To many a hippo hunt is a challenge. To the professional and the staff the hunt is “fun”, but like many things hunting, the fun ends when the shot is successfully taken. From there on it is work, work, and more work. As many of you have experienced firsthand, the work is often directly proportional to the access to the game taken, the transportation method involved, and the size of the creature being retrieved… the most intensive two examples are hippo and ultimately elephant.
In the Caprivi there are three types of hunting permits available for hippo. There is an own use permit, dedicating the entire animal to the tribal council. Next is the Traditional Authority permit where the animal belongs to the community, minus the tusks, skull, and some hide that may be retained by the hunter for export. The trophy permit allows the hunter to keep what he desires from the animal, the rest is distributed to the surrounding villages.
Most hippo hunting involves a boat and a landcruiser for transport/retreival of the trophy. In our Ivory Camp, Caprivi location the stalk is mostly made on foot after the animal is located by boat. Due to the diminished size of the Kwando River a close approach is also the norm, and frequently the animal is taken on dry land or shallow water. The shots are from twenty to fifty yards. The first client dropped his four thousand five hundred pound bull at twenty-five yards, the second at forty yards. Both bulls provided a challenging stalk and a clean one shot kill. One was taken near dusk the prior evening, the second around two that afternoon. The first bull was a bitch of a recovery. Four full hours from boat hook up of the dead hippo, to loading the gigantic beast on a trailer for towing to the village for their processing to feed the annual tribal festival.
The river was shallow at the kill site, a little over a meter thirty deep and twenty meters wide. The shallows covered all but the center three meters making for a navigational nightmare. Good results were achieved by three to five of the staff walking the boat under power to maintain the center of the channel. Despite frequent groundings and refloating, the bloated animal provided great amusement to those observing the process. May I note the river is swarming with crocs, just to add a bit of excitement.
After reaching shore about three hundred meters upstream from the kill site, the cruisers had picked a path to the river over 6 kilometers from the nearest “road.” All was made ready for the snatch and slide attempt.
This is where the laws of physics come into sharp focus with the situational reality. Take an object well rounded with a mass equal or greater to the object attempting to tow it from the shallow waters edge, add a soft sandy surface, an uphill angle of ten to fifteen degrees, terrain varying in elevation over a meter for every two or three horizontal and you have the stark reality we enjoyed.
The answer was found in one hundred feet of kinetic (stretchable) rope about two inches in diameter. The vehicle backed up to the hippo, now well secured to the tow rope, then accelerated full throttle over the terrain until the rope reached its elastic capacity and began to slow the vehicle, bang – just like a super sized bungee cord the hippo rocketed from the shores edge and the cruiser surged forward until reaching the desired loading spot some sixty meters inland.
Now the real fun began once more. Loading the huge animal onto the trailer. Several attempts later and it was done. We headed out now confident the worst was behind us. Mother nature still had a surprise waiting. The new transport trailer carried a six-ton axle, and was heavily built. The terrain with all its ups and downs across the now dry islands and flood plains challenged us every meter of the way. Near the end of the first third of the trip out we crossed a dry island, largely sand with a two-inch harder top surface of driveable sand. This was combined with a twenty-five degree side slope and a necessary turn around a large two foot diameter tree. The cruiser made the turn, trailer in tow, then all progress stopped as we fell through the crust.
Over the next hour and a half we winched the ensemble from tree to tree covering only a hundred meters or so. We deflated the tires and carried on upslope on the island until the entire rig popped up on the surface. Cutting a half dozen small trees we created a high speed loop for the cruiser to accelerate around and then continue on the now feared worse track on this damn island. Corne took the wheel and at speeds approaching thirty kilometers, sped around the new bend and made the last three hundred meters to the safety of a much harder flood plain surface.
We arrived at the village delivered the hippo to the waiting group of eager villagers and made it to camp in time for lunch at twelve thirty. After lunch, the other hunter successfully harvested his bull. The recovery was made further upriver with no appreciable difficulties encountered, in a near record one hour and forty-five minutes. Blessedly, I was busy doing plumbing work on a new tent, and missed the entire affair. Oh well…