Zeroing in on a new form of vacation

By Mark Hughes (China Daily)
Updated: 2010-10-11 09:21
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Zeroing in on a new form of vacation

A Chinese hunter undergoing rifle-training in South Africa. International hunting clubs have found it is a lucrative business arranging for Chinese hunters to visit the world's finest hunting destinations, where they can each spend hundreds of thousands of yuan. Organizers say the money from hunting is ploughed back into the environment and wildlife to maintain its viability. [Photo/China Daily]

Increasing numbers of Chinese are seeking exotic experiences abroad

MUNNIK, South Africa - The long, thin, gray muzzle poked out of the makeshift hide. A gimlet eye focused through the telescopic sight fixed to the Steyr Mannlicher .338 caliber rifle. The target was a male plains zebra grazing with its herd some 200 meters away. Following a sharp crack the magnificent 340 kilogram beast leapt into the air before collapsing dead, a bullet through its heart. The rest of the herd scattered. Hu Guoyong broke into a big smile and raised his thumbs.

This was just one of several trophies to be shot over three days by four hunters in what is proving to be an increasingly popular sporting holiday for the growing number of Chinese with deep pockets.

By the end of the week in early September, they had additionally bagged blesbok, bushbuck, impala, ostrich, gemsbok (also known as oryx), kudu, baboon and warthog. After skinning, curing and taxidermy they, or part of them, will eventually adorn the homes of the men involved in the property business in Yanqing, on Beijing's northwestern outskirts.

Hu Guoyong, 39, Li Jun, 25, Li Jianzheng, 46, and Niu Xuemin, 42, had each paid 49,800 yuan ($7,465) for the round trip, visa, food, drink and accommodation in a hunting lodge in Munnik, Limpopo province, in northern South Africa. Included in the price was the right to kill three animals each. Taxidermy and curing fees range from $390 for a gennet rug mount to $20,350 for a fully mounted rhinoceros. Hu was forking out $2,120 on a fully mounted bushbuck and a total of $2,785 on shoulder mounts of a kudu, a gemsbok and a bushbuck.

The hunting safari was organized by Scott Lupien, a 42-year-old professional hunter from the United States who now lives in Beijing. His company, 52safari has established exclusive rights to guide Chinese hunters to several of the world's finest hunting destinations. These include expansive game reserves in South Africa, picturesque mountain ranches in New Zealand, a luxury yacht for bear hunting in Alaska, several huge wilderness hunting concessions in Canada, and an ultra-luxury seaside mansion in Mexico for world-class big game fishing.

Lupien, who speaks fluent Putonghua, says there are two types of clients in China: "Those who have hunted before in China and those who have the means to go and heard by word of mouth or saw it advertised."

He said South Africa was a relatively inexpensive option. "There is a huge variety of game. It is strictly controlled within the letter of the law. The climate is good. I am seeing more people taking up the sport and more repeat customers," he said.

So far this year, Lupien, who has 30 years of experience as a hunter, has accompanied three groups to Africa and his order book is already filling up for next year. He brings a Chinese chef and another translator on every trip. "When you put monetary value on game, people conserve it," he said, adding that animal populations had risen by millions since hunting became controlled.

Hu, the two Lis and Niu were booked by Lupien with Theo de Marillac Safaris, named after its founder. De Marillac, 37, has been in business since 1993 and runs a 40,000-acre (16,187 hectares) hunting concession around Munnik, which he has held for nine years. He has two senior professional hunters on his staff, Riaan Drotsky and Philip Botha, another professional, Jaco Cronje, and an apprentice, Fanie Malan. One hunter accompanies two guests on safari with two local African native trackers and general helps. He has worked with his head tracker, Falton Mondolme, for 17 years.

De Marillac says there is a strict quota system on kills to keep the animal population sustainable. Money from hunters is ploughed back into the environment and wildlife to maintain its viability. He says his business fully conforms with the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), also known as the Washington Convention.

This is an international agreement between governments, drafted as a result of a resolution adopted in 1963 at a meeting of members of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. The text of the convention was agreed upon in 1973, and CITES entered into force on 1 July 1975.

Its aim is to ensure that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival and it accords varying degrees of protection to more than 33,000 species of animals and plants. Only one species protected by CITES, the Spix's macaw, has become extinct in the wild as a result of trade since the Convention entered into force.

"We are very scientifically and stringently controlled," said de Marillac. "Without me doing it legally and doing it accurately there is no way the client would receive his trophies back home. We are full members of the Professional Hunters' Association of South Africa (PHASA), which has strict codes of conduct."

PHASA's mission statement reads: "PHASA supports the conservation and ecologically sustainable development and use of natural resources, for the benefit of current and future generations, through the promotion of ethical hunting."

De Marillac added: "This is a fantastic opportunity for the Chinese to experience something new and affordable. It is not like the old days when hunters would spend weeks at a time on safari. Here we can condense it into tailored packages of a few days. They will return with a lifetime of memories. It will make your African dream a reality. Twenty-five percent of the adventure is hunting and killing an animal. The other 75 percent is the African experience."

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De Marillac said hunting was not without its dangers. There are lions and leopards in his concession. "A leopard scratches you at 100 stitches a minute but a lion eats you," he said, before drawing attention to a gruesome video of a Western hunter being attacked by a leopard before it was shot dead.

Beijinger John Wang, 45, a professional taxidermist who joined the trip as a translator, said: "I think there is a future for Chinese tourism in South Africa. More and more people are coming here. We see wildlife programs on television. Most people watch them. They have a big influence. Many tell the story of animals in Africa. People dream of seeing them for themselves."

The Chinese group's keenest and most prolific hunter was Hu. He said it was good because it encouraged people to be brave. "Hunting in South Africa is exciting," he said. "It is heaven for hunters. I'm extremely happy this year."

Hu says he already has mounts of impala, wart hog, eland, hartebeest and steenbuck at his 1,705 square meter, two-story home in Yanqing. This year's tally would add to that. He said he planned to return and has set his sights on bagging a leopard.

Wang Wei, who runs a rival hunting safari service for Chinese clients in Africa called China Adventure Travel, said he has organized 15 trips since he started his business in 2005. During three trips, one client, who works in construction in western China, shot four elephants: two in Tanzania and two in Zimbabwe. It cost him 3 million yuan in taxidermy bills, said Wang. Clients have also shot lions and leopards, he added. "These kind of people don't like to publicize their hobby. This particular client doesn't want people to know he is hunting and killing animals. He wants to keep a low profile."