Blaauwkrantz Safaris
Blaauwkrantz Safaris

The Eastern Cape - South Africa's hunting Mecca

                                The Eastern Cape: South Africa’s Hunting Mecca 

The Eastern Cape is located on the east coast of South Africa between the Western Cape and KwaZulu-Natal provinces. Inland, it borders the Northern Cape and Free State provinces, as well as Lesotho. The region boasts remarkable natural diversity, ranging from the semi-arid Great Karoo to the forests of the Wild Coast and the Keiskamma Valley, the fertile Langkloof, and the mountainous southern Drakensberg region. The Eastern Cape’s main physical feature is its spectacular coastline bordering the Indian Ocean.

It covers an area of 168 966km² and has a population of 6 996 976 (2018). It is the second-largest province in South Africa by surface area and has the third-largest population. The capital is Bhisho. Other major cities and towns include Port Elizabeth, East London, Grahamstown, Mthatha (previously Umtata), Graaf Reinet, Cradock and Port St Johns.

The Eastern Cape is one of South Africa’s poorest provinces incorporating large areas of South Africa’s former homelands such as the Transkei and Ciskei. The Eastern Cape has excellent agricultural and forestry potential. The fertile Langkloof Valley in the south-west has enormous deciduous fruit orchards, while the Great Karoo interior is known for its extensive, livestock farming ability with much of this land converted to wildlife ranches in recent years too. The higher rainfall region of coastal Alexandria-Grahamstown area produces pineapples, chicory and dairy products, although the rainfall permits terrific grazing for wildlife too. The communal- land inhabitants of the former Transkei, or eastern half region are more dependent on subsistence farming of cattle, maize and sorghum. This region could deliver terrific wildlife sanctuary and utilisation, but unfortunately the land tenure system is not compatible with private conservation of wildlife.

The two major metropolitan economies of Port Elizabeth and East London are based primarily on manufacturing, the most important industry being motor manufacturing. It’s also the national hub of the motor industry. Apart from this motor industry, the Eastern Cape is a very rural province heavily dependent on agricultural activity to sustain its economy. Wildlife management forms an important part of this rural economy.

If South Africa was measured on its biodiversity and natural wealth, it would be the third wealthiest nation in the world. As an example it has almost 8% of the world’s known plant, bird and fish species and the main reason for the rich biodiversity is the combination of the wide range of climatic variation and landscapes which in turn give rise to broad vegetation zones (biomes). In South Africa there are eight biomes and a remarkable seven of these can be found in the Eastern Cape Province, which must make the Eastern Cape the richest province in terms of biodiversity and natural capital. (Muir 2010)

Given all the above scenarios, it should therefore come as no surprise that eco-tourists, which includes hunters, choose the Eastern Cape, and more specifically privately owned Eastern Cape, as their destination. The variety of hunt-able wildlife is also unmatched as the province is often regarded as synonymous with a “Hunters Mecca”. From the period 1 January to 31 December 2016, 1014 international hunters where recorded as having hunted in the Eastern Cape. This total was second only to the Limpopo Province who recorded 3300. I suspect that there were far more hunters but these were the applicants for export permits of trophies. The majority of the hunters are local anyway, and the National Department of Environmental Affairs does not collect this information either. Plains game species such as the darker Eastern Cape kudu, Cape bushbuck, bontebok, springbok, blesbok, black wildebeest, hartebeest, eland, blue and common duikers, Cape grysbok, vaal rhebok, mountain reedbuck, nyala, impala, klipspringers warthogs and bushpigs are just some of the indigenous species that provide magnificent quarry for trophy and “biltong” or meat hunters alike. Because of the economic value that hunting provides, populations of these hunt-able species have actually increased in the last 40 years, something than many city dwelling folk don’t always understand. In recent times other indigenous species such as buffalo, sable, roan, giraffe and rhinos are reaching sustainable numbers that also allow the off take of cull animals for the hunting market. Even the Cape leopard, which was once heavily persecuted for its livestock damaging habits has found some solace in the wildlife industry since some of its habitat is being restored back to accommodate it and prey. Colour variants especially the white and black springboks and white blesbok, have for decades been an attractive addition to the standard bouquet of species. Recently black impala, copper springbok and golden wildebeest are being made available for hunting and evidence shows that at the right price, they are also proving to be a hit that adds synergous value to the existing list.

Hunting takes place from the South Western coastline right through to the mountainous highlands in the North East to the arid Karoo in the North Western parts of the big province. Most hunting is done on private land with provincial parks offering limited opportunities for local and international hunters. Infrastructure in this region of private land is relatively good, with roads and communication systems providing the necessary support. Domestic airports such as Port Elizabeth, East London and George provide more than adequate terminals for tourists to and from the Eastern Cape. Private properties in the Eastern Cape are generally bigger than most other provinces which is another major attraction for hunters. Many farms or ranches are high-fenced, but the selection is wide and there are many different destinations and options available to hunters to meet everything from hunting methods to price constraints. Of course, hunters who want to hunt hard have many options but with its variety of property destinations, the Eastern Cape is one of the most accommodating places in Africa for handicapped or disabled hunters alike. Family hunts are commonplace as outfitters and professional hunters are normally flexible with their terms in the province as they try to make hunting accessible to everyone. Lodges and accommodations are normally large ranch-styled houses that are equipped with all the necessary comforts to ensure that even non-hunters enjoy a wild yet comfortable experience. The Eastern Cape also has very well established taxidermists and they deliver superb work and service which is on par with any international standard. The famous American hunter and writer, Craig Boddington, considers the Eastern Cape as one of his favourite hunting grounds which confirms the attraction of the Eastern Cape being a hunter’s paradise.

Eastern Cape Departmental (government) support for the hunting sector as conservation tool and economic driver has always been clear and evident. Stakeholders appreciate the understanding and collaboration they have with the all relevant provincial officials on many levels and platforms. Stakeholder organizations such as Wildlife Ranching (WRSA-EC), East Cape Game Management Association (ECGMA), Professional hunters Association of South Africa (PHASA) and various wildlife educational facilities have been active promoting markets and tending to members interests which is essential in an industry and sport that is often misunderstood by folk who unaware of the positive impacts hunting has on not only conservation, but livelihoods and the rural economies too.

Besides unparalleled variety of hunt-able wildlife and friendly people the malaria-free Eastern Cape, has many other activities that non-hunting observers especially foreign ones can experience and enjoy. Photographic safaris to numerous private game reserves in the province as well as national and provincial parks with the Addo Elephant National Park being the largest and the most famous. Elephant back rides and marine tours are also very popular. Port Elizabeth and towns like Graaff Reinet, Grahamstown and Jeffreys Bay provide quaint urban exposure especially for some shopping requirements. Deep sea fishing provides fair recreation too, with tuna often being the target although the rough seas are often a hindrance. The Eastern Cape is also an important place in social African history, which was often highlighted by conflict when migrating peoples encountered each other. Port Elizabeth is the gateway to the much acclaimed Garden Route that runs along the dramatic Southern Cape coast all the way to Cape Town. Places like Plettenberg Bay and Knysna offer breathtaking scenery and culinary experiences. Shark cage diving is also very popular along this coast that has a very high population of great white sharks. Cape Town is known all around the world for its cosmopolitan flair that is unique to any place in the world. The nearby Cape Winelands of Stellenbosch and Franschoek offer exquisite wines and cheeses with even more amazing and dramatic scenery.

The total experience provided by the Eastern Cape is thus special and unique on a continent that is already extremely diverse. One safari is definitely never enough to experience everything the “Adventure Province” has to offer and the friendly people of the Eastern Cape welcome all visitors with open arms to South Africa’s hunting Mecca.

 By: Eardley Rudman