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Hunting Somalia--as it was--Part IV.

Next day we went to the nearest post office, in Afmadu, about 30 miles from Beles Cogani. I sent a detailed telegram to the head of the wildlife department in Mogadiscio requesting a hunting licence for the diverse antelope species, warthog, lion, with the reply fee paid for, as agreed after my arrival in the country. To get a receipt, as for this no form existed, there was a problem. However, after an exchange of arguments between the postman and Kotte, in Somali, they agreed that the man gives a signed statement on a sheet of paper, sign and stamp it with the corresponding value and postmarks with the corresponding date, "post remaining" to my name. I never got an answer, as several people predicted, but at least I had a "proof" that I tried. I repeated this a few days later, with the same result.

On the way back the trackers suggested we stop in a place where they told me there was a dry river-bed, where there might still exist some small pools at the beginning of dry season. I started with them and maybe half an hour later in a place which looked like a clearing in the thorn bushes there was a lesser kudu bull browsing quietly, broadside, not more than 50 yards away. Even I could judge that it had decent horns. It was an easy shot. With a huge jump and very short rush, it went down. Both Mohammeds shouted "Bravo" and ran to cut the throat. If not enormous, it was a decent trophy and I was quite happy with it. I guess that like everybody, I found the lesser kudu fantastically elegant. Moreover, I was also happy with the fact, that after some shaky shooting during the first bush excursion in Somalia, now things were getting back to normal. (And I am glad to say they remained so until the end of my stay in the country.)

Libali, the younger Mohammed, started to trot back to fetch the car, while we settled down with his older colleague to wait. It took quite a while to get the car nearer in the roadless thombush. Kotte even thought to bring my camera to take a picture.

In Beles Cogani the head of police looked at the telegram receipt, but seeing the meat he said that if I wanted to have two lesser kudu trophies I should not hesitate. He asked me whether I minded him giving a leg of the kudu to Maestro Bashir, the school teacher.

This brought me an invitation from the Maestro to visit the school one day, which I did. The Maestro told me that he would be deeply honoured by my visit. When we got near the school with the car, he asked me to enter the classroom. There was only one, essentially for rather young children, girls, in minority, well separated from boys. When we entered all stood up. Maestro Bachir made a small speech, in Somali which I did of course not understand, but I had the impression that he used a couple of times the word "libah"(lion) the rare Somali words that seem also have vowels, so throaty this language is. As lion are also eating Somali cattle, hunting them is too an understandable occupation. I also made a very short speech, in French, which nobody understood but this was in fact of little importance and was no doubt quite exotic.

One day, very soon after, came the news that a lion killed a cow during the previous night. We approached the place led by a guide. Tracks showed that two lion were the culprits. I suggested sitting up at night, hoping that they would come back. Both trackers deemed this hopeless, however, and told me that we should follow them. They followed the tracks easily, even where I did not see a thing. When they had the impression that I looked a bit dubiative, they showed me some sign they noted, which was microscopic indeed. Finally, we arrived at a patch of really dense vegetation. At the place of the entry, we could easily follow the lion standing up. Both fellows indicated that we had to go on all fours, and started to strip, keeping just underpants and the string holding their knife in a homemade sheath. I took my double, usually carried by the older Mohammed, whereas he was carrying his short spear. Behind me, Libah carried the .375, with a bullet in the chamber. I just hoped that he did not play with the Mauser "flag" safety, to find out how it worked.

We advanced very slowly, a yard or two at a time. Then we listened for a while. Older Mohammed bent down nearly to earth level trying to see something below the vegetation. Nothing. As I did not strip like the trackers thorns often caught my clothing. Mohamed then looked back reproachfully, while Libah unhooked the thorns one by one. My knees and left hand were like pincushions. Unpleasant, but what else to do?

We were maybe 15 or 20 yards into the thicket when there was a sudden "Whuff", and the noise of something rather big rushing through the thorn bushes. This took us by complete surprise, but Mohamed had the reaction to raise the blade of his spear. After a few seconds, he shook his head and motioned us to return from where we came. No success, but some of the tensest moments of all my Africa hunts! On the other side of the thicket, we found the tracks where the lion left it, obviously in a hurry, as the tracks were also clearly visible for me. However both fellows immediately told me that alerted, it would be hopeless to follow them further.

I thought we should try to sit up at night for the lion over baits. During the next two days, I shot three warthogs, of which we saw a number and which one could shoot without any limitation. We did not see any with large tusks, but these were for bait, not for the trophy. There was a bit of a problem with the first one, as none of the Somalis wanted to touch a pig! I thus asked Kotte to give me the rope from the car. I tied it behind the tusks and started to pull it in direction of the car. Seeing this Kotte helped to drag it. But how to load it, without touching it? After a short hesitation, Kotte decided to help, and even the trackers did it on condition that we pour water seven times on their hands (from the village water hole, of which we always had a demijohn full carried with us).

We went out again mid-afternoon. As it would have been impossible to return to the village on the camel-tracks, we took some food with us. At a clearing, we dropped the pigs, I opened up their bellies, and we positioned the car behind some bushes downwind. Nothing came. Maybe Somali lion are also observing Moslem taboos, not eating pigs. As we had been warned also by the head of police of Beles Cogani of "shiftas" (bandits) that, near the Kenya border, might come to the area, Kotte and I slept on the seats of the car.

The trackers did not seem to worry and slept on the ground, on a cowhide they brought with them. Seemingly far better than myself on the car seat! Being that near to the Equator, day and night is nearly the same length, and night comes early, we sat for a while near the car before trying to sleep.

A day or two later during our stalking the two trackers stopped once suddenly and pointed forward whispering "araul". I noticed among the bushes a small group of antelope, a bit larger than gerenuk, moving, but I could not distinguish more than shapes behind the somewhat denser vegetation in this place. Lesser kudus are not reputed to be in herds. I asked "hirola?" Both Mohameds were shaking their heads repeating "araul". This name did not figure on my list of Somali antelope names copied from Major Maydon's classic book. Anyhow the animals disappeared, thus I did not bother to follow the "araul".

As not to discourage the various interested persons' goodwill, next day I shot another gerenuk of which obviously there were enough in the area. I also quite often used Francois' .22 to shoot Vulturine guinea fowl, probably the most spectacular guinea fowl, to vary the menu--and once a "yellow-neck", a rather large francolin (or "spurfowl" according to some authors), endemic to parts of East Africa. (This was actually the only animal declared irremediably dead by the trackers, thus not edible to Moslems, but quite edible for me.)

A day or two later we happened on a small group of gazelle, which reminded me of Grant's gazelle, but appearing a bit smaller. I shot the biggest buck. It turned out to be a Peters' gazelle, a subspecies of Grant's. In addition, it turned out to be quite a good trophy, which found its way into the Rowland Ward record book, when a measurer had been appointed in the city where my brother lived in France. Slowly the end of my stay in Somalia approached.

At one of our outings, we again saw a herd of "araul". This time they appeared to me rather like the pictures of hirola, I had seen in books of African game, but again the trackers told they were "araul". I shot the male, which appeared to me and to the trackers as the best one. It turned out to be an hirola. We covered it in the car as much as possible. Not far away from Beles Cogani we encountered another Land-Rover. It was the Italian fellow from the shop of Kismayo, where I stocked up with beer, mineral water, etc., with a friend. I could really not hide what I shot that day, and they confirmed that "araul" was actually the local name for hirola. They did not seem to be at all scandalised that I shot it. Neither was the police sergeant behind whose house all the skulls of my trophies were cleaned. Next day we went out together with the two Italians for a day's stalking, and one of them took a good gerenuk, starting back to Kismayo in the late afternoon. In fact, they just came that far for a weekend excursion to see how somebody not speaking Somali and very poor Italian could get through without a PH, as they were good friends with Sabbatini, the Italian PH, who left for Tanzania.

As I had a lion appearing to be a long-term proposition--and anyhow I already shot two of them a few years back on two hunts in Zambia -1 decided to return to Mogadiscio. Having the trophies, but not the necessary papers for regular exportation, I also gave up my original plans to fly from Somalia, with the Soviet airline, to Sanaa, in Yemen, to see for myself the spectacular architecture of that old city, apparently founded in the 1st century A.D., and from there via Rome to Nice in France. I chose instead to book a direct flight to Rome and from there the short hop to Nice. We packed the car, and I saw the police chief for the payment of trackers and the young helper. Having given a little bit more than originally agreed, everybody seemed to be happy and I was told, via my interpreter, that would I return to Somalia, maybe we could even try for elephant and the lion will be a sure thing. There were no buffalo in the area. Possibly the Italian colonial administration exterminated them, as not to spread foot and mouth disease or, more probably, the region was too dry for them. We saw occasional elephant tracks, but even those were not recent.

Even the police chief seemed to be satisfied with just the binoculars. The only thing he asked for was the few litres of red wine brought from Mogadiscio, but not consumed. When I asked what he thought Allah would have to say about the wine, he told me with a sly smile that for this he has a special personal arrangement with Allah.

On the way back to Mogadiscio we spent a night in Merca, so as not to arrive too late unannounced.

Next day we gave back the rental car. The garage owner tried to levy an excess charge, but once reminded that the poorly fixed cooler-protection could have ruined the whole hunting trip--and seeing in the oil company a potential long-term client--he did not insist.

After discussions with Francois and some of his acquaintances, I decided to try to take the trophies with me, taking in consideration the local civil servants' mores. I bought a suitcase of respectable size, with built in wheels, and packed in the trophies. As Francois again had to go out to the geological field party and I had two free days before my plane to Rome with connection to Nice, he proposed for me to go along. This time with a 4WD car and adequate tyres, there was no problem getting there. On the "road", once a nice lesser kudu bull's front half appeared on the left side of the road. Francois of course insisted I shoot. I had just time to put a single round in the .375, slowly open the car's door, get out and while the bull did not budge, shoot. With a huge leap the bull crossed the narrow track and fell dead into the bushes on the opposite side. (However, Kotte conveniently regarded it as not too dead to be unfit for consumption by Moslems.) It was a nice addition to my trophies in the suitcase and welcome meat for the field party.

On the day of the departure, I gave some foreign currency to Mr. Noor, whom Francois and Francoise took along to the airport. He went to the customs office with the luggage (rifles, trophies and my duffel-bag), then registered them all for the Alitalia flight to Rome. He came back with ticket, baggage tags and told everything was in order. In Rome, I left the heavy suitcase with the trophies, which became also a bit smelly, in the baggage room until my flight next morning to Nice. I declared my guns on arrival then packed everything in my brother's car. The Somalia safari was over.

I could plan for the next hunt, thinking about Ethiopia..
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Title Annotation:Memories of the Past
Author:Klasz, Ivan cle
Publication:African Hunter Magazine
Geographic Code:6SOMA
Date:Aug 1, 2014
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