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LAND OF HOPE AND TRAVAIL
Robert F. Jones
September 05, 1983
Heroic efforts to create one of Africa's newest game parks, Boma in Sudan, a land replete with kob and zebras (below), are beset by hellish difficulties
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September 05, 1983

Land Of Hope And Travail

Heroic efforts to create one of Africa's newest game parks, Boma in Sudan, a land replete with kob and zebras (below), are beset by hellish difficulties

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When he first came to the park in September of 1981 he flew all around the territory—it was the height of the wet season. He didn't see kob, or very much of anything. For months Boma looked empty. Then suddenly the park was teeming. But in June 1982 the animals "disappeared." "It was crazy," he says, "but a million and a half animals had simply vanished." Last year Snyder, Tear and John Fryxell, a research fellow with the New York Zoological Society, solved the mystery while doing an aerial survey. They discovered the herds' wet-season grazing area: the grasslands beyond the park boundary along the seasonal Kidepo flood plain to the southwest. Snyder and Sudanese game officials are now trying to add this critical part of the migratory range to the park. If it goes through, Boma will greatly increase in size, to between 12,000 and 15,000 square miles. It is when the kob return to the park in October and November that the trouble starts.

Last year, as in countless years past, the Murle were waiting with their spears honed to razor sharpness when the animals came through. One day late in the dry season, Snyder and Tear found themselves surrounded by hundreds of warriors wearing decorative paint, chanting war cries and rattling their fistfuls of spears. Some had guns. The Murle had earlier agreed on alternative hunting areas outside the park, but hunts there had been unsuccessful. In protest the Murle stormed the camp to let the park staff know that they meant business. They were going to hunt in the park anyway—it was not only traditional, it was to get their year's supply of meat. Showdown time.

"We radioed to Juba for advice," says Snyder. Juba, 330 miles to the west, was at the time southern Sudan's administrative capital, a run-down, somnolent town built across the White Nile from the old slaving center of Gondokoro. "But they couldn't do anything. They said, 'Don't provoke them.' We weren't about to. We just stayed put and guarded the plane."

The hunt began. "Incredible excitement," Snyder recalls. "The air was electric. Everybody was charged up—hunters, women, children. The animals were in a frenzy. The hunters ran in two wings alongside the animals. Over several days they killed a couple of dozen tiangs, zebras, hartebeests. There were a few injuries, guys accidentally spearing each other and getting kicked by zebras."

Ultimately they reached a compromise. "They have to hunt," Snyder says, "and so do we. We all need meat when the rains are late and there are no crops. We've told the Murle, 'Look, you can hunt in certain areas outside the park.' And they say, 'That's Kichepo country—they'll kill us.' And we say, 'O.K., you can bring in, say, three rifles and stay in this area four days and take six animals.' We send a game scout along to be sure they don't take more. But it's a real delicate balance between letting people hunt or graze or water their cattle, to be humane on the one hand, and to compromise the integrity of the park on the other."

Fortunately, the Murle chief is on Snyder's side. "He understands that with the park comes work and money, roads and schools and clinics," says Snyder. "But the best hunting areas are in the park, and the Murle don't want to give them up. There's a subchief who wants to be chief, and he's using the park as a political issue. He incited the hunt."

It's hard for tribesmen to comprehend the seemingly arbitrary rules of the wildlife authorities, especially when they see Snyder himself killing game to feed his park staff and their families. One morning Snyder put his Winchester .264 into the park van and set off with Tear for the buffer zone adjacent to the park. Kob were everywhere, a great brown and black blanket of meat on the hoof. A few showers, prelude to the long inundation to come, had given the grass a vibrant green flush and drawn the antelope to the core area. There were zebras and hartebeests, too. Snyder shot half a dozen male kob. The herd did not stampede; they ran a way, then returned to grazing. When herded up in masses they do not fear or flee gunfire.

The excited laborers in a lorry following Snyder's van leaped off and hauled the kob onto the truck. Snyder, too, was excited, but for different reasons. "You can't imagine what the meat means here," he said. "These guys have been complaining, 'We're hungry. Our families are hungry. We want to go to Kapoeta!' Yesterday they got paid. Today they got meat. Morale is great."

Back at camp the kob were hung and gutted. There would be kob-burgers for lunch and supper that day. Snyder threw the innards to his year-old pet leopard, Chui. A young female, Chui (her name means "leopard" in Swahili) had been caught by locals who planned to raise her for her pelt. They quickly realized how much Chui could eat and sold her to the Haspels family for $11. After Chui nearly ate the Haspels' dog, they turned her over to Snyder. Chui usually was tied on a long lead under a tree in the compound, where she waited on a conveniently low branch for careless humans to wander by, then—pounce! Though she weighed only 70 pounds (a full-grown leopard may weigh as much as 180) her claws were sharp and her instincts wildly intact. Snyder and Tear roughhoused with her as if she were a friendly St. Bernard. Their skin and clothing showed the scars of her affection. Chui's presence in camp made for careful walks at night to the loo tent—the lavatory.

Snyder and Tear lived on a hilltop in a screened hut—complete with a Sony Walkman, a supply of Eric Clapton tapes and a Landsat photo of the Boma wilderness. There was also a sleeping tent, a thatched kitchen shack, the outhouse, and an open-air shower—a canvas water bag lashed to a branch over a flagstone floor, with a breathtaking view of miles upon miles of Sudanese scenery to enjoy while sudsing.

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