I received an email from a friend of mine. It included an attachment of a cry for help sent to him by a friend of his. Since Donald Trump has announced his intention of pulling all American troops out of Syria (abandoning the Kurds, who have been doing the bulk of the anti-ISIS fighting, to the tender mercies of the Turks–does anyone remember the Armenian holocaust?) I doubt very much that what happens to a handful of people and some animals in an obscure African nation many people have never even heard of will move America to intervention, but radical Islam is as much of a threat there as it is in every other corner of the world. Here, for those of you with strong stomachs, is the cry for help:
Last week our camp Arly Safaris, the first hunting concession and camp ever to be set up in Burkina over 30 years ago, was attacked and burnt to the ground by Islamist Jihadists. Since then they have also attacked a number of other hunting camps and burnt and destroyed them as well. In our camp fortunately, no one was injured or killed, I am not sure about the other camps.
This is a huge setback for everyone, starting from you the client–without your support the conservation fueled by hunting dollars would not have been possible–me the agent, the concession owner, the people who worked in these camps who depended on this income for their very survival, the poor villagers who depended on their share of the game meat (a third of all the meat by law goes to the surrounding villages) and finally, and most of all, the wild animals which will no doubt be gone forever if this situation continues. In the years that I have been hunting there, all the big elephant bulls have been killed, not by hunters, but by the jihadist-backed poachers who are now killing the females, young ones, anything showing even the smallest bit of ivory.
This is especially heart breaking for me as I considered it my own little slice of Africa and while I arrange hunts all over the continent and world, Burkina was always a special place. French hunters have hunted it for a long time; but when I first discovered that such a place existed, precisely three American hunters had been there and I contacted all of them. My first advert said more Americans had walked on the moon than hunted in BF and I was right at the time. Over the years, I was to change that, taking more American clients (including two Weatherby Award winners) to Burkina than any other outfitter or agent.
The people of Burkina Faso, some of the poorest in the world, are honest, friendly and ready to give everything they have for a client. By international safari standards they were ill trained and diamonds in the rough, often showing up with holes in their clothes and toes sticking out of their old hunting boots left behind by a long-gone client. But not a single one was dishonest or had a bad bone in his body. The fact that they couldn’t speak English was difficult with clients, but our group of translators made things work.
In Burkina clients hunted with these local PHs, a great experience for those who did not need hand holding and the guidance of a white PH. While they may not have lacked the polish of other PHs in Africa, they did not lack courage or bush skills. Ishmail hunted many lions over the years with clients and even survived a mauling by one! Junjwa would turn into a cat on the final approach, moving fast from bush to bush, bringing his hunter right up to the game. Buwaba, much more cautious, produced some of the best trophies every year. Omaru was a hit with all clients as he made them feel comfortable and relaxed and always had a smile and laugh even when things were going south. All out of work now, with no way to feed their families and watching helplessly as the game they loved and protected so dearly is now vulnerable with no protection whatsoever!
When I first hunted in Burkina, the head PH guided me with an old 458 with a pipe clamp holding the barrel to a piece of wood which was a stock a long time ago. I resolved this by sending them a battery of CZ rifles and we were truly in the game. The trucks were beaten up old junks, left in the bush like farm tractors, fired up before each season with parts from everywhere and left to weather in the heat and rain after the season ended. They looked like crap but for the most part they ran. The camp was by no means five star or luxurious, but comfortable. In that beastly heat starting from end of February, the air conditioners struggled to keep the guest chalets cool, but you realized how hot it was when you stepped out. In late February the harmattan winds and sand storms that blew in from the Sahara, covered everything with fine dust and blanketed the place in a fog that lasted for a few days at a time–this was something to be experienced. I once shot a great buffalo in the middle of a sand fog. Seeing a lion, buffalo and elephant within 10 minutes of leaving camp one afternoon will always remain in my memory! The wildlife found in our concession included the West African cheetah, leopard, hippo, crocodile, korrigum to mention a few of the main species.
The money from the hunting and tips from the clients paid for salaries and the livelihood of over 20 families that worked in the camp as well as the chef de poste and his team of village trackers who accompanied every client on their hunt. How they will manage now is anyone’s guess.
One generous client sent money every year to educate a boy who used to work in the kitchen. This year I had to tell him this was no longer possible, not only because the camp had been destroyed but also the boy’s school had been shut down by the jihadists who now seek to turn the clock back to medieval times.
This is what hunting in Burkina was all about…
Back to reality. The north of Burkina on the border with Mali has always been a hotbed of terrorist activity. The situation in Mali is very complicated and there is a great documentary well worth watching on youtube called Orphans of the Sahara. This will give you a better understanding of the problems in that part of the world. A very tough, savage land and tough people.
The east of Burkina has always been quiet but in the last few months it has suddenly seen a number of attacks on mine workers, gendarmerie and government officials, ranging from all out-gun fights to IEDs, resulting in many casualties of the poorly trained Burkina army. From all accounts it seems that the intention of the jihadists is to set up a base in the forested area of the Eastern portion of Burkina Faso from which they will be difficult to dislodge. No doubt they have taken ideas from Boko Haram in Nigeria who played the same game in the Sambisa forests in the north.
This tragedy is not just a human story but the loss of the last refuge of wildlife left in West Africa: the largest but fast disappearing concentration of elephant, lion, buffalo, roan and species of antelope unique to West Africa. Yet again this story can only be brought to the attention of the public by the hunting community. There is no wildlife tourism in Burkina, so it is a country totally off the map for any wildlife-loving tourists except hunters. But it is time for everyone to unite, non-hunters as well as hunters, and those that just look on and turn the page or click on the next news link, to stop for a moment, spread the word, share this message, write to powers that be and do something before it is too late. Please, please share this story and copy and paste it on your own Facebook timelines. In this day and age when viral videos of someone twerking to a groovy beat can generate a million views overnight, surely this warrants more. To do nothing would be a crying shame.
I cry for you, Burkina Faso.