Group covering gemsbok horns in transportation

Hands-on work with Game Capture and Relocation

I wish we could convey exactly what we experienced when on game capture, unfortunately, an editorial of things we did and places we went cannot do the experience justice. I took up the game capture placement after a safari holiday with a friend fell through; a safari will not let you experience a fraction of what game capture has to offer. I left home with a clear sense of career direction – to be a domestic veterinary surgeon, but the past month of game capture convinced me that domestic animal work has nowhere near the potential job satisfaction or possibility to reap non-selfish rewards for conservation as wild game.

I must stress that some time is spent in the necessities of capture such as long drives across Africa to your next site of capture and the laborious process of setting up the capture bomas. What must also be stressed is that when a herd of animals is galloping past you into that boma or you are holding down a bushbuck ram in a net that you have caught with your own hands, these necessities become a joy as you realise the rewards they will reap.

In my 30 days with the team, I believe there were just two days when we weren’t actively involved in the capture process – busy but rewarding. It is hard to try and convey some of the experiences I had but if I say that in my first week I helped in the capture of around 100 blue and black wildebeest and red hartebeest, watched a herd of giraffe from 50 metres helping their bull calf feed, tracked a bull white rhino on foot to find his mate that had got wire in her foot and sat watching sunsets with herds of eland, springbok, gemsbok, and blesbok graze on a veld below the kopje on which I was sitting, then you will have the slightest glimpse of what game capture can offer you.

It is hard to give an example of a typical day, which is often what people are looking for. The Game Capture and Relocation Experience does not have a ‘typical day’; you are not constrained by any sense of timetable, nor do you know exactly what you will be doing when you wake up the next day. You are subject to the whims of the elements, especially the wind, and of course the whims of the animals themselves! On one of the days in the Northern Cape we sought to capture 30 gemsbok, and spent the entire day constructing a 500m long boma. We returned the next day to catch when the light was better, however, when the helicopter began to round up the antelope, they refused to enter the boma – they had seen something, perhaps one of the wires on the boma, or perhaps they had got a sniff of human on the wind. Regardless of the cause, three herds of gemsbok were tried, and three herds failed to enter the boma. This particular experience demonstrates that the game capture is not for tourists in the sense that what goes on is not orchestrated for your benefit – what you see really happens. My favourite expression from the ACE coordinator was “this particular experience is as real as it gets.”

However, when a catch goes well, it goes really well and you will be in the thick of it. In my third week, we set up a boma to capture a herd of 80 blesbok – a medium-sized antelope with horns up to around 12 inches long. During the catch procedure the helicopter herds the animals into the mouth of a cone-shaped enclosure (the boma), and as they proceed through the boma, curtains are drawn across its width to systematically close the animals down into a smaller space (in most cases it is the students who draw these curtains and the animals will be passing literally feet away from you). Once at the end of the boma, the animals enter a lairage where they are chased up onto a truck for transport. All animals require tranquillisation for transport with a sedative via intramuscular injection (another activity you are involved with).

You will remember these experiences for the rest of your life and when people ask you what your happiest memories include, it will be your experience of game capture and relocation!

James Cook