Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Article on hunting the Giant forest hog in CAR

A story by John Hoestenbach

  An old West Texas proverb:  “I was ‘a thinking about it”.  Well, think all you want but to execute is what gets the goat off the slopes.  A late December, 2010 notice in a well known hunting journal aroused my interest.  Ken Wilson of Shunneson and Wilson Adventures was looking for a hunter to do seven days of hunting in the Central African Republic.  Included was a license for buffalo, giant forest hog and yellow back duiker.  The price was right, the dates were spot on and Ken decided to join me on the hunt.  “Thinking” became doing.  We departed late March, 2011.
    We were greeted by Central African Wildlife Adventures, our host and outfitter.  Eric Mararv’s family who is of Swedish descent but life residents of the CAR arrange for all exigencies.  Eric’s sister cleared us flawlessly through customs, steered us to the Mararv compound for dinner and an overnight stay.  Early the morning next, we chartered east on a twin engine aircraft.  After a flight which afforded us a wilderness viewing, we found ourselves at the Mararv built airstrip smack dab in the middle of two million hectares of game-rich east central CAR soil and waterways.  The concession’s nearest village was some one hundred kilometers distance and its only existing road was one that had been built in the French Colonial days until it was abandoned with the advent of independence. CAWA native crews refurbished this ancient supply route and laboriously fashioned access truck ways within the hunting boundaries, including homemade ferry crossings and bridges.

    First order of business was for Ken and I to sight our weapons on a rifle range built within the airstrip.  Having completed this necessity we loaded into separate Landcruisers with all our gear and our professional hunters and began an eye-opening journey to Mbari, our permanent camp.

  What a revelation, experiencing the some odd five hours travel to our home for the next six days!  What world is this, you ask?  Beautiful expanses of rain forest with the coursing of waterways throughout, suddenly interspersed with the open savannah containing almost desert like conditions.  Tossing in the abundance of giant eland, bongo, giant hog, cats, duikers, buffalo and roan leaves one open-mouthed and wide eyed in utter wonderment.

  Yes, journeying to camp was a unique hunting experience giving promises of what awaited us each day in the bush.  Arrival at camp located on the steep banks of the crocodile infested Mbari river revealed an arrangement of thatched grass roofing over a sequence of tents housing the dining area and three hunters’ quarters, all majestically arranged on the very water’s edge.  Each tent had a deck overlooking the Mbari with comfortable seating and a table for your drinks. Each hunter had a bath with shower en suite, natural wood bed and generator energy.  As a side note, we were greeted at the river by our native staff in a motorboat.  They transported us across river and docked below camp where we ascended a staircase of hard, dried mud chopped by hand out of the riverbank.  Handrails were native from the local hardwoods.  Unbelievable setting for the unexpected of the forthcoming, it was.

 Day one found me early at breakfast with my PH Anton Lundkvist, a resident from pre-school childhood of the CAR and an early classmate chum of the Mararv siblings.  Enthusiastically, Anton advised that we would initially investigate a natural mineral lick/wallow for signs of the inimical giant hog, then repair to the deep forest to call duiker.  Dining done, we commenced on a forty five minute truck run  to the prescribed area.  Game was evident on our ride, but no shooters of any variety presented.

The rainforest is full of beautiful
View from one of the highstands in the forest

Upon arrival we vacated the vehicle some distance from the area of hog attraction.  Easing into the lick ever so stealthily we spied no wildlife but found fresh tracks and smoking scat that was no more than thirty minutes since the dropping. Hogs no, but central savannah buffalo numbering in the twenties roamed, judging by the sign.  Anton immediately put the trackers to the test and the games began.

  The lick was in the transition zone between jungle and grassland.  The buffalo had sauntered into the woodlands in a direction placing our hunting party directly downwind.  Correction had to be made so Anton determined to proceed on a circle route following the fringe line of the woods without exposing our position. Our hopes were to find a renewal of the spoor in a more favorable wind location for our group.  Thirty minutes, if that much, of this indirect approach found us suddenly stiffening at the signal of one of the trackers.  Unbelievably, at a range of some 125 meters, a cow buffalo was slowly working her way from our left to right out of the thicket into open country. A stroke of luck, or did our PH anticipate?  We were well tucked into the fringe brush as the herd of red colored buffers grazed directly within our scope sights, broadside and unencumbered.  As one would expect, the lone mature bull in the herd brought the procession to an end by being the last to clear forestation.
  Cows and calves were feeding peacefully with no awareness of our presence.  The bull with horn configuration of a dwarf forest buffalo was also blissfully ignorant of the danger.  His black toned hide sharply contrasted to the herd, making his shoulder an easy one to target in the single file pack presentation.  With no more reason to tarry, the .375 H&H barked a report causing the bull to pitch and bolt.  His death dash was short as he crashed to the earth.  Confused and milling were the watchwords for the friends of the fallen.  Suddenly they bunched and decided to stampede in a cloud of dust.  Strangely, this bunch of bovines ran in a straight line toward our concealed position.  Never seeing us, they thundered past at a mere distance of 25 meters.  Memorable was this experience as we walked to view the first and only savannah buffalo I have ever taken.  Proper respect was accorded this deserving beast by us all. Then the skinners began the disassembling of what moments before had been a hoofed behemoth ruling his small world.
"Memorable was this experience as we walked to view
the first and only savannah buffalo I had ever taken."

  Sobering as these thoughts were, Anton brought me back to reality.  At his direction, we took maybe fifty steps disappearing into the forest straightaway from the flat grassland.  Duiker calling was on the agenda causing me to reflect that never had I ever experienced a dichotomy of landscape such as this…simply overwhelming.
  Yellow back duiker by midday, giant forest hog by morning and evening had now become the familiar refrain.  We worked the many and varied mineral licks…no hog sightings but an abundance of sign.  We did the same for the wallows and water sources with results strikingly similar.  Machans on this concession almost defied description.  They were built treetop high in the forest with vistas extraordinaire.  Each machan overlooked modest openings containing either a lick or wallow.  These sturdily built structures were comfortable, easily accommodating six adults whether standing or sitting, with gun ports providing a field of vision regardless of shot angle.  Suffice it to say, one could have utilized the space in these machans to entertain a child’s roller skating party.  But alas for all our efforts, still no hog sighting, machan or no.

  Daytime duiker hunting was fast and furious.  Barely was time left to catch one’s breath as we coursed from one call setup to the next.  The native callers were expert, enticing a variety of the forest critters to sample the wares.  Specifically, I was hunting only yellow back and Weyn’s.  On day two about midmorning  a Weyn’s presented itself and once again the .375 H&H responded.  Sadly, the creature suffered intestinal perforation on a last moment movement.  Our trackers were up to the task, crawling the undergrowth to locate this tough little rascal.  A shotgun blast terminated the matter, and we had our duiker ready for the stewpot and skinning shed.

"Daytime duiker hunting was fast an furious.
Barely was time left to catch one's breath as we
coursed from one call setup to the next"

"The native callers were expert, enticing a variety
of the forest critters to sample the wares"

Weyn's duiker we hunted by calling in the rainforest.

  Ensuing days found us following our hunt pattern as previously described for yellow back and giant hog but with no shots fired.  However, it must be noted that many duiker were seen including several yellow back specimens, but no shot was ever available.  During this time we encountered much of the animals that lived in the area such as bushbuck, roan, red river hog, duikers, baboon and monkeys, but on my short safari they were not a target.  Patience prevailed as we hunted diligently for our named quarry.  It can be said that not once was this quest slow paced in nature.  Our hunt consisted of driving from camp to the hunt area and then proceeding on foot to a machan or mineral lick.  Upon completing our watch, we would disappear into the jungle moving from spot to spot mouthing our calls. 
  Before we depart at noon on our last hunt day I would be remiss if I failed to mention that all camps, including Mbari, were strategically located personally by our host for comfort and the hunt.  This effort passed the field test for sight placement.

  Last day of hunting involved a full morning of sitting and calling but without result.  We had packed our belongings earlier so at the noon hour we prepared to drive back to main camp located on the Chinko River.  We would spend one evening there before chartering back to Bangui for our trip home.  Anton is the type who never quits.  He cautioned me to be alert for trophies as we treaded our way back.

  How many hunts seem to be over, yet miraculously at the last minute of the last hour all hell breaks loose?  Some forty five minutes from main camp Anton stops the Landcruiser and quietly hand signals for me to follow him.  The sense of real anticipation permeated the hot tropical environ as we crept to the edge of the forest area.  Our vantage point was somewhat elevated with verdant cover overlooking a wallow at a distance of some 70 meters.  The wind was nice, the natural hide was perfect, and voila!  Just like a movie with a last second hairbreadth ending, there stood three giant forest hog sows and an immense boar with their backs to us angling at about forty five degrees.  Down went the sticks, up came the .375 HH, and the crashing of the rifle firing was music.
  The boar stumbled on impact and disappeared into a thicket directly in front of him.  The sows milled a bit and eased away quietly.  After ten minutes or so we eased down the slope finding massive blood at impact point.  Slowly, we rounded the brush and found the mammoth spread eagled flat on his belly.  Upon that sight I literally danced a jig of joy!  Never did I hope to realize the taking of such a giant hog.  My dreams were on a scale of satisfaction just to have seen one in the wild.  Hand shakes, back slapping and photos ensued continuing all through the evening with good cheers and celebrating.

"Never did I hope to realize the taking of such a giant hog!"
  Our final hours in the CAR were a most pleasant experience culminating with a lovely dinner and a Mararv escorted, non-invasive tour through local red tape presented by the Customs officials.  My flight home was a surreal vision of my time at Mbari interlaced with plans for a return hunt.

  A footnote:  after curing the boar’s head underground for the requisite time, Anton removed the tusks and measured them at just shy of thirty inches.  One of the best ever taken in the CAR and all points west.

Remember…it ain’t over ‘til it’s over!

By John Hoestenbach 

Saturday, May 12, 2012

About the Investigation of the Crime Scene and the Riot in Bakouma

About 50 days ago Erik Mararv and David Simpson were arrested in central african republic after discovering 13 bodies, killed by the LRA on the cawa safari hunting concession. Erik is a friend of mine since we grew up together in CAR. I also joined Erik when he decided to start CAWA safari in 2006 and I have worked with him since.
The LRA presence in CAR has been well known since years back but their activity in the eastern part of the country has accumulated the last year. To get a clear understanding about the situation I now post this story from Erik, in his own words.

Please link to this post so that we can spread the word and work together to get them out of jail!

Here are Erik’s words about what happened on the ground and where those rumors came from:

" When David came down to the place where the people had been killed and found six bodies, he called me and explained the situation. While he was standing on the spot, close to the six bodies, four people from Bakouma just arrived in order to search for gold. While not hearing any noise in the area and seeing the deserted camp they became supicious, and started to slowly walk the river upwards, only to catch sight of David and six other guys standing in the river bed a bit up-ahead. One of these four people got afraid and ran away. The three others stayed, and were finally seen by some of our people who called them over. Once it had been cleared out that both partied were as stunned about what they had found, David decided to bing the three guys back to our hunting camp for the night in order to await the military and the police the next day (whom I had just called at this time). Now the problem was that the fourth person who had run away, never was found even though David and the team went around calling his name. It later turned out he had run back to Bakouma, arriving the next day in the evening.

So the following day, the military came. We accompanied them to the place, made a very hasty investigation which lasted for approximately 30 minutes until the leutennant, who was leading the mission, decided that the area was too dangerous to stay in and ordered everybody to evacuate ASAP. I objected and said we should walk around the proximity of the site and try to find more tracks, since surely it must have been a large group of people in order to kill 13 young men. My objections were in vain.

Some photos were taken with the militaries’ mobile phones, and in most photos the militaries posted themselves by the side of the killed people, making it look like trophy pictures…!! Something I found terribly awkward and discusting.

Anyway, the military having done their “investigation”, rushed back to Bakouma, arriving the same night as the previously mentionned fourth person, who had run away. Now this person, naturally shocked, started running around Bakouma shouting that he was the only one out of four who had survived an attack from the “white safari people” and that the other three were killed. And that all people on the mining field had certainly been killed by the “white safari people” as well….

This stirred up the people in Bakouma, who in the early morning arranged for a mob who directly went to our warehouse which was burned, the truck was burned as well, and all material and diesel looted. By this time, the fact that the three guys he had run away from had come back together with the militray was not relevant… and people did not really care anymore. 13 people were dead and somebody needed to take the blow. Automatically, we were the wrong people at the wrong place in the wrong time…"

Monday, May 7, 2012

A good two week safari!

A very nice two week safari at the CAWA safari concession.

Western Bongo

Giant forest hog

Lord Derby Eland

C A Savanna Buffalo nr 1

C A Savanna Buffalo nr 2

Western Roan