On Saturday, 16th February this year I found myself at Tarkastad Agricultural Showground, in South Africa’s Eastern Cape, judging hounds. I was also asked to judge the terrier and lurcher classes, so I had a long, as well as a very enjoyable day in the middle of the ring. The organisers of the show believe this is the first hound show ever to be held in the Eastern Cape, and maybe the first in the whole of the country for at least a hundred years! The quality of the hounds on show was excellent, but it was not the chance to judge such a prestigious event that made me decide to take up the challenge and travel all that distance. No, it was the chance to hunt with hounds and terriers for eight days with one of South Africa’s top professional hunters, Mr Roy Sparks that I could not refuse.
You could write a book on Roy’s achievements, but to quote just a part of his business card will give you a brief insight into the man “Operational in Southern Africa, big game hounds specialising in Leopard, Lion and small cat (Lynx). Roy has almost three hundred successful Leopard hunts with hounds and terriers to his credit. It was therefore not a surprise to me that the majority of the major prize winners at the show, shown by various handlers, went to his organisation, Jackal Hunts.
Jackal are a major problem in South Africa. They not only inflict terrible damage on lambs and young goats, but also kill calves and numerous young/small antelope. Most methods have been used to control their numbers, but a very successful method is the use of a pack of hounds, supported by terriers. The one major drawback to this method is the very high temperatures in Africa, often reaching the mid forties by mid morning. Therefore, an early morning start is required; hounds are usually hunting by three thirty, in the pitch black darkness, and the general rule is that if you haven’t killed your Jackal by seven thirty, then you probably won’t kill it. The hounds hunt five days a week, fifty weeks a year. The terriers run loose with the hounds, Jack Russells and Fox Terrier types. However, they are not the sort you see in the UK today, but the old fashioned type, imported into Africa many years ago, unspoilt by the show/money brigade; true hard, tough grafters.
The day after the show we hunted with Roy’s Jackal pack, though he has enough trained hounds to run two packs a day when the need arises. We drove high onto the top of a mountain range, but due to low cloud, we couldn’t loose hounds until almost seven o’clock. Whilst we were waiting, Roy pointed out a young dog hound of about fourteen months he had bred, it had only been out once previously, but had impressed on that first day, and due to the quality of his parents, great things were expected from him.
Roy’s son Simon hunted the hounds this day. When we did release hounds, they soon found on a very steep gradient in thick cover below us, and headed away from us down the valley. It was soon evident that hounds had split, the vast majority headed down the valley, but the tracking collars indicated that at least two hounds had swung right handed and up into the next valley and three of us went in pursuit of these. We walked on across the top of the mountain and they were eventually spotted way down on the valley bottom below us, hunting towards some dry, dusty ground where no scent would hold. It was decided to head back to find the main pack, and locate these two hounds later.
We crossed onto the top of the next valley, and were treated to a superb hunt; hounds running up the valley towards us, then running right underneath us in full cry. The Jackal was under real pressure when he turned sharp right and headed straight up the steep valley side opposite us, offering a tremendous view. He climbed and climbed, eventually reaching the summit opposite us just in front of the pack, and ran the skyline. Fortunately for him, the hot dry wind, (it’s like someone putting a hair dryer on you) and the temperatures in the high thirties meant scent soon petered out, and we called an end to the day.
The two other hounds were gathered, but it was discovered that the young dog hound Roy had pointed out earlier was missing. We drove around the mountain and eventually came across a tribal herdsman, tending his sheep and goats. He said that early that morning, (just after we started) he had seen a single hound hunting a Jackal really hard, and that the Jackal had gone to ground. He pointed out the area where he had seen this happen, and we eventually found him still marking at a big sprawling place, seven hours later. We tried the terriers, but unfortunately the Jackal had slipped out of one of the many entrances and had gone, but what a hunting display from a young hound, what a great day it had been!
The following day we were invited to hunt with one of his Jackal packs by one of the local landowners, Mr Richard Morgan, and we met at his kennels at 3.30a.m. Hounds were quickly loaded and we drove way up into the mountains on a very steep, winding track. Hounds were loosed and they and the hunt staff soon disappeared into the blackness of night, the only light being the stars above us. We drove on for about a mile to the top of the valley, and waited quietly as the daylight started to appear. Then we heard hounds hunting, a long way off, but heading in our direction. The hunt went on for almost an hour, their music getting louder as the sun started to make an appearance. Then we could just make then out, hunting opposite us on a steep rocky slope. Their cry was increasing all the time, it really echoed in the valley, and it was obvious that their quarry wasn’t far ahead of them. Then we heard the steady baying of hounds marking, the pressure on him was too hot to handle and the Jackal had gone to ground. A few minutes later their cry altered again as the terriers came running up the valley, pushed through the hounds and into ground to face the Jackal. Hounds went mad, roaring at the entrance to the hole, what a sound it was, and he shot out below them, with terriers in pursuit. Hounds caught him in fine style opposite us after about a hundred yard dash, amazing!
The sun was getting really hot now on the mountain, so the huntsman boxed the hounds and we headed into some thick bush country where he tried to find a Lynx for me. We did find an old line which they dragged on in fine style for a while, until they got into some bat eared foxes and split. The terriers caught one, so we decided to call it a day as they were hunting again early the following morning, it had been another memorable experience.
We went back to a remote farmhouse that we were staying in, and after a bath and a meal I decided to sit in the garden, have a cold beer and watch some of the magnificent bird life. I was sitting there quietly when I spotted something moving out of the corner of my eye on the hillside above me, about fifty yards away. It was a solitary, old male baboon, a very dangerous animal. I sat very still as he moved slowly up and across the hillside. Every time he looked away, I edged nearer to the house, until I was able to drop behind a wall, run around the front of the house and in through the front door. We grabbed the rifle, went outside and I lay down flat on the yard outside the front door. He was now just over four hundred metres straight above me. One shot rang out, he never moved again. You never know what will happen next in Africa! An evening bbq at Richard Morgan’s beautiful farmhouse was the perfect end to a long and memorable day.