By Katherine Compton-Pope
One of my favorite poems is Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken”. The last two lines of the poem read: “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I – I took the one less travelled by, And that has made all the difference”. I have recently returned from an extended trip to Mozambique and, for me, the entire journey was truly an excercise in taking the “road less travelled”. The experience was one of the most physically and mentally challenging of my life; it was also one of the most rewarding.
I went to Mozambique to hunt a free-range Cape buffalo. If you are not familiar with Cape buffalo, they are commonly referred to in Africa as “Black Death” and they are the most dangerous and deadly of the Big Five. I booked my trip in January but I had been planning this adventure since July 2013.
While on a previous trip to South Africa, I visited a Cape buffalo ranch and saw their awesome power in person. These buffaloes’ unmistakable, quiet but terrifying temperament left a lasting impression on me, and I knew that one day my chance would come to hunt them. In that moment I also knew that if I were ever to face a Cape buffalo, it would have to be on his terms, in the wild and outside the fences. If you are unfamiliar with hunting terminology, hunting “outside the fences” refers to hunting animals that are free-range rather than in a high-fence setting. Fast forward to a couple of weeks ago and that is where my story begins.
In order to reach the vast 490 000 acres of Coutada 10 in the Marromeu District of Mozambique, I had to fly in to a tiny, primitive airport in Beira and then go by charter plane to the safari camp, which is also named Marromeu. While at the airport in Beira waiting for the charter, I met with the others who were also going as guests to the safari camp. They included Tonie, my outfitter from South Africa, the Wolfgangs, a hilarious father-and-son duo, both electrical engineers from Austria and both named Wolfgang, and Hennie and Christine, a cameraman and photographer respectively, both from Pretoria, South Africa. They were there to document my adventure for their magazine, Africa’s Sportsman Magazine, and YouTube channel. After a very bumpy flight over some of the most beautiful country I have ever seen, we were greeted by Anton, Dean and Coert, all professional hunters from South Africa and our hosts. Coert was my assigned professional hunter and his superb guidance and easy friendship truly made my safari the trip of a lifetime!
In all honesty, I was woefully unprepared for what awaited me in the Zambezi River Delta. I had done research on buffalo hunting, brought all the appropriate gear, was prepared for the tsetse flies, the oppressive heat and humidity, and was taking my malaria medication – but I had no idea until my boots hit the ground what was in store for me!
On my first night in camp I politely but firmly explained to Coert that I was not going to crawl on the ground or wade through the swamps in search of buffalo. I was sure there was an easier way. I am also pretty sure he could tell by the glint of my diamond earrings and the new gloss that had not worn off my hunting shoes, that I was in for a rude awakening. Being the consummate professional he is, Coert recognised my abilities, took my expectations and concerns seriously and then guided me through an unbelievable seven hunting days in the swamp.
By the end of my hunt I had done everything I said I would not: crawling two and three hundred yards at a time with legs that had been cut to shreds by razor grass, wading through chest-deep hippo channels, grabbing razor grass to keep from falling into rivers teeming with crocodiles, and lying flat on the ground with only the grass between me and a charging buffalo. In the process I found out a lot about how hard I can push myself and what I am really made of. I stalked herds, getting within twenty yards of the deadly beasts but because of the thick papyrus, waving reeds, whistling reedbuck or pesky warthogs, the shot was never quite right.
On the dawn of my eighth day in camp, my seventh actual hunting day, I was both physically and mentally exhausted – spending twelve hours a day fighting through the swamp will do that to a person. I began preparing myself for the fact that I might go home without achieving success in spite of the time and work I had put in. Just as I was making peace with myself, and after the hardest stalk of the trip, I found success in a herd of dagga boys. I brought down my Cape buffalo with a single 120-yard shot! It was truly the hunt of a lifetime.
Mother Teresa once said: “We know only too well that what we are doing is nothing more than a drop in the ocean. But if the drop were not there, the ocean would be missing something.” After my experience in Mozambique, I find that this quote speaks to me even more directly, and as we head into the holiday season it seems even more appropriate.
I have been to Africa before, both as a hunter and a tourist. I have seen the animals harvested by visiting hunters being prepared to feed hungry villagers, but I have never had the chance to see this for myself until my most recent trip. The morning after I harvested my Cape buffalo, I was invited to go to one of the four villages that would be fed by my trophy. I was accompanied by Willem, head of the anti-poaching unit on the Coutada. He gave me a brief rundown of what to expect but really, nothing could have prepared me for the overwhelming experience that awaited me.
In order to be granted a hunting concession, which is somewhat similar to deer leases in Texas, except that these are granted by the government, the concession holders must agree to not only provide gainful employment opportunities to local residents, but also to build schools, provide medical care, actively work to stop poaching and to provide meat to the local villages. I am familiar with this system in theory but had never seen it in practice until now.
When Willem and I pulled into the village, which is in the Sofala Province, the entire village population was waiting for us – the ENTIRE population, including men, women and children. Each villager was to receive two pounds of buffalo meat, which is very much like our beef. The meat had already been cut into individual portions and as each person took their share, they began to dance, sing and play drums as a thank you. The scene brought me to tears. I have participated in food drives and volunteered in soup kitchens here in America but the sight of the children dancing in thanks for the meat I had hunted, was truly overwhelming. Also, knowing that this exact scene was being played out in three other villages compounded the emotion of the moment. My contribution was nothing more than a drop but I was happy for the chance to have had a drop to give.
Once the meat was fully distributed, I was able to tour the recently built school, the community garden and the newly dug fresh-water well, all built, tilled or sourced by the Marromeu Safari Company. It was an interesting and humbling experience. Just as we were about to leave and head back to camp, the mobile clinic pulled into the village so we decided to stay – and I am certainly glad we did! The nurses set up a table in the middle of the village, stacked it with vaccines and started to yell: “Vaccines!” Children appeared out of nowhere, running for their chance to receive these life-saving shots. I have two grown children but I remember well the days when we went to the doctor for shots. There was lots of cajoling and crying, character band-aids, stickers and often ice cream cones on the way home. By contrast, these children couldn’t wait to get their vaccinations, and I did not see a single tear shed or a single Blues Clues band-aid. The irony was not lost on me and as we head toward Christmas, I find myself more and more thankful for the things I have so often taken for granted.
While I was in Mozambique, I celebrated what will surely be one of the most memorable birthdays of my life! The fact that my hunt coincided with my birthday was mere happenstance, but sometimes the best things come from unexpected circumstances! My day began with a rousing round of birthday wishes and after a great breakfast, Hennie, Christine, Tonie, Coert and I headed out to the Argo camp, where we loaded up into two Argos and headed into the Zambezi River Delta. An Argo is an eight-wheeled amphibious off-road vehicle, meaning that it can navigate any terrain, from dry ground to flowing rivers and everything in between. It is not a luxurious ride but if you need its capabilities, it certainly morphs into one. After a long day, we pulled into base camp tired, wet and hungry, and I immediately headed in for an eagerly anticipated hot shower. When I emerged, I was stunned by what I saw!
Anton, Coert and the crew were busy around the hardwood fire, grilling a sumptuous meal that included thick, fresh calamari steaks (from the biggest calamari I have ever seen) and gorgeous, velvety red snapper. It was a fine and unexpected feast, complete with a lovely champagne toast! Little did I know that there was more to come – the kitchen staff had made me the most luscious birthday cake I have ever had. The cake itself was a dense, moist, custard-like vanilla that was draped with a thick, gooey fudge-and-nut frosting. I never did find out what kind of cake it was but the memory of its sweet taste, and even sweeter sentiment, will stay with me for the rest of my life. After another rousing rendition of “Happy Birthday!”, the staff preformed a native drum-and-dance recital for me. I was thoroughly honoured and impressed by their efforts. It was a birthday celebration that was very different from the ones I have had in the past and definitely one of the most memorable!
In addition to harvesting a Cape buffalo, one of my other “bucket list” items is to visit each of the globe’s five oceans, so on my last day in camp, I went by helicopter to the coast so I could dip my feet in the Indian Ocean. It was a quick 45-minute flight and as a bonus I was able to see even more herds of game from the sky. When we landed on that secluded beach, I went for a long walk down the white sand and thought about all I had done in the preceding two weeks, and how each of those experiences was a little “drop” in my life’s journey. Thanks to the thoughtfulness of the camp staff, I had a lovely glass of wine to enjoy as I strolled along the shore. With the balmy ocean breeze in my hair, I walked and, picking up shells and sand dollars along the way, thought it was the perfect ending to a fabulous trip!
Photos by Christine Bothma
“The Road Less Travelled. The challenge of hunting Cape Buffalo in Mozambique” by Katherine Compton-Pope originally appeared in the February 2021 issue of the Game & Hunt (Wild & Jag) magazine. Reproduced with consent of the copyright holder.
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The Bulls of Marromeu
Between the sweat pouring into my eyes and the dust billowing out from the herd of more than 200 buffalo, I couldn’t see well enough to shoot. My PHs, Paul and Anton, who were looking through their 10X binoculars, picked out a bull on the right end of the herd, but through my 4X scope and the dust I just couldn’t find it.
“I’m sorry, guys,” I said as the herd thundered off. “I just couldn’t pick him out, and with that many buffalo I wanted to be sure of the shot.”
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The focus was to secure a hunting outfitter to rent, manage, maintain and not only improve the wildlife habitat in these areas but to also advance the socio-economic well-being of these communities with the establishment of schools, clinics, the provision of safe drinking water and predator proof stockades to protect their livestock from Lions and Leopard… Read More