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As one meanders through the maze that is an outdoor show today, and one researches the internet or the various social media platforms looking at the variety of options available to the hunter, you could be forgiven for feeling slightly overwhelmed. Let’s face it, the risk vs reward on what you spend and what you get for your precious time away from your “real world” and your hard-earned dollars play a major role in the decisions you make. You want the very best experience that you can afford, yet you’d like to feel the reward at a level much higher than what money can truly buy.

Why Africa?

The options are plentiful. From the vastness of Alaska to the breath-taking beauty of New Zealand, or the endless birds of South America. The hills of Old Mexico, or the plains of the mid-west to the outback of Australia or the forests of Europe. There is an array of destinations entwined in a lifestyle that reeks of adventure as one plans one trip after another. There is a bug that bites the traveling hunter, one that knows no cure, with Africa biting the worst of all.

It is the dark continent… the original destination of adventurers and explorers. A place of rich culture, abundant wildlife, unimaginable landscapes and bright orange sunsets. A place where the hunter can marvel in the opportunities of a bygone era and become a part of something impossible to describe. It’s a deeper understanding, yet a greater mystery at why Africa remains the ultimate hunt of all.

Why John X Safaris and not the Competition?

After 35 years we’ve come to know a thing or two about safaris, in particular YOUR hunt. We’re not merely talking the talk without walking the walk. We’ve spent two generations perfecting the balance between results and experiences.

We’ve taken the cream of the industry and combined them into a team that is envy of the competition. We challenged ourselves to think bigger, hunt smarter and conserve greater. We took 1 million acres and said it wasn’t enough to take us where we want to go with your safari. We extended ourselves to take on more land than what we envisaged, to ensure we not only met your expectations, but exceeded them.

We’ve invested, established and sustainably covered the entire East Cape, SA. From the coastal forests along the Indian Ocean, to the unsurpassed beauty of the Great Karoo, and the breath-taking mountains of the north. It’s a diverse combination of landscapes, vegetation and wildlife, together making for a unique destination for the safari enthusiast to Africa.

We’ve got a lot to offer….

We’re an outfit that welcomes all hunters, no matter what your age, physical condition or hunting capabilities. We offer both plains and dangerous game in large fenced or free range areas. Our lodging is second to none, giving you or your group the choice of three different lodges/areas in the East Cape. This allows us to offer the game in their natural environment where they are naturally of better quality.

We cater to the traditional hunter, the bow enthusiast or the long-range addict. We do so under fair-chase principles, ensuring both you and us are proud of how we conduct ourselves as passionate hunters.

We want you to bring along the family, welcoming observers and prioritizing their experiences as much as we do yours. We enjoy sharing your hunt with you and we get excited about your better half or the youngsters taking up this past time we hold so dear.

We’re quite capable of filling the salt pit to your requirements, but we prefer the quality of your hunted game to be our trademark and the given, while the experiences created far outweigh that of the shots fired. It’s not about today, it’s about tomorrow and the sustainability of our wildlife for future generations.

So what should I hunt?

You’re a beginner, start with plains game on our Single or Multi Area Hunts – Make the most of our traditional 7/10 Day Hunts in the East Cape. Our hunts are offered at a daily rate basis, allowing you to tailor-make your very own safari as per your specie choices or preferences.

Why not bring the kids along? We’re passionate about the next generation of hunters. In fact, we’re so passionate we’ve taken it upon ourselves to match your investment in their hunt, ultimately our hunting future, by matching the cost of getting them to Africa. We figured if you were willing to buy the flight we’d be happy to sponsor the day fee with our Get the Youth Hunting Initiative – Bring your son/daughter/any minor along on their spring/summer break and we’ll comp his/her day fee. Only pay for trophies.

You’ve hunted plains game and you’re ready for the Big 5. There’s no better place to start than Cape Buffalo from our main base Woodlands Safari Estate. Arguably the best Buffalo hunting in the EC, the area comprises of 30 000 acres of hunting territory. Our package comes in at $15000 (All Inclusive + 1 Trophy Cape Buffalo) for either 7 or 10 days of hunting, your choice. Feel free to add or subtract any extra game as you wish.

So you enjoyed the plains game to begin with, you loved your Cape Buffalo hunt, so what’s next? Could there possibly be anything more to hunt in the East Cape? Most certainly! You haven’t started with the Tiny 10 have you? We’re the team hunters turn to when it comes to their Tiny 10 collections. From Oribi to the elusive Blue Duiker and everything in between.

Then there’s the mountains. It’s addictive and we live for Mountain Hunts in Africa – You’re an altitude hunting enthusiast? Then we’ve got the hunt for you in Africa. Vaal Rhebuck, Klipspringer and Mnt Reedbuck. There’s no one with more experience and larger/better areas when it comes to hunting the high country in Africa. Our track record speaks for itself.

You’re three or four hunts in with John X Safaris so where to next? You’ve built up a friendship through experiences with your PH that speaks louder than words, you’re not ready to just say goodbye to your family in Africa. Why not join us on one of our Out of Country Hunts? We’ve got the contacts and the know-how, it’s taken us more than thirty years, but we’ve got the areas and the game you’re after. Best of all your best friend, and African PH, will be going along to ensure you achieve the results you’ve become accustomed to with us over the years. Choose from Cameroon, Ethiopia, Congo, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia or Mozambique.

The Differentiator

We’re not for everyone. We prefer not chasing the numbers, but rather the experiences, in that manner the numbers take care of themselves and the sustainability of our wildlife. We’re not trying to be the biggest, but merely the best. We’re not interested in treating you like a client and your hunt like a business, it’s about you and your passion and the friendships built through camaraderie on safari in Africa. This is who we are.

Want to join us on safari?

We’d like to hear from you on hunting@johnxsafaris.co.za or alternatively call Carl Van Zyl on US Cell +1 682 226 2202 or PH Ross ‘Stix’ Hoole on +1 806 316 6060. We’d gladly assist by dropping you a mail, giving you a call or visiting you in your home state.

For more information and current updates about John X Safaris; follow us on Twitter, connect with us on Facebook, subscribe to our YouTube Channel and visit our Website!

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If only you could see Africa this morning… The rains have come, the drought has broken and the summer has arrived. The world is looking fresher than ever before. The young have started dropping, the first sign that it’s time to reflect on the year that has been.

If we look back at where we were on 18 November 2016 and fast forward the clock to 18 December 2017, then it would be hard to imagine we could have done what we have done without the support of so many of you. We re-located to a new base, an unknown piece of land that looked promising, but held no guarantees.  

Of course we had done our homework on the game, but our first aerial census as to ascertain a scientific quota, threw in a couple of unexpected surprises. For more than twenty years we had invested and spent countless man hours to achieve something like this at Lalibela. Here we were a mere two hours into our first flight at Woodlands…

The natural game numbers were high, in some cases too high, but the presence of Leopard, and the fact that we spotted a large Tom on our maiden flight proved to us how wild Woodlands really was. We found valleys and large tracks of land that had not seen man for many years. We saw great herds and superb trophies. The all-important “Wildlife” box was ticked in a big way.

From the wildlife we turned our attention to the lodging and what infrastructure there was. Roads and natural water sources had to be built or repaired, all during the worst drought in living memory. We were caught in a “catch 22”. There was so much that needed to be done before the first hunters arrived in late April. Without the water there would be no wildlife, and without the lodging there’d be no hunters to sustain the wildlife. We had no choice. 18 Hour days, 7 days a week became the norm.

It took a mammoth effort by a special team to pull it all together. In the end it proved to be worth it….

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From the very first hunters in April to the last in December, the acceptance and excitement around Woodlands Safari Estate, combined with our renowned Karoo concessions, has seen us looking towards the future even more invigorated than before. The experience of 35 years in the safari industry and knowing the commitment it takes to ensure you as individual will enjoy a world-class hunt, was not merely a given, but something we took to heart even more so this season.

You and your lust for adventure on the dark continent afforded Africa’s wildlife the opportunity to be bold. It allowed us to take on new areas and to grow through sustainability. This year you chose South Africa, Cameroon, and Tanzania. You chose to hunt more than 55 species. You chose plains game. You chose big five. You chose to support your passion.

The success and enjoyment derived from being a part of your safari was something we as a team gained much enjoyment from. It’s something we’ve looked back on proudly. This year’s achievements are a celebration of bold new beginnings at John X Safaris, and most importantly, a celebration of each of you and your adventures. Truth be told… Without you none of this would have been possible. Thank you.

May this festive season be a joyous one filled much laughter, love and celebration.

Until your next safari – A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Carl & Family

John X Safaris will be closed for our annual shutdown and will re-open on 2 January 2018. We will not have access to emails daily, but will respond to your messages as soon as possible. See you at the shows!

For more information and current updates about John X Safaris; follow us on Twitter, connect with us on Facebook, subscribe to our YouTube Channel and visit our Website.

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For six weeks long we have spent numerous days and countless hours trying to share the wonder and beauty of Africa. Trying to relay the feeling that stirs within when the dark continent creeps under your skin and into your soul. The onslaught on ones senses is like nowhere else on earth.

Even after all these years it seems the traveling abroad only gets longer and the longing for Africa greater. This year, like the many before, saw us once again embarked on our journey to secure the future and prosperity of Africa and her wildlife. The commitment from the American hunter is something that is spoken about often, but needs mentioning again. Without you and your support our wildlife would not enjoy the growth and security it has become accustomed to today. For that we are forever grateful. Thank you.

Record numbers were reached on the booking front this year. From Dallas to Las Vegas and the many stops in between – So many people to thank. So many to welcome on board as they look to embark on their first safari to Africa with John X Safaris. And of course, so many to be indebted to as they once again chose John X Safaris as their choice destination for 2017/18/19. The support, referrals, and recommendations from our returning hunters has left us astounded once again. It only drives us on to keep doing what we’ve been doing – ensuring our safaris are so much more than a hunt, but the complete African experience.

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The acceptance and excitement around Woodlands Game Reserve, our new base and home, combined with our renowned Karoo concessions, has seen us return home even more invigorated than before. The experience of 34 years in the safari industry and knowing the commitment it takes to ensure you as individual will enjoy a world-class safari, is not merely a given, but our word. The success and enjoyment derived from being a part of your safari is something we as a team gain much enjoyment from. It’s something we’re proud of and something that goes far further than the hunt.

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Our traditional season in South Africa will kick off in mid-April, at the completion of our new Colonial Safari Manor at Woodlands. This year will see hunters enjoy safari camps like no other, with our northern Karoo camp having enjoyed an upgrade too. While it had been dry for the most part of 2016, late summer rains have fallen across the majority of our areas, with the promise of more on the horizon each evening. The retention of our renowned coastal and Karoo plains game concessions, combined with Woodlands and the Big 5 dynamic that has added, will ensure our hunters enjoy arguably the finest hunting Southern Africa has to offer.

Between now and April we will be gearing up for the season ahead with scouting, building and planning being the focus in and around John X Safaris. There’s a lot to be done, but so much to look forward to.

Here’s hoping my team at home can get it done – As for me, I’m off to Cameroon to get our season off to a big start, and at the same time tick another adventure from my “half full” bucket list. It doesn’t get much bigger than a Lord Derby Eland for a hunter or for that matter, his Professional Hunter.

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In closing I’d like to thank you once again for your American hospitality, your continued support, and your unrelenting trust in John X Safaris is something we’re extremely proud of as a team. Our appreciation is something that goes beyond words.

Thank you!

Catch you in Africa – Carl & Team

For more information and current updates about John X Safaris; follow us on Twitter, connect with us on Facebook, subscribe to our YouTube Channel and visit our Website!

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Over the years I have been blessed to meet and hunt with some of the greatest outdoor enthusiasts of our day. May it have been a specialized safari in the mountains of the north for Vaal Rhebuck or a Blue Duiker in the forests of our coastal belt, or even a first timer safari with their children. I’ve enjoyed my fair share of sharing many a day out in the field with men and women who have represented our hunting ways and industry for numerous decades.

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Some have joined on one hunt, while there have been others who came back a second time – Then there was Craig Boddington.

When Craig and I first met we were no more than strangers at a cocktail party in Dallas. A couple of months passed and soon we were exchanging emails and a couple of phone calls. Before we knew it Craig and his family were on safari with me and we found ourselves crouching down below a pile of rocks while glassing for a particular Kudu bull I’d scouted some weeks before.

There was a great bull feeding no more than 180 yards below our position, oblivious to our presence, but it was not the bull I was after. Craig gave me some time and when he saw I was ready to move on to continue my search for “the” bull he shuffled over to where I was positioned with my spotting scope. “Look Carl I know you’d like to get us this particular monster you’ve been seeing, but why don’t you keep it for one of your future clients, this bull right here is plenty good for us – lets take him.” And that’s where I realized there’s more to Craig Boddington than just a great writer, adventurer, hunter and explorer.

Since then we have shared many a camp fire in Africa and now for the first time, Craig and I would like to invite you to join us around our campfire this June. Craig will be hosting a group at John X Safaris in the East Cape, South Africa, from 16-24 June 2017.

Hunters interested in joining this group will enjoy both our coastal base, Woodlands Game reserve, as well as our northern areas in the Great Karoo. By combining the two areas, you as the hunter, will ultimately get to hunt three safaris in one, covering the forests and valley bushveld of the coastal belt, the plains of the Great Karoo, and the mountains of the north. In doing so you will enjoy the opportunity to hunt more than thirty species in their natural environment where they are naturally of better quality. The two areas camps are 3 hours apart, an easy transition on any particular hunting day, ensuring no hunting days are lost.

The all-inclusive 1×1 base cost, covering all day, service and trophy handling fees + taxes, for this hunt will be $3600.00. Over and above this fee only pay for trophies harvested/wounded. Feel free to hunt 2×1 or invite observers along. Why not make the most of our John X Safaris getting the youth hunting initiative – You buy the flight and we’ll comp the Jr hunters day fee, only pay for trophies harvested/wounded. Start them young and get them hunting!

If you would like to join Craig and myself in the East Cape between 16 – 24 June 2017 – Then drop us a line on hunting@johnxsafaris.co.za . We have 4-5 spots remaining. For further details on John X Safaris feel free to visit our website on http://www.johnxsafaris.co.za

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We look forward to sharing a camp fire with you in Africa.

Yours in hunting,

Carl van Zyl & Craig Boddington

For more information and current updates about John X Safaris; follow us on Twitter, connect with us on Facebook, subscribe to our YouTube Channel and visit our Website.

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Ever considered the possibility of an African hunt? If you’ve never looked into a safari to the dark continent you may be surprised at how affordable it actually is. The reality of an African hunt might be much closer than you may realize.

Are you after…

  • An outfit that welcomes all hunters, no matter what your age, physical condition or hunting capabilities.
  • Over 30 Species of World-Class Plains Game in abundance across large concessions in the game rich East Cape.
  • Fair Chase Big 5 on our private 30 000 acre concession, Woodlands Game Reserve.
  • Lodging second to none. Where you can choose 1 of 3 different lodges throughout the East Cape. Hunt the game in their natural environment where they are naturally of better quality.
  • Unlimited Tiny 10.
  • Mountain hunting like nowhere else in Southern Africa.
  • Both large high-fenced concessions or free-range areas. We have access to over 3 million acres in the East Cape alone.
  • A hunt that caters to you the hunter – serious about achieving your desired results without “package deals” standing in the way of your goals.
  • A family friendly atmosphere where youngsters are welcomed free of charge. Take us up on our initiative of #Gettingtheyouthhuntingatjxs
  • A destination that welcomes lady hunters and has been doing so for many years.
  • A destination that welcomes observers and prioritize their experience/s as much as that of the hunter.
  • A destination that welcomes groups, and can cater to groups by having large enough areas and a big enough team ensuring every member of the group leaves us satisfied.
  • Professional Hunters who take your safari seriously, ensuring your priorities are not only met, but your expectations exceeded.
  • An outfit who hunts for a living – You – Our Hunter, is our priority, not the ranch or any sideshows. Our business is hunting, and hunting only. We dedicate 24 hours a day to you ensuring your safari is everything you’d hoped for.
  • Hunting with an outfit that not only “talks” about the good work it does, but actually get’s it hands dirty making a true difference via our John X Foundation.
  • An outfit who believes in hunting for conservation – after all, if we didn’t practice what we preached, how could we still be the leaders after 33 years in the safari industry.

IF the above is what you’re after then why not join John X Safaris in Africa – It’s your ultimate safari destination…

Below are some of our most popular safari/hunt options on offer – There’s something for everyone.

  • Single or Multi Area Hunt – Make the most of our traditional 7/10 Day Hunt in the East Cape. Limited dates remain for 2017.
  • Get the Youth Hunting – Bring your son/daughter/any minor along on their spring/summer break and we’ll comp his/her day fee. Only pay for trophies.
  • 2017 Cape Buffalo Special – Opening Season Woodlands Cape Buffalo Hunt $15000 (7 Days All Incl) This will be real hunting in a large extensive concession with amazing quality Cape Buffalo. Numbers are high and quotas are conservative  – Expect to be amazed!
  • Tiny 10 Hunts – We’re the team hunters turn to when it comes to their Tiny 10 collections. From Vaal Rhebuck to the Livingstone Suni and everything in between.
  • Mountain Hunts in Africa – You’re an altitude hunting enthusiast? Then we’ve got the hunt for you in Africa. Vaal Rhebuck, Klipspringer and Mnt Reedbuck – There’s no one with more experience and larger/better areas when it comes to hunting the high country in Africa. Our track record and the amount of 10″ Vaal Rhebuck hitting the salt on an annual basis speaks for itself.
  • Hunt the Spiral Slam – East Cape Kudu, Cape Bushbuck, Nyala & Cape Eland. Could there be a more beautiful slam with such challenging hunting.

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Below is a quick reminder of our 2017 show and travel schedule. If you or any of your friends may be interested in meeting with us, please drop us a line, we’d be glad to fit you or them into our schedule.

  • Dallas Safari Club Show – Dallas, Texas: 5 – 8 January 2017. Booth # 4360
  • Houston, TX, Cocktail Party: 11 January 2017 – Any interested hunters can join us for an evening BBQ Reception at the Travis residence.
  • College Station, TX, Cocktail Party: 13 January 2017 – Any interested hunters can join us for Africa Info Night with Horizon Firearms at their amazing factory.
  • Amarillo, TX, Visit: 16 – 20 January 2017 – Any folks interested in meeting up with Stix can schedule a preferred time during the week.
  • Omaha, NE,  Cocktail Party/Visit: 20 – 25 January 2017 – Carl will be hosting a cocktail evening with Steve & Jill Evers from Wildlife Creations Taxidermy on Saturday, 21 January 2017.
  • Jackson, MS: 20 – 25 January 2017 – Stix will be visiting with our good friends Alex Good & Mike Jarvis. Feel free to meet up with Stix while he’s in Mississippi.
  • Salt Lake City / Eagle Mountain / Pleasant View, UT: 25 – 29 January 2017 – Feel free to meet up with Carl/Stix while they’re in Utah.
  • Safari Club International – Las Vegas, Nevada: 1 – 4 February 2017.Booth # 3052 & 3054

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Hunting with John X Safaris is more than just a hunt – It’s the total safari experience. It is a journey of discovery, a wakening of the senses, and ultimately the realization of the dream of hunting Africa.

Whether it is your first trip to Africa, a hunt for the big five, or the choice of forty different plains game species, we are here to cater to your every need.

Contact us for your next hunt on hunting@johnxsafaris.co.za or alternatively call Carl Van Zyl on US Cell 6824108377 or PH Ross ‘Stix’ Hoole on 6824108373– We’d gladly assist by dropping you a mail, giving you a call or visiting you in your home state.

For more information and current updates about John X Safaris; follow us on Twitter, connect with us on Facebook, subscribe to our YouTube Channel and visit our Website!

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As I started my final forward from Lalibela during late September, I found myself gazing out over the game rich plains deep in thought… the moment had finally come for us to say goodbye and close a chapter on twenty memorable years. I would be lying if I were to try to convince you that at that moment I was not feeling overly sentimental or emotional. Twenty years of dreaming, sacrifice, hard work, and achievement. It had been a journey like few.

If we were to rewind the clock by twenty years, to be more precise, October 1996, and I were to tell you about that first sunny afternoon on Hillside Farm, Sidbury, East Cape, South Africa, you would have been excused for being a pessimist like the many others. Rick and Sue van Zyl had just acquired the first property in what would become today’s world-renowned Lalibela Game Reserve, and the home of John X Safaris.

At first it was a meager colonial homestead turned into a “rustic camp” for the few loyal hunters, who unbeknownst to them were playing a major role in getting the dream of a wildlife reserve off to a slow, but gradual start. Soon the first lodge, Lentaba, was completed, giving our hunters a taste of what was to come. With the acquisition of more land and the re-introduction of 22 game species and the first White Rhino, things started coming together nicely.

With 20 000 acres, a lodge, one of the Big 5, over 3000 head of game, and an eager team we set off to launch Lalibela to tourists in the summer of 2002. The concept was a brilliant one; our hunters would occupy and utilize the winter hunting months, while the tourists would take up the summer months, when hunters preferred to stay home for their traditional northern hemisphere hunting season.

By 2003 a second lodge, Mark’s Camp, was completed, the very year both Elephant and Cape Buffalo, joined the White Rhino as members of the Big 5, once again roaming free where they had not set foot for over a hundred years. A masterstroke in developments it turned out to be, with the reserve taking an even bigger step with the introduction of free roaming Lion, Leopard, and Cheetah in the early part of 2004. With the addition of a further 10 000 acres and completion of our flagship lodge, Treetops Luxurious Tented Camp, a first of its kind, during September that same year, Lalibela had established itself and was now a successful brand in both the hunting and tourist industries respectively.

Throughout the years and the numerous developments we have been privileged to have grown as a family, calling a place such as Lalibela, home. It is something that we have not taken lightly in our responsibility to the land, wildlife, our people, hospitality, and business. Your support and safari contributions have allowed us to build and live an extraordinary life – one we could not have been a part of without each and every one of you – after all, Lalibela only became a reality because of you and your commitment to conservation through hunting. It has been a journey we are immensely proud of and an achievement of a goal reached through untold sacrifice and hard work.

With that said we had reached for the stars and fallen amongst them, but something was lacking, it was time to move on… time to let go of the familiarity. It was time to go back to the beginning, to our people, to John X Safaris and the most enjoyable years of our lives.

New Beginnings – Woodlands Game Reserve

“And suddenly you just know… it’s time to start something new and trust the magic of beginnings…”

Woodlands Game Reserve – 30 000 Acres, big 5, plains game, over 2500 head of game, 20 + species, rifle, archery, wing shooting, and a brand new colonial safari lodge opening in March 2017 + the very same trusted team – Dedicated to hunters and hunting only. 

We will still be offering our multi-area option safaris in both the coastal and northern Karoo regions, like we’ve been doing for the past 33 years, with Woodlands becoming our coastal base. Those hunters who have booked safaris can rest assured that Woodlands will be everything and more of what Lalibela could have ever offered as a destination.

We have found our new home. It’s a hidden gem like no other, and you’re invited to join us on your next safari as we turn the industry on its head and launch the greatest hunting destination the East Cape has ever seen.

Until your next safari – We thank you for being a part of the Safari World of John X Safaris during the past year and the many before. It has been a privilege hosting and having you on safari. Your support and friendship means the world to us. A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Carl & Family

For more information and current updates about John X Safaris; follow us on Twitter, connect with us on Facebook, subscribe to our YouTube Channel and visit our Website!

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It’s Friday morning in South Africa – I’m home for a change – a rare privilege at this time of year. The last group of hunters left a couple of days ago and we won’t be heading off on safari for a couple more weeks.

With a steaming cup of coffee I see Kelly in her trusty Land Cruiser crossing the plain in front of my home. She’s been at it again; another all nighter – her commitment to these last four remaining Rhino is unwavering. The Cruisers headlights are dimmed by a layer of dust, similar to her weary eyes, she looks tired and worn out, but she’s smiling. Another night, another battle won, they’ve made it yet again – She sits and watches them with the enjoyment of a parent. She’s not alone, all over South Africa the same scene is playing out.

I slowly turn my attention to the day ahead, business will not stand still, I’d love to spend the rest of my morning observing these prehistoric looking creatures feeding a mere 60 yards from my office, but that privilege is not reserved for me – I have a job at hand. I form part of an important machine that allows those four Rhino and the rest of the game the opportunity to thrive in a rehabilitated ecosystem.

How that ecosystem and the wildlife that calls it home makes it each month is what drives us to rise before dawn each morning. It’s a privilege living in a place like this, but it’s a commitment few are willing to accept. This is not the “living happily ever after fairy tale” the armchair conservationist critic would believe it to be  – this is about accepting the challenge at hand.

As my phone rings, I realize it’s not even 6am, there’s only one person in the world that calls before six and that’s Dad. “Have you read the news?” A voice booms out over the line. You can bet he’s wanted to call since 4am, how he has managed to wait this long boggles my mind – patience is not his strong point. Or maybe it is? Maybe his lack of patience makes him who he is – a survivor. An entrepreneur with a passion for his family and wildlife. “Our government has decided to drop its international Rhino horn trade application to CITES 2016”, he continues. The line goes silent. What else can we say? We’re both at a loss for words. Where to now? What will happen to our Rhino? To the rest in Southern Africa?

For the record…

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There are +~ 20 000 White Rhino and 4000 Black Rhino left in the world today. Since 2008 illegal poaching has killed at least 5,940 Rhinos in Southern Africa. Let that sink in for a couple of minutes. 

Rhino poaching is currently at a crisis point. By the end of 2015, the number of African Rhinos killed by poachers had increased for the sixth year in a row with at least 1,338 Rhinos killed by poachers across Africa. These statistics were compiled by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the Species Survival Commission’s African Rhino Specialist Group (AfRSG).

South Africa has by far the largest population of Rhinos in the world and is an incredibly important country for Rhino conservation. However Rhino poaching levels have dramatically escalated over recent years. The below graph shows the exponential increase in poaching from 2007 – 2015. 

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Above: Graph showing South African Rhino poaching statistics using data published by South African Department of Environmental Affairs (2016)

Although it is encouraging to see South Africa’s poaching levels fell slightly, poaching losses are still extremely high. There were 40 fewer Rhinos killed in 2015 than in 2014, but that in itself is statistically insignificant when you’re talking such large numbers of poaching deaths.

Worryingly, the crisis has spread to neighboring countries in southern Africa, with Namibia and Zimbabwe experiencing an exponential increase in poaching. During 2015, Namibia lost 80 Rhinos to poaching, up from 25 in 2014 and just two in 2012. In Zimbabwe, it is reported that at least 50 Rhinos were poached last year, more than double the previous year. For Africa as a whole, the total number of Rhinos poached during 2015 was the highest in two decades.

The current poaching crisis is attributed to the growing demand for Rhino horn in Asian countries, mainly Vietnam and China. Vietnam has been identified as the largest user country of Rhino horn. Although Rhino horn has no scientific medical benefits, consumers are using it to treat a wide range of conditions, from cancer to hangovers, and due to its high value it is now also used as a status symbol by wealthy individuals. The high price fetched for the horn has attracted the involvement of ruthless criminal syndicates making poaching their primary business. 

How did we get here?

Since Dr. Ian Player started his efforts of bringing the Rhino back from the very brink of extinction with “Operation Rhino” in the early 1950’s, a couple of things have remained constant. 

  1. Private ownership of Rhino has been their saving grace since day one. 
  2. Poaching at some level or another has always been present. 

From day one Dr. Ian Player was of the belief that the South African farmer is one of the hardiest individuals under the sun. Give them a briefing on the process, create an incentive of reward, and you’ll be well on your way to success. Within 30 years the Dr had his wish and before we knew it, we had built an entire industry around the Rhino. May the choice have been hunting, farming, or ecotourism – an industry was born around one man’s vision and the commitment of a large sector of our rural community. 

Laws and protocols were developed and put in place to protect the well-being of the animals as to ensure the industry would be regulated at an acceptable standard going forward. 

In all this time poaching was taking place, not at the levels we’ve been exposed to today, but it was always there. The fact that those poached numbers were so insignificant in comparison to the growth of the industry kept most of that information at bay. No one was willing to rock the boat. The Rhino population was thriving, the National Parks were sitting with excess and the private sector had bought into this new concept of ecotourism and hunting. Foreigners flocked to our shores to view and hunt our Rhino – all of course within the legal parameters set out by our South African Nature Conservation and CITES. 

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The 90’s and early 2000’s were the big years for not only our Rhino, but our businesses too. We all expanded and grew – we took bigger risks than ever before and overextended ourselves even more – we all enjoyed the ride, nobody more so than our Rhino population who now had doubled their habitat from 20 years previously. It was a win/win. 

We had created a mega industry around the Rhino, our farmers had done well, they were good, in fact possibly too good. Numbers grew and even more became involved in Rhino – it became part of our national pride and success, but unfortunately with all the good we drew some unwanted attention too. Soon the poaching world put one and one together – there was a $ to be made. One with limited risk and more rewarding than a bank robbery. The chances of being caught were minimal, and even if you were caught the sentencing proved to be marginal to light. 

With the poachers gaining momentum the farmers started thinking out of the box once again. They had brought the Rhino back from the brink of extinction, and then created a sustainable industry that saw them being rewarded handsomely, why would they quit now? They got creative and started Green Hunting. This allowed a larger part of the industry to get involved as the clash between hunting and ecotourism came together, meeting in the middle.  We could now not merely derive value from our Rhino through hunting, live sales, and ecotourism, we could offer an experience that was acceptable to a larger part of society.

An experience was created, with the benefit of seeing the Rhino walk off to live another day after the enthusiastic foreigner had tracked, darted, and woken his/her Rhino. This was a new twist to our industry – we were once again counterbalancing our losses to the rising poaching issue. 

Then the poachers got serious and 2009 arrived. The world went into a recession and so too did the world of the Rhino and the private Rhino owner. The domestic trade in Rhino horn, much of it derived from the Green Hunting industry was placed under moratorium until further notice. Green Hunting was banned that very next year due to a flaw in our South African law, the Veterinary council had their say, and soon the constant revenue stream was shut down. 

Social media took on a new meaning as the world started to recover from the recession it had endured for five years. No longer was Face Book, Twitter or the likes of many others a means of social communication and sharing, it became a weapon to topple empires, overthrow governments, create awareness for both good and bad, and influence opinion. This now affected the Rhino too. With the Rhino horn trade moratorium in place, an escalating poaching issue at hand, ecotourism battling to recover from a recession hangover and hunting taking center stage for the various anti groups – the world of Rhinos became increasingly expensive and complicated. 

A dead Rhino was now worth more than a live Rhino. No longer could horn be harvested to trade or green hunting be used as a form of income. Any form of hunting was placed under a massive spotlight on social media, and ecotourism was feeling the pinch too. South Africa’s honeymoon was over; FIFA Soccer World Cup 2010 had created an artificial economy before and after the tournament. The world had gotten excited by South Africa, it had flocked in its numbers to our shores once again, but by 2013 the recession was very much with us. Africa’s reputation of being two to three years behind the rest of the world was proving to be the case once again. In all this time our Rhino were bleeding on the ground and the men and women on the front line were pouring even more effort and funds into their protection. Something would give sooner or later. 

The hunting of Rhino was becoming more and more expensive, yet this and ecotourism was our only option. Public opinion was finding it harder and harder to understand how the hunting of Rhino could save their numbers. To them the poaching was responsible for enough losses to the greater population as is, how could the hunting of another Rhino possibly save the specie? What they failed to understand and refuse to accept is the fact that this was an industry that could not afford to close shop for a single day. National Parks and Ecotourism destinations had increased their numbers to the point of off-take. Without the hunters and new game ranches/reserves buying excess Rhino, prices for the commodity would tumble and soon poaching escalation would outweigh the net growth per annum. The Rhino industry was in danger of losing the interest of the private sector, the very one that had brought it back from the brink. 

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But then they threw us a bone. The state called on the private sector to assist in the preparation of an application to propose the regulated international trade of Rhino horn at CITES 2016. This gave hope where all else was lost, and yet again the private sector bought into this concept. Renewed spending took place to protect our Rhino even more. Efforts were doubled by the various stakeholders, we looked past the fact that the ongoing poaching was draining us to a point beyond belief and anymore money poured into a bottomless pit was surely insanity – the old principle of Dr Player was back – reward the farmer and he’ll make a success of anything. We all bravely marched on in a glimmer of hope – reward would soon be ours and that of the Rhino. 

In all this time we started believing more and more in the possibility of a regulated International Trade. Back home in South Africa, our very own private game farmers, John Hume and Johan Kruger, had taken the State to court over their constitutional right to trade horn domestically. The lawsuit cost them millions, but in September 2015 the high court ruled in their favor – they had won. We rejoiced in their efforts, sure that it would be the watershed moment that would open further doors to securing the future of our Rhino industry. Our celebrations were short-lived; domestic trade was hardly given the opportunity to prove its worth as a possible future for the industry, when the State appealed the ruling, placing domestic trade of horn once again under moratorium.

We entered 2016 knowing this would have to be the year that would finally see our fortunes change in the Rhino industry. Very few industries to date had been tested to this extend. No domestic rancher would have marched on in the same hope after a sheep, goat, or cow. Yet the Rhino owners continued on, CITES 2016 would be held in South Africa – you couldn’t blame us for thinking the stars were starting to align in our favor. And then 21 April 2016 arrived – mere months prior to the convention.

Where to now with our Rhinos?

As I sit trying to convey my feeling of hopelessness in my words I turn to a letter received from Dr Peter Oberem, a fellow Rhino owner. 

“Thursday 21 April 2016 will go down in history as a sad day for our country and for the world. In fact, it will be remembered as a devastating day for the rhino as a species. This shocking decision will spell the end of this iconic and beloved animal. It is a devastating day, especially for the very people who have, over the past 50 years, already contributed so much to saving the rhino from extinction, as well as its continued growth and protection. It is a decision that is celebrated only by rhino poachers, those that harbor, support and protect them, and those few vociferous, ill-informed and misguided animal rightist who actively fought for this decision.

Those who have contributed their money, sweat, tears, blood and – yes – their lives for the cause feel betrayed by those who have been charged by their positions to protect the species. They will feel their efforts have been ignored and brushed aside for some as yet unfathomable reason. The voice of those who have made such a difference and who cherish, hold and protect between one-third and one half of the rhino in the world has been drowned out by those who are so often armchair conservationists and who in reality contribute little to protecting the species on the ground.

To date, all efforts to stem the tide of death have come to nought. The only people who benefit from this decision – and the decades of selfless effort to build Rhino populations – are the poachers and their protectors. The sole beneficiaries of this illegal trade worth more than R6 billion per annum are the poachers and other involved criminals.

As of today, the price of Rhino will fall and the price of Rhino horn will rise, increasing the differential between a live Rhino and a dead one – worth only a few hundred thousand alive but up to R8 million dead. It is an unsustainable and untenable situation. What incentive is there other than love of the animal for one to spend money, shed tears and blood, and offer up one’s life to protect it? Where do the protectors of the rhino get the ever-increasing resources needed to counter the growing threat against them and the animals they love and guard?

In addition, through this decision, our country, its people and conservation have missed a unique opportunity. Well controlled, legal trade would create and sustain 11 rural jobs for every Rhino in the country at the minimum wage for an agricultural worker in rural communities and  on game ranches (220 000 decent jobs in total). This R6,6 billion would go a long way towards footing the security bill for these operations and ensuring the survival of the rhino as a
species.

Over and above this, the government would earn another R6,6 billion from their share of the income, which could be used to protect Rhino and contribute to other conservation projects in the national and provincial parks – a situation far better than all this possible foreign-exchange income landing solely in the coffers of the criminal and corrupt, as is the situation currently perpetuated by the announced decision.

This decision flies in the face of logic, which tells us that what is needed is simply to increase the risk to the poacher and reduce his benefits. This decision has achieved exactly the opposite effect. Winston Churchill said “those who do not learn from history are destined to repeat it” paraphrasing Einstein, who said that making the same mistake over and over again “is insanity”. It seems we have not learnt. Are we insane? “

There is nothing else to be said. Neither I nor Dad can think of another way out as of this stage. We are both hunters and yet the critic will question our feeling of remorse of the current situation. We have bred, we have protected, we have hunted, we have lost, and we have given our everything to our Rhino. We have not done so in order to rise each morning to count the wealth we may have derived through our Rhino, truth be told, we are so far behind on the eight ball, that their monetary value left the building many years ago.

So you may ask why? Why would we continue forth on such a hapless business module? Every person in this world wakes to ensure his job or business reaps rewards at the end of each day, realizing full well not every sector of his business will be as productive as the other. We accept those same principles, BUT …

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We do it for our kids.

If you have ever had the privilege of sitting in the middle of a crash of Rhino, and observed the joy and pleasure those animals bring to your children, then you my friend will understand where we’re coming from.

It was the Rhino industry that allowed us that simple pleasure, and in turn provided the Rhino the opportunity to return from the brink of extinction.

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Surely we cannot ignore history at such a critical point.

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