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Ron Thompson8 Apr 2021 at 12:36 AM #33608
GAME CAPTURE. 1959 was long before anybody had thought about catching wild animals in plastic sheeting; or using darts and narcotics. In those days we caught a whole range of wild animals on the open plains of Ngamo (in Hwange National Park) by chasing after them in stripped down Land Rovers using long ‘vang-stocks’ (capture sticks) at the front end of which we fashioned lasso-loops out of soft cotton ropes. We raced alongside the animals we wanted to catch and either placed the lasso over their heads and around their necks; or around the hooves of their galloping back legs; or (in the case of wildebeest) we caught them by their tails. The captured animals were then gently man-handled onto the back decking of the Land Rover and they were taken back to holding pens that we had constructed at our Ngamo capture-camp base. They were then transported in bush crates we constructed on the backs of five-ton Bedford lorries and taken to game parks (hundreds of miles away) in the Matopos (south of Bulwayo). To Kyle National Parks near Fort Victoria – now called Masvingo; or to Lake McIllwaine just outside Salisbury (now called Harare). The animals we capture were: blue wildebeest; zebra; eland; sable; buffalo and giraffe. Later we added to this list: impala; tsessebe; waterbuck and others (including white rhinos).
Then along came the black rhino capture exercise on the shores of Lake Kariba which was the start of an annual seven year exercise (all over the country) that saw us catching over 150 black rhinos using capture guns, darts and exotic narcotics. The weapons were, at first, very primitive Cap-Chur guns that were used in America to capture stray dogs in that country’s big inner cities. The darts were then propelled with compressed CO2. And the drugs we used were, initially, morphine sulphate and various tranquilizers. These drugs put the rhinos to sleep inside 30 minutes during which time the rhinos were running for their lives. We therefore had to follow their tracks (after darting) until we found the rhinos asleep. We darted the rhinos in very thick bush called “Zambezi jesse” and my average darting range was between 6 and 13 yards.
Rupert Fothergill of Operation Noah fame (the capture of wild animals on the islands of Lake Kariba (when it was filling to capacity) was my mentor in those early days (1964) until he was badly gored by a rhino in 1965. I then (aged 26) took over command of the black rhino capture exercise (because I was then the only person in the country who had any experience with Cap-Chur guns and narcotics for catching black rhinos).
Altogether – during those seven years – we captured and translocated black rhinos to: Hwange National Park (46); Chizarira Game Reserve (10); Charisa Game Reserve (2); Gonarezhou National Park (81); and Kruger National Park in South Africa (15). ALL these animals (in Zimbabwe) were, in later years, all poached by senior government officials (after Zimbabwe’s independence). The chief culprit was the country’s Vice-President Simon Muzenda; and Willis Makombe – Director of National Parks; and others.
During those operations Rupert Fothergill was very badly gored – and taken off the exercise; I was knocked down several times and sustained injuries but survived them all; Game Ranger Richard Peek suffered a rhino horn through the front of his right shin. The horn went right through his leg, emerging through his calf at the back; and Paul Coetsee suffered a rhino horn penetration that entered his right thigh from the back, four inches above his back knee joint, and progressing 18 inches up and inside his thigh muscle into the region of his buttock. The rhino threw Paul high into the air and he came down on top of the rhino which promptly pushed its horn into the front of the same thigh – emerging at the back. The muscle, as you can imagine, was a real mess.
The fixed-wing aircraft taking Paul to hospital experienced engine failure and it crashed (at night) into a ploughed field. He was then picked up by helicopter and taken to Salisbury General Hospital where he got his first medical attention that day (twelve hours after the accident). Paul survived and recovered, and returned to catching rhino the following year – proving his indomitable spirit. THIS is LONG and convoluted story!
FALCONRY and DDT. In 1975 I was promoted to the rank of Provincial Game Warden (and placed in charge of the Mashonaland South Province). And, for my sins, I was posted to Salisbury City. And because I had successfully trained birds of prey to the sport of falconry when I was at school, I was given the auxiliary post of “Coordinator for Falconry”. The sport of falconry in Rhodesia had a considerable following by, often, leading members of society. But it was “in a mess”.
The Director of National Museums (Reay Smithers), and a member of the National Parks Board, for example was an avid falconer. Dr. John Condy, the Veterinary Department’s expert on Game/Cattle diseases was another. And Dr Arthur Dunkley, one of the principal surgeons of Salisbury’s General Hospital was another. Arthur was also the surgeon that Queen Elizabeth called-up in her service when the British Royal family went on international tours. For all that, the numbers of practicing falconers was not that great.
I, perforce, therefore, became a practicing falconer and, within a couple of years, was performing with my peregrine falcons as an A-Grade falconer.
At that time the DDT scare in America reached its height and the peregrine falcon was declared to be an “endangered species”. The fact that the term ‘endangered species’ is an invalid term didn’t matter. Everybody in the world at that time was very cognizant of the DDT menace because of the peregrine’s new title; AND because of Rachel Carson’s now famous book “Silent Spring”.
At that time – so I soon discovered – Rhodesia was distributing 1000 tons of DDT into the environment.: 400 tons for Tsetse Fly control; 300 tones for malaria mosquito control; and 300 tons for maize-stalk borer (moth) control.
And the falconers who were complying with my administrative falconry club measures very assiduously, began reporting peregrine falcon breeding failures in the wild. They brought in to me, falcon eggs that had not hatched and when I had them tested, we found that they were full of DTT and DDT-metabolites: (i.e. the breakdown chemicals from raw DDT). This set the cat amongst the pigeons and I began agitating for the banning of DDT as a pesticide. My utterances, however, at first, had no effect.
The falconers then became my most ardent supporters for a thorough investigation into the levels of DDT pollution of the country’s environment. And the best way to check this out was to investigate the DDT content of the eggs of a whole range of birds or prey. The eggs I needed were collect by the falconers. Very soon, therefore, I was having large numbers of birds of prey eggs analyzed but our Department of Agriculture scientists (using Gas Chromatograph equipment). And it became obvious that the Rhodesian Environment was seriously contaminated. But that did not sway the politicians – who were mostly farmers who didn’t want DDT banned (because it was cheep to use).
I had completed my primary military service in the Royal Rhodesian Air Force and many of my trainee-pilot buddies were, at that time, senior officers in the Air Force. I was able to manage, therefore, a trip on a helicopter training exercise which enabled me to collect 55 full clutches of Fish-Eagle eggs from the Lake Kariba and Zambezi River basins. These showed contamination levels that were way above the level that the North American Bald Eagle (which has the same niche as our Fish Eagles) had started to decline (due to DDT contamination). That, too, did not sway the politicians – with whom I was starting to rub-up the wrong way. Nothing, however, it seemed, would change the political frame of mind.
Nothing happened until I brought humans into my sampling.
I took samples of cabbages and other vegetables off the super-market shelves – and discovered raw DDT was being commonly used as an insecticide to kill vegetable garden bugs. Next I collected fat samples from cadavers in Salisbury city mortuaries – from people who had died from common road accidents – and we discovered that the AVERAGE DDT of their fat samples was a world record. We analysed human breast milk that had been expressed by multiple women who had surplus milk – and who contributed to a common supply that was used by women who had insufficient milk to feed their babies – and we came up with another world record.
In the end, we had the use of DDT removed from usage in Rhodesia for combating the maize-stalk borer moth; and for the killing of tsetse flies. We were unable to stop the use is DDT for malarial mosquito control. So, we had a 70 percent success rate. And that I considered was quite good enough for a young game ranger who found himself fighting the political might of a strong African government. And, considering that when I started this fight, I knew nothing about DDT and how it contaminated the environment.
Shortly after that, I journeyed to America and spent a month with Professor Tom Cade of the Peregrine Fund (at Cornell University) who was breeding falcons in captivity for the sport of falconry. And by releasing the captive-bred young from those birds – back to the wild – those captive-bred peregrines saved the American (anatum) race from extinction. Back in Rhodesia I had a number of falconers volunteered to breed peregrines in captivity at their own expense. And I became the first person in Africa to breed peregrine falcons in captivity. Today practically all peregrines used in the sport of falconry in southern Africa are bred in captivity. And captive bred young birds that are in excess of those needed for the sport, are released back into the wild. Falconry in southern Africa, therefore, now takes few (if any) birds from the wild and release additional birds from the breeding programme to bolster the wild peregrine population.
PEREGRINE FALCON HUNTS. The peregrine falcon is the fastest animal on earth. It has been recorded flying, in a stoop, at speeds that exceed 400 kms per hour. And I flew a peregrine (called Pepper) that was a specialist on fast flying wild ducks. I have several breath-taking hunts that could recite about peregrines hunting the fastest flying duck in Africa, the African pochard. And I had three experiences when my peregrine killed two pochard ducks in one stoop. Memories of those flights, to this day, leave me with goose pimples running up and down my body.
Pepper produced the first captive-bred peregrine in Africa the year after she broke a wing on a barbed wire fence. She had her wing fixed (as good as new) and I hunted her for another season after her accident.
LAKE KARIBA AND THE BATONKA PEOPLE.
In 1963 Lake Kariba, on the Zambezi River, between present day Zimbabwe and Zambia, were major victims of the Kariba phenomenon. I worked with them for five years after 1963; and I shot elephants and buffalos to feed them when they had trouble growing their traditional crops after they had been evicted from their old lands on the Zambezi River banks.
MAN-EATING LION HUNTS. Salankomo; Mujere; and others. I can recite man-eating lion hunting adventures till the cows come home.
THE CAPTURE HUNTING OF BLACK RHINOS.
BIG GAME HUNTING (generally) Elephants, Buffaloes, Lions, Leopards and the capture-hunting of Black Rhinos. I have stories to tell comprising hundreds of remarkable hunts of these, the Big Five, animals of Africa’s history.
WILDLIFE MANAGEMENT: My particular concerns are about the management of Africa’s national parks into posterity. And I am au fait with all the ‘emotional’ stories that the animals rightists are wont to tell. They want each and every animal ‘saved’ from any kind of death or what they consider to be ‘abuse’. But they are wrong. Wildlife in Africa, if it is to persist into posterity, has to be ‘managed’ according to the FACTS of their existence in the wild. And sometimes – often – those FACTS prescribe that animals have to be killed (in one way or another). This is a cold and very real fact; and people at large have to start accepting this important reality. My own assessment of the situation in southern Africa is that Kruger National Park has to reduce its elephant population by 30 000; Hwange should reduce its population from 50 000 to 2 500.; Botswana as a whole, with an estimated mega- population that numbers over 200 000 has to reduce its population TO START WITH by half. If this kind of management is NOT undertaken, and soon, southern Africa will soon lose ALL its biological diversity. Ron Thomson
Anonymous8 Apr 2021 at 12:36 AM #34638
we will be talking to Ron Thomson in the next couple of weeks in a live stream
Anonymous8 Apr 2021 at 12:36 AM #34639
He sounds like such an interesting man.
Anonymous8 Apr 2021 at 12:36 AM #34640
I’m looking forward to it tonight.
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