches, but he had an extraordinary mane.
I never knew an eland could have such a thick, black mane. This Lord Derby bull had a full dark coat from his front legs up his neck and over his head all the way down to his nose. He looked more lion than antelope.
While the rest of his herd drifted away, he approached us, his head swaggering, dewlap swaying from side to side. As he approached, we threw hunting sticks on the ground and I moved into position. I don't remember much except seeing a strangely high cloud of dust and the eland dashing to the side after the shot. He had a strong but disabled gait. My bullet had missed his heart but hit somewhere critical. We took off and finally got a second shot and our eland was down!
Close up, his black mane was even more majestic. Most Lord Derby eland trophy pictures are of high-scoring animals with long horns and deep ridges. Our trackers explained that such animals are actually younger bulls in their prime whose horns have not yet been worn down. It is the old bulls that grow such beautiful manes.
The next few days we saw very little game. So we went on foot to check out a waterhole and natural salt lick. As we approached the only waterhole in the area, we saw no sign of game. We discovered next to the waterhole the fresh remains of a campfire, indicating that poachers had been there. We found several snares but once the poachers knew we were there, they left quickly.
By the next day, we saw two large herds of roan, one of 25 and another of 50. The game was returning! Sadly the roan herds were so large, we couldn't spot the herd male in either one.
The poachers made us think about starting an anti-poaching project. We understood that the best way to stop poaching was to convince surrounding communities that there was a greater benefit in conserving wildlife. Our head guide, Dieudonne, was once a legendary poacher. After a series of arrests, the authorities conceded that they were better off hiring him as a tracker for chasse libre hunters. Being a natural outdoorsman, he quickly understood how valuable wildlife could be. He also liked his new stature as caretaker of the bush as well as an income generator for his village. In the off season, he voluntarily patrols the hunting zone.
Later on we visited the communities surrounding the hunting area to promote modern sports hunting and wildlife conservation, meetings with chiefs and elders on what we could do with funds generated by our hunt. We ended up planning the completion of the central village's community meeting hall, the construction of a much needed school classroom, and the rebuilding of a water well.
Some of these projects will need more funds from future hunters on CAMNARES' conservation hunts. As in Kong, Eugene Yap from Southpoint Safaris in Hawaii, a good friend and an SCI Outfitter of the Year, kindly volunteered to help CAMNARES that conservation and community development will have a long future in the savannahs.
Photos provided by Wayne Lau and taken by Wouter Pienaar of Shot Productions Bloemfontein South Africa.