Helicopter Culling in South Africa

During my last visit to South Africa in 2009 I was very lucky to spend a couple of days assisting with a large cull at a game farm in the north west.

The company called in was Amatola, which is one of SA's largest culling operations, harvesting approx' 50,000 head of game a year. Amatola then supply the game to Mostrice which in turn ship 95% of the meat to the EU to be sold as venison.

Night time lamping

Normally 90-95% of their culling work is carried out at night using lamps while shooting from Landcruiser's however this is hard on both man and machine, with the culling teams working for 6 days a week 9-10 months a year while the trucks take a battering from ant mounds and ardvark holes.

Due to the thick cover at the game farm Amatola used a helicopter for the cull. The culling team prefer this as it's quicker however it's very costly and highly dangerous. The same pilot/shooter had crashed two weeks before when the shooter fell of the skid, the pilot tried to grab/pull him in but caught the tail rotor causing the crash. Most of the flying is sub 20m i'e no time to auto rotate when things go wrong. On arrival the night before the cull the team leader recieved a call from a friend to say that one of other helicopter pilots had died that week. Because of the danger only one of the culling team shoots due to the insurance.

The cull was for 300 Blesbok, on an agreed price with the farm owner.

A full truck

The cull started around 9 in the morning which was late as the R44 helicopter had been caught out in bad weather.

The cull went as follows;
the pilot and shooter would take off fully fuelled and the Blesbok which are around the size of a fallow deer were shot with a 12 bore beretta auto using 36gm AAA's.

The pilot would fly low herding the Blesbok for the shooter to go for head/neck shots.

As each buck was hit the pilot would then mark the exact spot on hand held Garmin GPS units.

When the shooter had shot approx 80 bucks, the R44 would meet the 4 landcruisers for the real work to begin, I was helping in one of the trucks.

Mobile abattoir

The pick up teams would take a GPS each then follow the marks and retrieve the bucks.

The buck were then picked up and hooked by their rear legs on the frame on the back of the truck where the guys on the back would bleed them out.

If a buck was found which wasn't on the GPs then a piece of tissue was tied on a branch to tell the others, while if a buck wasn't found the pilot/shooter was notified on the next change over for them to look for it.

When the 20 or so buck were found then is was back to the mobile slaughter set up where the bucks were gutted, heads and legs removed and the buck were weighed. The inside of the carcasses were also sprayed with 'Milton' solution to kill any bugs.

The bucks were then loaded straight into a cold truck.

Time from shooting to bleeding out is less than 20mins.

A hard days work

Meanwhile while the buck were processed we would have swapped GPS unit's with the R44 and the process repeated.

Total Cull for the first day 250, the remainder were shot the following morning.







Author Justin