A survey conducted across a number of SADC countries by the Southern African Wildlife College in 2009-2010 to identify training needs delivered some surprises. Structured training for professional hunters was unexpectedly highlighted as one of the pressing needs.
This issue was investigated by the College and it was discovered in July 2011 that professional hunting Unit Standards had already been established by a Standards Generating Body (SGB) and registered with the South African Qualification Authority (SAQA) but no accredited training institution had up until that time put together a program for professional hunting based on these Unit Standards. The College decided to compile a program and added to the SAQA program a number of additional subjects which it was felt were missing. There was some initial scepticism and opposition from some of the established hunting schools and associations in South Africa. To cut a long story short the Professional Hunting Association of South Africa (PHASA) now endorses the course and will be sponsoring a trophy to the top student.
Training material was put together and submitted to CATHSSETA for approval and accreditation which was forthcoming in March 2012. It was decided to present the course over 18 months followed by a six month internship with an approved outfitter making the course a total of two years duration.
The Southern African Wildlife College is an ideal venue for presenting a professional hunting course. It has an established record of providing quality training, has state of the art facilities and is situated in a “big 5” training area.
The College has a vision of a professional hunter which extends way beyond that which has persisted in South Africa for many years. A professional hunter should not be an individual that just takes out foreign clients to shoot trophy size animals for remuneration. The potential contribution towards conservation vested in a professional hunter is far greater than just this. With the proper training professional hunters can have meaningful input into wildlife and habitat management, anti-poaching operations, disease surveillance, and social upliftment of rural communities. The College strives to train professional hunters that are a blend of hunter, guide, wildlife manager, and conservationists with the latter being the most important. The quality and scope of training was to be significantly expanded. Another aim was to train and equip people of color with the skills necessary to enter and compete in the industry in which there has been little transformation of note.
The number of students per course is limited to around 12. The reasons for this are to be able to give individual attention to students and to keep the group size manageable during practical bush training.
The first course started in July 2012 with a group of 10 students – 2 white students and the remainder of color. It is now nearly 18 months down the line – students are busy writing their final exams this month (November 2013). Students also do the “official” 10 day hunting school course (presented by David Sutherland of Sutherland Hunting Academy) as part of the course so as to comply with current legislation.
A list of subjects covered by the students during the 18 months is shown on the side.
Although there is a significant academic component to the course a lot of emphasis is placed on practical skills. Over the 18 month period in addition to class time each student amasses close on 500 “bush hours” of practical work. Regular practice hunts are conducted with the students making up a typical hunting party of trackers, client and PH. Plains and dangerous game are tracked, stalked, approached, an individual selected, the client set up and shot placement indicated. Students practically build blinds and bait for leopard and lion. They assist in culling operations to gain practical shooting experience and are trained in the use of a variety of firearms and calibers (including black powder). In their final semester they do a reloading course. Students also do a full on bowhunting module.
Foundational subjects include a history of professional hunting, hunting ethics, wildlife and vegetation management, reptile, bird, invertebrate and fish studies and the role of hunting in conservation. In addition the curriculum covers practical subjects such as skinning and caping, basic taxidermy work, freshwater angling, meat processing, conducting post mortems and disease identification, infrastructure management (vehicle maintenance and repair, welding, fencing, road maintenance, erosion prevention etc.), wilderness first aid (Level 1 & 2), trophy estimation and trophy management.
The hard skills are complemented by the “soft skills” which include learning how to market and run a hunting business, catering and hospitality management, complying with occupational health and safety regulations and learning how to manage the staff component of a hunting operation. Students are thoroughly and comprehensively assessed writing more than 60 assessments and 28 practical evaluations. The standards are high and pass rates are expected to be low to moderate at best.
The course has received substantial financial foreign support and backing from Dallas Safari Club, Aimpoint, and Norma ammunition with additional aid coming from Safari Club International. Donor funding has made it possible to acquire training equipment for the course including firearms, archery equipment, rangefinders, binoculars, reloading equipment, 3D targets, a “charge” box for simulating animal charges, fishing gear, camera traps, leafy suit camouflage clothing, skinning knives and sharpeners, GPS’s etc.
On the local front a full set of horns and animal skulls was kindly donated by Nico van Rooyen Taxidermy, and firearms from Parow Arms. The two top students are rewarded with a buffalo hunt from the Timbavati Private Nature Reserve. It would appear that the training of professional hunters in South Africa is on the cusp of change. The SA Wildlife College has accomplished what it set out to do and will hopefully continue making a meaningful contribution towards the training of “PH’s” for the foreseeable future.
The Southern African Wildlife College has a new and updated website at www.wildlifecollege.org.za, jam-packed with information, user friendly and interactive. It’s designed so that SAWC partners, supporters, donors, students, the media and individuals interested in the work of the College can access information and interact.
Author: Cleve Chene