I t was late summer. Dark, bluish thunderclouds piled up high in the sky and brought brief but heavy showers. It was the abundant rainy season of 2011. at year I visited Ingo Gladis at his farm Wilsonfontein in the Witwaters Mountains for the first time and immediately fell in love with this lovely spot. It is one of the most beautiful and pristine farms that I know in Namibia. However, several other properties close to the escarpment are also of interest to hunters and nature lovers who are looking for an original experience. I had previously hunted at Rooi Kuiseb, the farm bordering Wilsonfontein to the north and unfortunately no longer used for tourism purposes, but not far from it is Sphinxblick. is vast conglomeration of farms, owned by Günther Kleemann, lies between the Swakop River and the Chuos Mountains. Among its additional attractions are the horse-riding opportunities it offers. The common denominator of these and other farms close to the escarpment is their location in the spectacular scenery of the Pre-Namib where the mountains meet the plains. Since their agricultural potential is very limited these farms are primarily used for ecotourism – which includes responsible hunting, of course. As Christoph Schüle illustrated in his dissertation already fifteen years ago, hunting tourism is ecotourism par excellence.
Wilsonfontein has been in the possession of the Gladis family since 1938. e farm is named after a spring which was discovered by British trader J.H. Wilson south of the Swakop River in the 1850s. Today there is a wind pump in close proximity to the spring. Wilson regularly travelled from Cape Town to Bechuanaland by ox wagon to trade Brown Bess muskets for ivory. His usual route took him via Kuruman to the Lake Ngami area. Wilson, Livingstone and Oswell had been the first Europeans to nd the lake in 1849. For his trading purposes Wilson then turned west. In Walvis Bay he sold the ox wagon and shipped the ivory to Cape Town, where he stocked up on goods for his next tour. On one of these trips he came upon the fountain on today’s farm Wilsonfontein and subsequently amassed bartered cattle there before driving the animals to the market in Cape Town.
The farm’s size is a little less than 29,000 hectares, including a large part of the Witwaters Mountains and their various plains. For decades, Berthold Gladis (1912-2000) and his oldest son Udo (1949-1999) kept cattle and sheep. But due to frequent droughts, especially on the fringes of the Namib, this form of land use was not particularly pro table and often fraught with setbacks which jeopardised the farmers’ very livelihood. When the younger son, Ingo, inherited the farm he decided to turn it into a hunting business, which made good sense from an ecological as well as economic point of view. Since then all internal fences have been removed and the game is free to migrate into Namib Naukluft Park, which shares a 20 km border with Wilsonfontein. e animals make good use of their freedom, especially during the rainy season when springbok roam almost as far as Swakopmund. During the dry months they return to the springs and waterholes in the mountains. Wilsonfontein meets all the criteria of the Erongo Verzeichnis für afrikanisches Jagdwild (Erongo Directory for African Game Animals) and has been awarded the organisation’s certificate.
On my first visit I spent roughly a week on Ingo’s hunting farm and dedicated most of my time to plants and birds because, as mentioned, most of the game had wandered o into the Namib or was hidden by the lush vegetation and this time I hadn’t come to hunt anyway. As a result of the extensive rainfalls numerous rivers were in flood and in the mountains beautiful waterfalls cascaded over the rocks. I had never seen Namibia like that: not only because now, in the rainy season, everything turned green and was growing so rampantly and atypically, but also because Wilsonfontein with its extraordinarily rich structuring and impressive size is a paradise especially for hunters who prefer to stalk.
The plain is scattered with small granite tops, hills and piles of rock which offer cover or the opportunity to scan the surroundings with binoculars. Rivers have carved their way through narrow gorges with weird and wonderful rock formations which for any geologist must surely be a joy to behold. And tall mountains o er challenging opportunities for climbing and hiking with grand vistas as a reward. One morning I climbed up to a plateau and on two occasions could have taken a klipspringer with the open sights.
It would have been a well-earned trophy after the sportiness and acrobatics that the hike required. But just walking along a riverbank with two guidebooks to identify the shrubs, trees and birds was also appealing. Anyone with an interest in botany and zoology will definitely not be disappointed. A hunter, however, who is yearning for pristine wilderness, far from farms teeming with livestock and closed o with game-proof fencing, far from luxury accommodation, a hunter who is looking for the simplicity and the natural ways of Namibia’s yesteryear, who expects nothing else but autochthonous game in its natural environment, the hunter who appreciates this landscape made for stalking will find a rare paradise. Wilsonfontein and quite a few of the other farms on the fringe of the escarpment o er a reasonably priced alternative to the tented accommodation in one of the communal conservation areas.
When I returned to Wilsonfontein two-and- a-half years later I came with the intention to hunt. I wanted to take an exceptional gemsbok and another old mountain zebra stallion. I had taken my first striped equine, a plains zebra (Equus quagga chapmani), in the early 90s in Zimbabwe, and a dozen years later my first mountain zebra (E. zebra hartmannae) on Rooi Kuiseb. Some hunters don’t take pleasure in hunting this game, saying that it would be like shooting a horse. I never had any such qualms even though I am an enthusiastic horseman. Especially mountain zebra pose a particular challenge to the hunter time and again because they are cautious and usually their habitat is not easily accessible. e magni cent coat – exquisitely striped and rich in contrast, but without the shadow stripes of plains zebra – will make a picture-perfect rug or wall hanging to enhance any African décor. e venison, especially the llet, is delicious if you don’t mind the almost unnoticeable touch of sweetness.
Compared to my first visit, when rainfalls had been abundant, the scenery at Wilsonfontein was barely recognisable. After two summers with hardly any rain at all the land now displayed the characteristics typical of its location on the fringe of the desert. Nothing was left of the previous greenery. Where waist- high jungles of juicy owering grasses had been rampant, there now was the expanse of gravel plains with the sparse, pale-yellow grass which you actually expect to see in the Pre- Namib. But evergreen shrubs like boscia and deep-rooted trees like camel thorn broke the uniformity of bleak colours while the richly structured terrain in any case prevented the appearance of monotony.
Zackenberg, Giselaberg, Bischofshut and Backenzahn. Looking north from the Witwaters Mountains you will be able to see Horibisberg and Potberg in the distance with the Chuos and Otjipatera Mountains behind them, and on particularly clear days even the Erongo. e land between the Witwaters Mountains in the south and Stuhlberg Mountain in the northeast is characterised by plains, whereas towards northwest, especially towards Elefantenberg and Stephansberg, it is richly structured by countless granite tops. Extensive plateaus lie south of the Witwaters Mountains, and a smaller elevated plain can be found within the range.
One morning, after breakfast before sunrise, we drove to a waterhole west of Stahlhelm Mountain which never dries up completely. From there we set o on a stalk of several hours. First we climbed up Stahlhelm’s southern spur, a massive granite dome which offered grand views over the vast surroundings. On a sandy plateau on the eastern side water had recently formed a small pool – water that had seeped away during the abundant rainfalls more than two years ago. It was the first time in sixty years that water was seen there. On the northern edge of the plateau the flamboyant blaze of a large brittle thorn shrub (Phaeoptilum spinosum) full of cyclamen fruits stood out from the sparsely vegetated expanse of sand. We crossed the plateau and in the course of this diverse stalk through the semi-desert spotted several zebra, giraffe, gemsbok, kudu and steenbok but nothing worth taking. Eventually we clambered over various rock falls back down into the large plain from where we had started. On the way home we passed a particularly ne specimen of candle thorn (Acacia hebeclada) of which I took a twig for my acacia collection.
During the al fresco lunch at the farm numerous species of birds were in attendance, among them African red-eyed bulbuls, Namaqua doves, mountain chats, redheaded finches, blackcheeked waxbills and Kalahari robins. At this time of the year, when summer temperatures soar, a lengthy siesta is a must and therefore we set o for our evening stalks only at four o’clock. I enjoyed those afternoon resting times, relaxing on the bed without clothes at almost 30°C inside and 35° outside in the shade. It was a whole-body heat therapy which did wonders for my pain-ridden and maltreated frame.
So, later in the afternoon, when the sky was still brilliantly blue, we drove past Stahlhelm Mountain to where the south-westerly plains begin, marked by a wind pump and water basin, and came across springbok, giraffe and gemsbok. From there we stalked through the labyrinth of gravel hills at the foot of the Witwaters Mountains and followed game trails until we spotted a group of mountain zebra half a mile away: several mares and yearlings with a stallion standing a little apart. e wind was in our favour. e many rock formations and talus deposits offered cover as we laboured forward to a distance of 200 metres. Covered by granite boulders we crept to a viewing point. And there they were: the mares and young animals in the valley below, while the stallion stood about a hundred paces apart at the foot of the opposite slope. Keeping apart, usually at the back-end of the herd, is typical for the lead stallion. He is easy to identify by his massive body, strong neck and especially his distinct dewlap. Usually there is only one mature stallion in a mixed herd. In comparison to plains zebra herds are small and consist of less than ten animals. Young males are expelled before the age of two and may form small bachelor groups.
Back to the lead stallion that we wanted to take. Since it was difficult to aim at him through the gap in the rocks I crawled on all fours along the scree – which bordered the crest of our hill like an Irish stonewall – to find a more suitable opening. As quietly as possible I struggled over rough gravel and rocks with sharp edges, rifle in one hand and teeth clenched, while the November heat made me drip with sweat. When I finally reached a suitable position I took aim at the stallion with my old Persian Mauser. I am rather fond of this military rifle, the G98, calibre 8 x57 IS, with open sights and a 74 cm barrel. It is very pleasant to shoot and will invariably hit the mark. I entrenched myself between the rocks and the distance was ideal as well.
The sights slowly moved over the stallion’s forehand and stopped at the lower half of the blade, while the pull of the nine pound trigger allowed me to check the position of the notch in the rear sights once again. e shot brought the big stallion down but then he got back on his feet, reared up and almost toppled over backwards as he collapsed for good. It had been a clean heart shot from 160 metres. e rest of the herd had long since disappeared between the hills.
While the vehicle that we had sent for slowly made its way through the rough terrain I sat next to the stallion, gently stroked his soft nostrils and ears and in the face of death thought about the transience of all living things. It is an iron law of nature: mors ianua vitae – death is the gateway to life.
But nevertheless such moments always resonate with a little wistfulness, and quite a lot of humility. It is these multi-layered emotions which attest to the complexity of the conditio humana. Our adversaries, however, can’t and won’t comprehend that. us their aim, the aim of all modern sophists, is absolute equality of animal and man which they try to achieve by deconstructing and denying any specifically human qualities. How sad to leave the fruits of enlightenment to ripen until they rot. Without the right measure the world becomes grotesque and absurd. But here, in the solitude of the desert with its elementary laws, one can still feel it – the true order of things.
This article was first published in the HuntiNamibia 2017 issue.