By William L. Heubaum
One of Africa’s most prized trophies is the Southern nyala. With its striking, ivory-tipped, spiral horns, gray-brown shaggy coat with black fringe at the bottom, white markings with long white mane and yellow-orange legs, many consider it the most beautiful of all the spiral horned antelope. I’ve just returned from what well may be the number one hot spot for nyala in the Republic of South Africa - the Mkuzi Game Reserve in Zululand. The reserve is situated some 285 kilometers north of Durban. A 2½ hour to three-hour drive on excellent roads takes you through rural, agricultural land. The principal crops are sugar cane, pineapple, sisal and Eucalyptus trees (which are harvested and ground up for paper pulp). The Mkuzi Reserve, which lies some 15 miles inland from the Indian Ocean, is divided by the Msunduzi River. The area south of the river, about 25,000 acres, is set aside for hunting. Owned and operated by the Kwazulu Natal Parks Board, accommodations are in modern tents, adequately but spartanly furnished, with washing facilities en suite. A nice fillip not commonly encountered in tents is electricity (with a mini-fridge) and hot water 24/7, thanks to the eco-tourist facilities on the north side of the river.
Nyala are territorial, and the resident herd is estimated at 4,000 by Garry Kelly of Bonwa Phala Safaris (11 Surrey Lane, Kloof 3610 RSA. Tel. 011-27-31-767-1093. E-mail: email@example.com), who has received a large percentage of the nyala hunting licenses made available here. Garry brings with him his own tracker, Enoch, and personal chef, TaTa, as well as all the provisions. The cuisine is outstanding. While, with Garry as my professional hunter, we combed the entire area numerous times during the course of our hunt, the two principal places for locating trophy bulls were the one and only water hole (which we viewed from a blind in the morning) and a large vlei, approximately one mile wide by five miles long, which we hunted in the late afternoon. The vlei has been completely taken over by cremolina, a noxious weed accidentally imported into Africa with Australian cattle feed. However, nyala like the tender shoots, and in this vlei keep the weeds trimmed down to a height of three or four feet. Of course, one cannot judge a trophy when its head is down feeding, so obviously you have to wait until they occasionally look up to find a good bull. On a typical afternoon, it was not uncommon to observe a couple of hundred or more animals feeding, and there were doubtless many more we could not see, especially the females, which are much smaller in body. From a hunter’s viewpoint, the cremolina provided good cover for a stalk, and we were able to creep within 125 yards of the bull I took midway through the hunt. While it did not hit the magic 30-inch mark (other bulls taken at Mkuzi have), it was a very good bull measuring 29 and 29 2/8 inches, with an overall score of 75, which will place it well up in the SCI record book. While I was there, another hunter took a bull almost as good at the water hole.
Unfortunately, management by the Parks Board leaves something to be desired. On the one hand, they are ultra-conservative when it comes to issuing hunting permits, allowing only 12 nyala per season when, according to Garry (who, although only 50 years old, has more than 30 years experience as a professional hunter), the off-take could be easily increased to 20 without harming the herd. Likewise, there are numerous Livingstone suni in the reserve. We never saw less than three or four every day, but the Board issues only one permit per year. I used up Garry’s allocation for the year. Likewise, red duiker are running around all over the place, yet the Board issues only two permits per year. (I used up one.) Garry believes the off-take could be increased to five or six without harming the population.
On the other hand, the Board simply does not address some key conservation problems. For example, it has been a dry year at Mkuzi, yet the Board has allowed some water holes to dry up even though they are equipped with bore holes and pumps. It is simply a matter of turning them on, which the Board has failed to do. And while the nyala seem to like the cremolina, in areas where they do not graze the weed grows eight to 10 feet tall and forms an almost impenetrable barrier, driving out native grasses. The Board has done very little in the way of weed control. Perhaps worst of all, poaching is rampant, with poaching success fueled by a change in the labor laws. Game rangers and other Park employees used to work 25 straight days a month and then have five days off (this in addition to their 21-day annual vacation). Now they have weekends off as well, with only a skeleton staff (who draw overtime pay) on duty. It didn’t take the poachers long to come up with a new game plan to maximize their chances of success. On a Saturday or Sunday morning they start a fire on one end of the reserve, and when the skeleton staff dashes off to put out the fire, they use dogs to drive game into snares set on the other side of the reserve.
The reserve is also home to some young and feisty elephant bulls, and has a large huntable population of white rhino as well as some black rhino, which tend to be more ill-tempered than their white cousins. As a consequence, you need to be on your toes when prowling the bush.
My hunt concluded in the Drakensberg Mountains, where I took an excellent vaal rhebok. However, I wasn’t in “sheep shape” for this demanding terrain and paid the price in muscle aches and pains for several days thereafter.
A side trip to the site of the battle of Rorke’s Drift, a major engagement between British Infantry and Zulu warriors during the Zulu War of 1879 and upon which the movie “Zulu” is based, is highly recommended. There is a well-maintained museum and tourist shops there as well as artifacts of the battle and monuments to the dead on both sides.
A few tips for the traveling hunter: The Hunting Report has already warned hunters headed to RSA of the change in firearm import laws, and you would be well advised to have your paperwork completed and in hand before a visit to the firearms office. What I do not believe has been reported is that while the process is now nominally in the charge of the South African police, you will not be dealing with sworn, uniformed officers. Rather, you will be dealing with low level (read poorly paid) civilian employees, who are new to their duties and generally unfamiliar with firearms and ammunition, which they insist upon viewing and counting, cartridge by cartridge. (Don’t load your heavy ammo box in the bottom of your safari bag, as I have always done.) You will have to help them in this regard, since many cannot distinguish between a 450/400 and a 30-06. While unfamiliar with guns and ammo, they are all too familiar with the African custom of baksheesh. Stand by to be shaken down for 20 to 40 rands as a “present.” Did I pay? Of course. If you are transferring planes, as I was, who knows where your guns may end up if you don’t? It is a sad departure from the professionalism of the customs officers. (Don Causey Note: October 2, 2002: Since this report was filed, airport authorities have cracked down on bribe-taking and even installed surveillance equipment to combat it. They have asked us to warn travelers that bribe-taking and bribe-giving are both illegal. Our advise is do not do it.)
If you are going to Mkuzi, South African Airways runs a half dozen or so flights from Johannesburg to Durban every day. Of course, SAA is still the only carrier which flies non-stop to RSA (all the others go through Europe and generally are not as “gun friendly” as SAA), but if you are going to use it, either fly out of Atlanta or be sure your domestic flight to JFK lands at Terminal 3. The SAA daily flight to Johannesburg departs from Terminal 3 at 5:55 pm, and trying to get from any other terminal to number 3 during rush hour is an exercise in futility. After spending 45 hot, sweaty minutes on a non-air-conditioned shuttle bus (during the last 20 minutes of which the bus didn’t move more than 20 feet) my wife and I got off the bus with our hand luggage (other passengers got off with all their luggage) and we walked through the streets to Terminal 3 competing with cars, buses, limos and taxis, as there are no sidewalks connecting the terminals.
Also, travel agents still are not factoring in enough time between connecting flights to allow for the post 9/11 security checks. These are apparently designed to make air travel as inconvenient and unpleasant as possible, so prepare to have all your luggage X-rayed (which may destroy your film) and your person frisked, wanded, poked, probed, your shoes and belt removed, and you and your possessions sniffed by a bomb detecting dog. And all this takes place not once but two, three or more times per flight (it took us four flights to get from South Dakota to Durban). Perhaps the most onerous is the so-called “random” search at the gate. In my experience, there is nothing random about it. Because of the prejudiced view against “profiling” by Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta, who as a Japanese American teenager spent World War II in one of our detention camps for all Japanese, if you are an olive skinned, black-haired male between 18 and 45 who may possibly be of Middle Eastern ancestry you may be assured you will not be picked for the random search, during which they completely tear apart your hand luggage. Rather, those chosen will be elderly men and women, teenagers, women with infants, etc. In short, “easy marks” who will likely not complain. It is a terrible waste of resources and an insult to American citizens of whatever ethnicity.
All of my trophies taken on the hunt, which was booked through Tommy Morrison of Sporting International Inc. (15608 South Brentwood, Channelview, TX 77530. Tel. 281-452-6223), will score well up in the book. For its specialized trophies, I recommend Mkuzi Game Reserve and Garry Kelly at Bonwa Phala Safaris. Malaria prophylaxis is recommended for this area, although I do not think it is really necessary unless you are there in the period of October through May. We used Malarone and experienced zero side effects. Personally, I’d rather contract malaria than use Lariam. I know, and know of, too many people who have experienced severe side effects on this medication, ranging from nightmares to psychotic episodes recurring over a period of a year or two after stopping use of the medication —kind of like an extended bad trip on LSD. Insect repellent remains useful, however, as the area is loaded with ticks. Indeed, it is said that Zululand is the home of ticks and black mambas as well as numerous nyala. – William L. Heubaum.
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