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Rosslyn Safaris--Cawston Ranch, Zimbabwe.

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I first visited Cawston Ranch in Zimbabwe's Matabeleland province in 2003. Even back then, the name of Rosslyn Safaris garnered much respect and admiration, not just locally, but the world over. So too did icons--Peter and Carole Johnstone--who owned it. Known particularly as one of Africa's prime bow limiting destinations, the sizeable property is target rich and well organised for this pursuit.

As we drove the short distance to the lodge after turning off the main Bulawayo to Victoria Falls road (only 70km from Bulawayo), the sun dipped to the eastern horizon. I was astonished at the game crossing the road. Kudu bolted dodgingly, sable was in the distance and right beside us several giraffe--not immediately visible loped along with long swaying necks. Things had not changed in the decade plus since my last visit.

Shortly after, we were settled in our East African styled tents, atop a kopje overlooking a pan below. Joined by Peter Johnstone for sundowners on the viewing platform, we watched as little groups of bushbuck, impala, sable and kudu ambled across open ground to drink. Guinea fowl scuttled here and there kicking up dust as they chased each other, while ever present warthog jostled for a turn at the water. Relaxed as can be, the animals were not even disturbed by the approach of a vehicle--sent to deliver lucerne as a supplementary feed for the animals. Of course, once they recognised the vehicle, all attention turned from the water, as the animals waited patiently for their treat. Pointing a big gnarled finger at them, Peter commented, "This is one of the advantages of a mostly bow hunting operation. Disturbance is kept to a minimum and the wildlife thrives".

In 1987, Peter and Carole bought the Cawston Block ranch (measuring 50 sections). Back then, civil war and dissident activity reduced the value, enabling them to quickly develop the land for wildlife. The ranch had previously been used for various cattle ranching operations, all of which had failed, leaving the place pretty run down and ecologically exhausted. Says Peter, "We first built a 6 000-acre paddock to introduce animals as fast as possible before anyone realised that there was actually a market for live game and, no doubt, the price would rise. The boundary fence of 52km was also built in the shortest tune possible". This was followed by a basic lodge for guests, which was up-graded in 1992. He continues "About 24 years ago I had completed the boundary game fence and brought in 800 animals. I had to stock the property with virtually every species of importance that are now represented here. That was the first serious capture and stocking enterprise on a private game ranch in Zimbabwe".

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In the days when Peter and Carole built their first lodge here, they flew to Kenya to see the true East African tents, taking measurements and sketches in order to replicate them in Zimbabwe. These may well have been the first such tents in the country back then. Today, there are five such tented lodges all with pressure-fed hot and cold water, showers and toilets, as well as two similarly appointed brick under thatch lodges. Guests come together in the main dining/lounge area which flows out onto the viewing platform, where evening meals are often taken under the stars, or guests gather around the pit-fire to watch a bit of "bush TV". This western part of Zimbabwe gets hot ... sweltering, and the lodge boasts a swimming pool for guests to cool off in when not out hunting.

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Today, the property boasts 14 waterholes Peter developed after sinking boreholes around the ranch and, with seasonal pools along the boundary on the Umgusa River, they sustain all wildlife. Bow hunting and photographic blinds of various designs--ground level, tree stands and platforms--have been constructed at these pans and while these are used extensively, there is a considerable amount of walk-and-stalk bow limiting undertaken. Cawston is also a rifle limiter's paradise, with vast space for true walk-and-stalk hunters to enjoy the African bush.

The waterholes, too, have been developed to expand and support the game bird populations. Juliet, who is now Cawston's managing director, has taken on the development of driven bird shoots, and the ranch now hosts the annual Pointer Dog Trials. It is possible to run 6-8 driven shoots a day for up to 6-10 guns over a three or four day period, while hunters can also enjoy evening dove shoots and clients are welcome to bring their own bird dogs. Species include Natal, Crested, Couqi and Swainson francolin while guinea fowl are prolific.

Peter's daughter, Juliet, is the youngest daughter of three, and like her siblings grew up in the bush. Peter's Rosslyn Safaris--under which Cawston operates--is the oldest registered safari company in Zimbabwe dating back to 1974. Peter's hunting career stretches even further back to the 1960s and his original concessions before buying Cawston included properties on the Hwange Park boundary, Matetsi 3 and two areas in the Zambezi valley, affording a bush lifestyle and up-bringing second to none. Juliet completed a Bachelor of Science (Honours) in Geography, and having lived overseas for a time, returned a few years ago after the loss of her Mother to cancer. Today Juliet has taken over the management of Cawston, though Peter is hard to ignore when he has an idea. Knowing Carole, who was a force to be reckoned with in Zimbabwe's safari industry, it is easy to see Juliet is cut from the same cloth, and Cawston and its clients want for nothing.

Sitting in one of the subterranean blinds used for bow hunting, watching the game come in for a late afternoon drink, Peter's eyes glowed in the dim light. At 81, he has seen and done much, and been a pioneer of both hunting and wildlife management in Africa. I mused at his words from earlier in the day while touring the ranch. When stopping at a row of bravely budding sapling Camel Thorn trees--he had planted, he said, "I will not be around to see the fruits of these trees, but the long-term sustenance of the ranch and its wildlife depends on such projects". Each tree is watered regularly by an attendant and a roaming bowser and each had a miniature barricade surrounding to protect against being eaten by game. The pods from mature Camel-Thorns are bought annually from surrounding communities to supplement the feed for wildlife in the dry season. This and the baling of grass, and growing of crops like lucerne, guard against the ravages of drought, a phenomenon which afflicts this arid part of Zimbabwe regularly.

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Cawston's dedication to the principles of sustainable wildlife production dictates that every aspect is intensively managed. Not a single scrap of any animal harvested goes to waste, with unused bones or offal supplying the vulture restaurant or being donated to the SPCA, and all meat processed through their butchery is used in the lodge providing mouthwatering meals prepared along with home-grown vegetables on an old wood stove ... good old fashioned home cooking! Meat is also donated or sold to the surrounding communities at affordable prices. This easily available protein helps to prevent poaching, and ensures a healthy working relationship with surrounding communities.

In addition, ongoing research ensures jaw bones are kept from prime species and aged, providing an essential element in the management process. Annual game counts are conducted and this record goes back to the very beginning. Allied to this research, Cawston hosts students on attachment from the National University of Science and Technology (in Bulawayo) and others undertaking degrees in related fields. Some of the ongoing research is funded by the FAO and CIRAD with the aim of building a comprehensive game ranching model which can be effectively applied to rural communities in communal lands, using wildlife to generate income and food security.

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Of course, all of this equates to significant trophy quality for the discerning hunter. The SCI Record Book of Bom' Trophies shows 119 bow records in the book for Cawston, but since 2002, Cawston have not submitted record entries to SCI, though amazing trophies have been collected. One example is a leopard shot in 2005 which would make Gold overall, beating the Bronze for bow taken in 1994. They also boast a Silver or Bronze entry (overall size) for sable for every year from 2004-2011. A 42-inch plus sable is not uncommon on the ranch, and Peter attributes his excellent sable, in part, to the water points he has established on the ranch, stating that, "Very importantly I believe, the widespread water points keep the very dominant sable bulls apart and the sable population increasing".

Live game sales are a key component of Peter's sustainable use model. Annually, significant game is captured and increasingly in Zimbabwe, is being used to re-stock land which has been decimated by the land redistribution exercise started in 2000. Indeed, in the years ahead, this resource will be important if Zimbabwe is ever to regain her reputation as a quality wildlife producer. Aside from prime species such as sable, eland, zebra and wildebeest, of which there are significant numbers, from the 100 impala Peter stocked in the late 1980s, he has taken off 5000 impala through hunting and live sales and still carries between 1500-2000 today! Annually, culling is a necessary tool, and most particularly in years where no live sales takes place. Interestingly, Cawston offers Zimbabwean citizen hunters very affordable rates for such limiting, making it an ideal limiting getaway or a superb venue for father and son hunts. Cawston is also ideal for birders and photographers using the hunting blinds from which to experience nature up close and personal.

While they do not have a resident PH on the property (other than Peter himself), there is no shortage of experienced PHs who know Cawston I well, and the ranch is frequented by many visiting PHs from around southern Africa, while hosting international clients. Aside from the limiting blinds, they operate three fully equipped Land Cruisers for hunting and game viewing.

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Recently, Peter was honoured by Wild & Game magazine (June 2015) as one of the five most prominent wildlife ranching pioneers and visionaries in Africa. In that article, he comments, "How did I get to this ripe old age of 80 years so quickly? I do not feel it! I feel maybe hi my late fifties or younger, still full of life and plans for the long-term development of my wildlife estate. And, not surprisingly, still excited by beautiful and attractive women, not forgetting beautiful trophy animals!" All of this shows in Peter's quick humour, piercing gaze and sharp mind. There is no better plains game hunting venue in Zimbabwe, and the hunting history and knowledge possessed at Cawston certainly adds to the hunting experience for discerning hunters.

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For more information, contact them on email at info@rosslynsafaris. com or call them on (+263-778) 4866493 or visit their website at www. rosslynsafaris.com.
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Title Annotation:Features: Of these tales, we steal time to tell ...
Author:Williams, Ant
Publication:African Hunter Magazine
Geographic Code:60AFR
Date:Jun 1, 2016
Words:1875
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