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(3) Caffraria (Eastern Cape): Ancestral Home of Syncerus Caffer - The Cape Buffalo

Updated: Jan 13

Robert Ruark penned an accurate characterisation for bulls. Cows sometimes have facial expressions and a mean streak that merits a less flattering character description.

So did you bring the money you owe me?

Strong men have retreated in silence if there was time, or like me saw the early signs a little late and had to run for it - and not kill her. As much as I love hunting Cape buffalo, I hate buffalo cows.

Never thought that wild game could get PMS? Think again.

Ever heard of a mad cow without the disease?

Eastern Cape is also kudu country. The habitat closer to the coast is very dense brush, succulent and thorny. Oftentimes a trophy kudu bull will only be seen like this through the hunter's binoculars. Long before you spotted him he had you in sight. Nothing to do but pass up on this one, no clear shot. There will be another. There are many kudu in the canyons and against the slopes.

Notice the ears? See any difference from other kudu photos in this series?

Eastern Cape kudu are known for their massive horns and smaller bodies. This one is 53.5", safely into Rowland Ward.

The Eastern Cape countryside is almost as varied as KwaZulu Natal. It comprises part of the desert-like Great Karoo, the snowy southern Drakensberg mountains, the succulent Karoo with its flat top mountains and hills further south, and the rugged coastline of the "Garden Route", eastwards from Plettenberg Bay and the Tsitsikamma Forest all the way around the coast to bordering KZN.

The Great Karoo stretching out endlessly into the distance, nutritious sagebrush, ghaap, kambro and salt bush amongst others ensuring fat, tasty mutton, tons of Merino wool and sustaining a variety of wildlife.

A small herd of springbok on a high plateau. You shoot one up there you only have one option: you slit the throat and let it bleed out as much as possible on an incline, gut it, wipe the insides dry with saltbush, strap it on like a backpack and do not slip on loose stones along the shortest route to where you had left your truck. I would decide on an old female for a brain shot and leave the head with the guts. Caracal and jackal and brown hyena will remove all traces except the jaws.

We leave the springbok in the capable hands of the ranch owner to be hung in the refrigerator room for four days in the skin, then quartered and frozen, the backstraps sealed in tin foil for raw carpaccio later.

Suddenly, after about 4 hours driving when we crest a hill this is the scene to the left of the road: kudu and buffalo country:

We are in the "Succulent Karoo", the home of kudu, Cape buffalo, mountain zebra, bontebok, black wildebeest, blue wildebeest, bushbuck, red hartebeest, duiker, and more springbok - including a possible sighting of the genetic throwback black sub-species. And elephant.

This is typical habitat and the big (standing a foot taller than the northern species) Eastern Cape or "Addo" elephant. Like buffalo cows they are by nature more aggressive too - the result of old time incessant hunting for their ivory. Finally they found sanctuary in the very dense Tsitsikamma Yellowood Forest but the past 70 years have been moved out into the Addo area where a no-hunting zone was established.

That genetic aggressiveness - or just kiddy playfulness - caused this elephant calf a stupid lapse in discretion and it was injured. That brought the mother to the scene and this very big buffalo was thrown into the air and suffered severe injuries himself. Nature has its ways, and it is best for us to be stoic about it.

Fairly typical Eastern Cape scenery and hunting lodge - buffalo, kudu, bushbuck, nyala and bushpig country.

Look at the mountain zebra's prominent stripes all the way down to the hooves, and also no shadow stripes between the black like with its Burchell cousin to the north. These animals were close to extinction by 1960 and when South Africa declared itself independent from England a huge area in the southern Karoo was proclaimed as a no-hunting zone and today they are prolific and open to hunting.

Another successful recovery from near extinction is the bontebok which also was hunted to a few hundred animals left and a no-hunting zone was proclaimed for them by the Republic government in 1963 and today they can be hunted - and that money is the reason for their increasing greater numbers. Hunting - a lot of scientifically thought-out hunting - is the only reason for the survival of the habitat for South Africa's wild game species.

Local girl with her Rowland Ward black wildebeest. Eastern Cape hunting is hard work - both to get to the game, and then to get it to the truck. Her perseverance also inspired the PH to find her the best.

An aggressive black rhino taking issue with the hunting truck that trespassed in his territory. You do not turn the engine off when you stop - not even for videos...

The coast line of the Eastern Cape is rugged and rough and is whale territory -

... and a hiker's paradise of secluded spots:

For a day's break in travelling from Cape Town to the Eastern Cape hunting areas you can kayak up this gorge to where the sides are too narrow to pass,

and the following day carry on into the canyons of Caffraria hunting country.

to get to where a mother sees to a young one's body higiene:

and the Cape buffalo show their nonchalant disinterest in you

and young South African ladies work hard to hunt their kudu.

For whatever reason - the Eastern Cape is the preferred hunting ground for local "babes with bullets" - and visiting lady hunters.

A final view of the countryside and hunters' accommodation:

[Next post: the Kalahari]

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