Peter Flack | Hunter, Writer, Conservationist, Retired Game Rancher

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September 2010

World Record Nyala versus South Africa's Conservation Revolution by Peter Flack

I resigned this month after five years as chairman of Rowland Ward. There are many reasons for my resignation and one of them comes from the first book on management that I ever read called, "Up the Organization," by Peter Townsend. He wrote that no one should stay on as a chairman or CEO of a business for more than five years because, after this, they started to become stale, repetitive and boring. Of course, I was all of those things before I even took on the job but I am sure the last five years have only exacerbated the situation.

During my time as chairman of Rowland Ward I was privileged to be privy to the production of the 27th edition of Rowland Ward's Records of Big Game, published in 2006 and have contributed, where I could, to the production of the new, 28th edition, which should be published later this year. A record number of entries have been received for the 28th edition and a number of them exceed in size anything that has previously been recorded. In some instances, this has provided clear evidence that conservation of these particular species, in the areas where they have been found, is on a sound, if not flourishing footing.

One of these species which attracted my attention was nyala as it is no secret that, for many years, I have been hunting for a big nyala. There are a number of reasons why. Firstly, I find them to be one of the most attractive antelope species on the African continent - a true African hunting icon.  Secondly, I thoroughly enjoy sneaky hunts and as nyala, particularly the big bulls, are creatures of the thickets, for the most part, that is the way you hunt them. Stop, look, listen, moved quietly forward for a few paces and then carefully repeat the exercise.

Thirdly, I have been lucky enough over the 28 years since I shot my first one, to have shot a further five nyala, each one bigger than the next with the last one a fraction shy of 29 inches, nearly two inches bigger than the current Rowland Ward minimum. Now, while I do not make a fetish of this, I try hard when hunting a species that I have already shot, not to shoot one smaller than I already have. To me, as a trophy hunter, this simply makes no sense and almost seems greedy. In addition, while I have never belonged to the club which believes that, if I shoot a bigger animal than you, then I must be a better hunter than you, shooting a big, mature bull, on its own, out of the breeding cycle, which beats the minimum entry level into Rowland Ward's Records of Big Game, is, for me, the cherry on top of the cream on top of the cake and so the time seemed right for me to go in search of one of hunting's holy grails - a plus 30 inch nyala bull.

Lastly, and I am sure that my Calvinistic upbringing has something to do with this, after all, even my after shave has to sting, my enjoyment of a successful hunt is in direct proportion to its difficulty and, while it is not that difficult any longer to shoot a good, mature, representative nyala bull, a really big one with horns measuring over 30 inches in length, is a different kettle of fish altogether and, thus far, I have devoted five hunts over as many years to my quest for one of these monsters but, thus far, the score is five to the nyala and nil to me.

So, of course, I was immediately gob smacked when I read in the March edition of Game & Hunt about a massive 33 3/8 inch nyala bull shot on Dr. Johann van Wyk's horse breeding farm, Reebokfontein near Klerksdorp, by a bow hunter, Mr. Alexander Sachs, who was guided by Mr. Jason Stone of Stone Hunting Safaris. This beat Paul Phelan's wonderful 32 7/8 inches nyala bull, shot in KwaZulu-Natal where they naturally occur, which has stood as the world record for over 28 years.

Paul, now a highly experienced and well known professional hunter, outfitter and PHASA member, at the time in question was in charge of the Umfolozi Wilderness Area, forming the southern part of the 50 000 hectare Umfolozi Game Reserve. He was on culling duty that day stalking along the banks of the White Umfolozi with his two game scouts when he saw what he thought was a waterbuck. On closer inspection, the waterbuck transformed itself into a nyala which he immediately downed with his trusty Mauser.308 (converted for him by Ben Musgrave from a 9x57) and hand loaded, 150 grain, PMP bullets. It was only much later when a friend, Mike Balcomb, saw the horns and insisted that they be taken to KwaZulu-Natal Hunters and Game Conservation Association to be officially measured that their length was established and even later still before Robin Halse, my predecessor at Rowland Ward, contacted Paul and insisted that they be entered in The Book.

I wanted to learn more about the amazing animal that had knocked Paul's nyala off its perch and called Dr. van Wyk. He explained that, although the primary business of the farm, was breeding Arabian horses, he kept a 130 hectare enclosure stocked with nyala, impala, springbok, steinbuck, duiker and two giraffes. He was not sure how many nyala he had as the vegetation was very bushy and thick and the terrain quite hilly with "enough space and possibilities to escape and hide", but he estimated that they might number some 50 to 60 in total. He said that he had known about the big bull since it was youngster and added that it was very tame - you could "nearly catch it by hand" he said - and, particularly after cold weather, when he fed the game pellets and lucerne.

In an email to me, he wrote, "The game are fed in wintertimes, because I like to spoil them and keep them tame. Not all make use of my offering. Presently only three of the Nyala bulls come for the pellets. Some of the other bulls and several ewes are at the stables at night and help themselves to pellets and lucerne that was dropped and also on the plants around the stables. I found the Nyala to eat almost anything, even the leafs of the Cork Oak and Arisona Oak - the White stinkwood is their favorite. They will destroy everyone, and even brake the wire netting for protection to the trees."

As can be seen from the photograph, the bull is a reddish brown in colour and not the usual dark charcoal that one would expect in a bull of this size and age. Doctor van Wyk explained that it was a very timid animal and would always back down when confronted by the younger bulls in the presence of the cows or at the feeding area. In response to my question, he said that the bull had very small testes. Yes, I thought, both literally and figuratively. But mine was not an idle question as there is some scientific evidence to support the fact that animals like this nyala bull often seem to convert their lack of testosterone into horn length.

Last year he said that these younger bulls had started to, "really go for him" and, as he was already some seven to eight years old, he was worried that the big bull might lose a horn or, worse still, be killed and, as such, put a price of R50 000 on it and sent his estimate of the nyala's vital statistics to the Professional Hunting Association of South Africa (PHASA). After  that, numerous people contacted him but all wanted to be absolutely sure of the bull's horn measurements before making a commitment. Some people were prepared to pay the price provided they could dart the bull and check the measurements first but Dr. van Wyk was not prepared to countenance this.

In the end, Vleissentraal called in October 2009 and announced that they would send someone in seven days' time to kill the animal and Mr Jason Stone, who is not a member of PHASA, duly arrived with the young, German hunter, Mr Alexander Sachs who, within about an hour of setting off, at a distance of about 25 metres, managed to place an arrow in front of the left hip of the nyala, which traversed the bull's body and exited in front of the right foreleg as the animal walked obliquely away from him. Job done.

According to Dr. van Wyk, Mr Sachs lives in Munich but spends most of his time hunting around the world and was on his fourth trip to South Africa at the time. I could not find out any further information about him and so turned to the web site of Mr. Stone's company, Stone Hunting Safaris. What can I say? I was flabbergasted and can certainly not do justice to it in this article but, if you are interested, I would recommend that you look it up. Nothing that I have ever experienced in the hunting world prepared me for what I found there. Mr. Stone's clients, or at least the 14 who appeared on the web site, have together shot an absolutely astounding 75 animals in total with he and his brother, Clinton, which rank in the top ten of SCI's trophy records. Of these, Mr. Sachs has accounted for no less than 14 while a certain Mr. A.S.J.D. Murray was responsible for a further 29. Yes, that's right, 29 animals in SCI's top ten! And I nearly forgot, Mr. Stone has himself shot the number one Cape bushbuck and the number eight common oribi. What is more, it appears as if Mr. Sachs may have bow shot the new number one nyala, leopard, caracal, brown hyena and African wildcat all on that same trip!  Excuse my ignorance but do you know of, or have even heard or read about, anyone anywhere in the hunting world who, either as a professional or amateur hunter, can rival these statistics? I certainly have not. I wonder if they have a secret and, if so, what it is?

Up until the 1980s, Rowland Ward's Records of Big Game measured nyala along the front of the horn without following the spiral. By that stage, 354 animals had equalled or bettered the minimum measurement (which was then 26 inches), of which only 12 exceeded 30 inches with the biggest two specimens tied in a dead heat at 32 7/8 inches. They were shot in Mozambique and Zululand in 1909 and 1934, respectively. Since then Rowland Ward has added a further 388 entries by the time the 27th edition was produced, of which 44 exceeded 30 inches. The new 28th edition will add still further to this list of plus 30 inch monsters and, for example, Mr. Donald Dusick shot a 31 ¾ inch specimen in Ellisras in 2007; Mr. Jasper Atcheson his 32 ¼ bull at Komatipoort in 2008; Mr. J. Potgieter a 32 ¾ incher in Swaziland that same year and, there's that name again, Mr. A.S.J.D. Murray, a 33 inch giant in Hluhluwe the following year.

In other words, in the 93 years from its first edition in 1892 until 1985, using the old measuring system, Rowland Ward, on average, entered 3,8 nyala per year in The Book of which 3,4 % exceeded 30 inches. Over the next 25 years, Rowland Ward entered 15,5 nyala per year (or over four times as many per year) in The Book of which 11,3% beat the magical mark. In other words both the quantity and quality of nyalas have improved and, furthermore, if you look at the places from which they have come, it is clear that this animal has spread its wings across the length and breadth of South Africa.

The question, however, that Rowland Ward has to ask itself, is whether the Sachs/Stone nyala should be entered in The Book. Rowland Ward's Code of Conduct requires that: "no creature be hunted for sport in an enclosed area of such size that such creature is not self-sufficient. Self-sufficiency includes the ability of the animal to exercise its natural inclination to escape from the hunter as well as catering for all its basic needs such as water, food, shelter and breeding."

So, where am I going with all of this? Firstly, it is abundantly clear that the quiet conservation revolution which has swept across South Africa for the last 50 years or so has dramatically increased the numbers and range of virtually every game species that exists in this country and this has been a good thing for a whole variety of reasons. For example, wildlife is much easier on the land than domestic livestock; the land can carry a far greater biomass of wildlife or, in
simple terms, more kilograms of wildlife meat per hectare than domestic livestock and, therefore, provides far greater food security in the long run; wildlife requires less water; is far more drought and disease resistant; and leaves a far smaller carbon footprint than the belching, burping, farting domestic livestock which it usually replaces. That this revolution has been driven by hunting has been empirically established and there is no need to discuss or debate this. However, there are questions that need to be asked. Firstly, can we still distinguish between hunting and shooting, on the one hand, and wildlife ranching and domestic livestock farming, on the other hand? If not, how long do we think that our conservation revolution is going to continue and what effect will this have on the 9 600 wildlife ranches, the thousands of jobs and the some R7 billion per annum which this burgeoning industry currently contributes to out Gross Domestic Product?

As a postscript, I have been advised by Dr. van Wyk that Reeboksfontein, which is bordered by the Klerksdorp Municipality on two sides, was sold in January to property developers who are being advised by Nature Conservation, Free State University and himself. As such, they are aware of the value of the game which, according to the good doctor, includes a number of plus 30 inch nyala bulls. As such, he feels that the game will be unaffected by the sale. If Messrs. Stone, Sachs and Murray et al continue to have the same degree of success in the future as they have in the past, will we be able to say the same thing about hunting?

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