In 1975, when I came to Namibia, the hunting industry had just started up and game ranching was in its infancy. The main indigenous trophy animals in our area at the time were kudu, gemsbok, hartebeest and warthog, and the four pigmy antelope, namely klipspringer, duiker, dik-dik and steenbok. My boss and owner of Mount Etjo, Jan Oelofse, had considerable expertise in game capture, and we were able to catch other indigenous animals. We used these to stock a 5 000 ha game-fenced area so we could offer bigger trophy selections to visiting hunters.
We started with an initial herd of about 50 spring-bok. However, right from the beginning we could see that there would be problems with the large number of cheetahs. In our area there were not any springbok, and I think that was due to these cheetahs. At that time, it was all open range cattle land and the cheetahs were roaming freely in search of prey – which included young gemsbok, kudu and hartebeest, as well as goats, sheep from the neighbouring ranches and some young cattle calves.
The cheetahs were targeted by the farmers and they were shot on sight – which wasn’t always easy because cheetahs are probably one of the most difficult big cats to hunt. They don’t come to bait and when they are pressured, they simply take off in a flash. Because we had introduced springbok, we ended up with the same problem, as springbok are probably cheetahs’ most common prey.
We had an 8′ 6″ game fence with 22 strands of wire, with the lower strands spaced about 6 inches apart. However, as the saying goes, if a cat can get his head through the opening, he is going to get his whole body through – and that is what happened quite often. So it was an on-going battle to keep the cheetahs at bay so that the springbok could have a chance to breed.
Jan was very hands-on and decided to take the battle to the cheetahs. The first thing he did was to fence the whole area in with a mesh wire from the bottom up to 4-foot high. This was generally effective in keeping them out but they could still find a way in by crawling through warthog holes. Cheetahs don’t like climbing that much, so most of the time they would just walk up and down the fence, looking for a way to get in.
Next Jan got a pack of greyhounds and built special cages on the back of our Land Cruisers so we could hunt with the dogs in the vehicle. If we spotted a cheetah out in the open plains where the springbok roamed, we would release the dogs to go after the predator. If the cheetah was close to thick bush, he could just disappear before the hounds got to him, because they only hunt by sight. However, if the hounds caught sight of a cheetah in a large, open area, they were able to stay with him. Cheetahs are the fastest land animals but they become winded after 300 or 400 yards of running, and then the grey hounds would bay them up and we would come and catch them, usually by throwing a net over their heads. We had to get there quickly because we did not want the dogs hurting the cheetah. We had a large pen in which we kept the captured cheetahs, and eventually we had quite a number of them. We sold them to cheetah conservation projects in Namibia and South Africa.
I had a German client once who was interested in hunting cheetah. It was in March, in the middle of our rainy season – and it was a very wet rainy season! It was a very exciting hunt. We went out early every morning and checked the roads. Usually it would rain until just before dawn, so we could pick up fresh tracks easily. The soil was quite wet, which made it somewhat