The spring of 2017 rudely reminded the hunting community why “dangerous game” is called dangerous, as two prominent PHs lost their lives in encounter with African animals. In April, Mr. Scott Van Zyl went missing during a leopard hunt, and his remains were later discovered in the intestines of crocodiles, and a month later his friend Mr. Theunis Botha was killed by an elephant.
FOUR, FIVE OR SEVEN?
From old safari books to Wikipedia, there are hundreds of “most dangerous animals” lists. Each of them should be taken with a grain of salt. Context is all-important. For instance, tigers kill up to 300 people each year in India, but as hunting is closed across all Indian tiger habitat, they present no threat for a modern travelling hunter. It’s been a long time since anyone has been killed or wounded by a rhinoceros, but this is mostly due to the sad state of their population. Unfortunately, and not through the fault of organized legal hunting, the “Big Five” of Africa has been contracted to “Big Four”.
Hippopotami and crocodiles kill hundreds of people in Africa. But most deaths are the result of imperfect boats that the local people have to use, and/or familiarity with the danger, that proverbially breeds contempt. A client on a well-organized safari is safeguarded against these risks. Still, before wandering carelessly through hippo and croc habitat, remember why they are, together with lion, leopard, buffalo, elephant and rhino, considered part of the “Dangerous Seven.”
THE BIG CATS.
Of all African big game animals, lion and leopard are the most likely to leave scars on your skin. Both big cats claim many lives of local residents annually, and have killed a number of tourists and guides in safari parks and on photo tours. A few years ago lions killed one poacher out of a group who went into a game preserve at night after some bush meat. One PH, Mr Mageka Ntuli, was killed by a leopard in 2014, but he was hunting alone, trying to shoot an antelope for the pot, and the details of the incident remained a mystery.
Things can go very wrong during an organized safari, too – mostly when tracking down a wounded animal. Lions are tough and hard to kill, and leopards are unbelievably quick and make a very small target, so it’s not uncommon that they reach the hunters. Quite a few PHs, team members and clients have scars to show for it. However, the stats suggest you’re likely to live through the worst kinds of kitty encounters. As far as we know, no client has been killed by a lion or leopard in this century.
DUGGA BOYS AND OLD TEMBO
“Widow-maker”, “black death” – the African buffalo has half a dozen of sinister nicknames, and lives up to the reputation. At least three PHs were killed by buffalo this century. Elephants claimed as many professional hunters’ lives (not counting participants and guides of photo safaris). A male elephant has a hormonal phase which makes him very aggressive, and prone to attack every shadow. Cows are even more dangerous. Their attacks tend to be more “rational”, and driven by intelligence and social nature. An elephant may attack humans to protect the group even when the particular elephant is not hunted or harassed. A common scenario is: people are watching one animal or animals, a completely different one sneaks up unobserved and charges. Once the elephant attacks at close range, its size becomes a problem: killing zones are relatively small, and even when dead the animal may crush a human to death with its sheer mass. This is precisely the sequence of events that lead to Mr. Botha’s recent tragic death.
NOT ONLY IN AFRICA.
In Europe, Asia and North America there are many animals that can kill or seriously injure you, too. One animal whose danger is often underestimated is the moose. During the rut they become very aggressive, and a big bull moose is quite capable of killing a person. A cow moose protecting calves can be very aggressive as well.
However, the most potentially dangerous animal outside Africa, excluding the tiger, is the brown bear. This confirmed and confident apex predator causes an estimated 200 deaths a year in Russia alone. Most attacks take place when the animal is protecting its young or its food. However, in North America, bears have been feeding on piles of guts left by hunters after field-dressing their harvest so long that now they sometimes come right in when they hear a shot. Then, they may challenge the hunter and claim the carcass. It is not unusual for the bears to deliberately target humans as prey, either, especially in the desolate areas of North-East Asia where a few generations of bears may grow without ever hearing the crack of a rifle and knowing its consequences.
The dangers of dangerous game hunting are great, but should not discourage you from the pursuit. Here are a few basic tips to help you return home healthier than you were.
KEEP GOOD COMPANY
One trend that is obvious when you analyze dangerous game incidents is most fatalities happen when the hunter is alone. All hunters killed by brown bears, for instance, were hunting on their own, while bears that try to attack a group of armed people usually do not succeed in doing humans in, even though one or more of the hunters may suffer injuries. Same thing with the leopard – even when the big cat strikes home, the collective effort is normally enough to prevent a fatality. With elephant and buffalo things get complicated by the animals’ bulk, and yet in about a half of the fatalities the problem was with the team work.
LISTEN TO YOUR PH OR GUIDE.
And listen well, for they’ll take the claw or the fang for you. In particular, do not insist on being taken along to follow the blood trail of a wounded animal, if you’re not explicitly invited. In case you haven’t noticed, when one of a group of hunters gets killed, it’s invariably the PH. They take full responsibility for you, at sometimes the price of their own life and limb, and would rather die than let the client be hurt, even though the danger may be entirely the client’s fault, so you owe it to them.
Mosquitoes are said to be the most dangerous creatures hunters meet – the World Health Organization estimates that up to 725,000 people a year die of mosquito born diseases. Hunters are also in the risk group for many tick-borne diseases, such as Lyme disease and encephalitis. Another dangerous condition to be feared is rabies. Wolves and foxes are common carriers of the disease, but you can get it from the bite of even a very innocent creature such as hedgehog. There are lots of potentially lethal viruses and bacteria in exotic countries, so make sure you have all necessary vaccinations.
MAINTAIN GUN SAFETY.
The second most dangerous animal to humans, after mosquitoes, are other humans. For hunters, this usually comes in the form of friendly fire. It just can’t be said too often – maintain the highest order of gun safety yourself, and don’t hesitate to insist everyone else in camp does the same.
AND FINALLY THE GREATEST HEALTH HAZARD OF HUNTING:
We hope the risks we’ve outlined will not stop you from discovering your new adventure. After all, do you know what’s the greatest health hazard for hunters? Elephants? Snakes? Mosquitoes? No, not even falling from tree stands. According to a recent study conducted by William Beaufort Hospital in Michigan, the greatest health hazard when hunting is the exceptionally high heart beat rates that result from the combination of excitement and physical strain that most hunters aren’t accustomed to, such as dragging out a dead deer.
HUNTING IS REALLY VERY SAFE
Overall, the probability of your being killed while hunting even the most dangerous parts of the world is somewhere on par with being blasted by a meteorite. That doesn’t mean you should forget about safety, of course. Stay alert, keep fit, don’t give in to the current anti-vaccination craze, and above all choose only the best guides and outfitters for your dangerous game and dangerous territory hunts. BookYourHunt is here to help you with it!