Danene van der Westhuyzen, President of the Namibia Professional Hunters Association (NAPHA) and CEO of the Operators and Professional Hunting Associations of Africa, does a prolific work in some honorary functions. Leica Sport Optics has talked with Danene as an outstanding personality in the hunting world about the special tasks for hunting and conservation.
Leica Sport Optics: Hunting has been a natural component for you since your childhood. Which are the formative experiences you can remember?
Danene van der Westhuyzen: I am first and foremost an animal lover. I am a big patriot of our beautiful country. I am a conservationist. In Namibia, where our resources are limited to the extreme by only wildlife and livestock, it is imperative to understand this concept, as our whole livelihood depends on sustainable use. Our arid motherland offers enigma in many facets, of which a drought stricken state in which we have found ourselves this year has again protruded its teeth, and we collectively despair and wonder where and how to preserve one of our country’s most valued assets, its nature and wildlife. We are constantly aware of the fragile predicament we can find ourselves in when the clouds fail to unleash much needed rain.
But this is part of our beautiful country’s nature and balance and we, as well as our wildlife, have endured many a year with scorched lands and have grown to love it as much as when we rejoice in the deafening sound of thunder. The REAL value from a conservation perspective should first and foremost be habitat preservation. This should be our highest priority. And hunting offers this in its fullest force. Without sufficient and natural habitat, hunting as we know it is most certainly not possible.
My father is an avid hunter and taught me the ropes. He always stood out from the others with the way he hunted – always on foot and always pursuing his quarry with respect. He carries the spirit of the veld and has a twinkle in his eyes every time he leaves the city. I grew up in a hunting environment and it has always been second nature. I am a qualified optometrist, and although I still do freelance work in the city now and then, I’ve been a fulltime PH for the last thirteen years, and wouldn’t exchange our quality of life. In 2012 I qualified as the first female dangerous-game PH in Namibia.
Leica Sport Optics: You say: “Being part of nature is the biggest part of hunting!” How would you explain this sentence in discussion with a non-expert?
Danene van der Westhuyzen: “How can you kill something that you say you care for and love?” These are the questions we are being faced with. A cattle or sheep farmer never gets this question. I answer: I kill it because I survive from it – and I care for it because I cannot go without it, it is part of my existence. And I love it because it brings me beauty, realness and a life well-lived, full of adventure, experiences and stories around a campfire. Because I realised that there is something sort of ecstatic in hunting. Not bloodlust as people want to make it out to be, but a powerful connection you feel with all of life. And because when you shoot, the feeling doesn’t dissipate with the sound of the shot. It lingers. It permeates your limbs and sharpens your senses – adding a certain self-possession to your being, or a being to your self-possession. It gives shape to the open air, it reveals the hidden architecture that was there all along – the invisible cathedral that vaults over the veld – known to owls and antelope but invisible to the human eye.
Anyone can buy a car or a night on the town. Most of us shell our days like peanuts. But one in a thousand can look at the world with amazement. I don’t mean staring at the Eiffel Tower. I’m talking about the wing of a dragonfly. The yellow of an eye, the rhythm of a kudu, and the fear of a predator. Of walking through an unsullied hour with an unsullied heart. And because I love my children, and I sure as hell don’t want them to live life with a mask on. And because Nature heals us, as only nature does.
Hunting is also an indelible part of our history and has its place in teaching us who we are. It provides us with an expansive sense of what it means to be a human being, where we fit into the circle of life, our rightful role of participating in nature, and therefor representing the fact that no being is omnipotent or invulnerable. We are anchored to this world just as the smallest insect is, and as such our fates are entwined. To this effect, all of us, as hunters, have a role to play in modern day society. We must facilitate the interaction that allows others to enjoy true wilderness experiences. Experiences that change people….and have a restorative power which is meaningful into todays cramped world.
Leica Sport Optics: You do a lot of honorary work in different hunting organizations. What main points can you bring in, especially as a woman hunter?
Danene van der Westhuyzen: Over the course of a few years, whenever I had a good opportunity, I have asked hunters whether they considered hunting to involve violence or aggression. And an interesting outcome took shape. Men invariably have danced around the implications of the question: “No”, they have in one way or another contended, hunting only looks like violence to people who do not understand it. True, it involves killing. But the hunter does not intend harm to the animal, and intention is what counts. If one doesn’t intend violence, then one’s actions aren’t really violent, even if they look that way.
Women have in all cases approached my question differently. “Yes”! they have immediately responded, of course hunting involves an act of violence: How else can one characterise what it means to be on the receiving end of a bullet?
I noticed that because women in our society are not supposed to be truly capable of violence, they are more willing – even in some ways more able than men to confront their responsibility for it when it comes to an activity like hunting.This, to me, places female hunters in a unique position when it comes to communicating about values and ethics and also exploring common ground with hunting and non-hunting environmentalists.
This is where hunting and environmentalism intersect: in a concern for the impact of our actions, indeed of our very existence, on the world around us. And this, I think, is where women’s hunting becomes especially significant. Women, after all, know about blood, and about the tissue-thin boundary between life and death. Woman know that our greatest responsibility in this life is to leave a safer and more beautiful world for our children.
I believe that shortcuts are for lazy people and crooks. To achieve success you must be brave, have courage, be committed, have integrity and most importantly, have vision. I have never felt that I have had to proof myself because I was a women. I was chosen for these positions because some have placed their trust in me to make sound and effective decisions. I feed on this trust. Of course the greatest part of success lies mostly with our actions.
Leica Sport Optics: Your learned profession is Optometrist with a university degree. What are stages of this vocational education and your special interests?
Danene van der Westhuyzen: I love sciences and always wanted to pursue something in the medical profession. Because almost all Namibians go to Stellenbosch University in South Africa, I followed suit and started studying a Bachelor Degree in Science. At that stage an Optometry degree was only possible in Johannesburg, so after a year I continued at the Randse Afrikaanse Universiteit. I then completed this 4 year degree. My first work was in Tsumeb, a small town in the north of Namibia, where I have seen an incredible amount of rural people on a daily basis. I started working closely with communities there and realised a greater need among our people. I still do locum work in Namibia and very much love this profession as well. Other interests includes cooking, singing, various sports, my dogs and children!
Leica Sport Optics: As a professional hunter you use binoculars all day under heavy duty conditions. What characteristics make binoculars well suited for professional hunting?
Danene van der Westhuyzen: A professional hunter is very reliant on various factors and tools. Your senses, the sun, wind direction, experience, animal behaviour, and all sorts of other cues, but the tools we use assist us in not only bringing a hunter closer to success, but to be sure of the correct animal to be hunted. I am very much against the new “long-range distance shooting” as part of a hunt. We should be able to accurately judge an age of an animal and to be responsible of our off-take. Therefor exceptional quality binoculars are essential. On a good day in Namibia my Leica binoculars get dragged through dust on leopard crawls, endures serious bushes and thorns in the mountains and in the Zambezi often encounter the dark waters.
Leica Sport Optics: A rangefinder can be an essential tool for successful hunting. Do you prefer a compact monocular or an all-in-one binoculars rangefinder?
Danene van der Westhuyzen: One of our main aims of being a professional hunter is to place a hunter in a position where he can kill an animal with one shot, and at the same time by never placing your client in a dangerous position. These two factors make distances crucial. I hunt with a Leica Geovid 10×42 range-finder combination, and, even though a little heavy, I prefer this all-in one model.
Leica Sport Optics: For most people the ability to take the broader view is not really easy. Why is being a hunter more difficult than doing everyday things?
Danene van der Westhuyzen: People say life is not that complicated, but life is very complicated. What’s simple is wanting an ice cream, a doll, or to win a game of tennis. Simple is sitting at the back of a well shaded game viewer with cold drinks in the back, remarking how beautiful Namibia is, all the while hoping for the chance to see a predator make a kill. Simple is wanting to make a difference and play a part in conservation with all your heart, but just talking about it.
Life becomes complicated when you are a hunter. Hunting, after all, is a necessarily bloody business. It reminds us that we kill in order to live; that we live by virtue of the deaths of other beings, sentient and non-sentient. It becomes complicated because it seems that a large part of the public perceives hunters as “murderers” and “killers”. In philosophy, moral responsibility is the status of morally deserving praise, blame, reward, or punishment for an act or omission, in accordance with one’s moral obligations. Deciding what (if anything) counts as “morally obligatory” is a principal concern of ethics.
Responsibility means, in essence, that we must ultimately provide answers to questions that our loved ones, our neighbours, and our country asks of us. We as hunters should not fear to be just that, hunters. We are getting tired of ducking from bullets and from being stripped from our identity – to conform with society and to be politically correct. It is the burden of hiding the truth that tug at a persons sole or irrevocably alter a persons life. And until we can speak our truth and have another human being not only listen to us, but believe us, we will never truly be free…
Leica Sport Optics: Farmers spend their last cents on providing water for the game in dry periods. How can we help to save a diverse nature and wildlife for our children?
Danene van der Westhuyzen: Leave nothing to chance and believe that everything is possible. Use every opportunity that you have to engage others. There are too many things of which we do not speak. Too much shame. Be brave – Don’t you dare shy away from who you are when someone has discovered that you hunt. Not in your workplace, not in your friendship circles. Be proud about it and tell people about it. Stop hiding the fact that you hunt. Go over into action. Look for the action, because actions bring hope. Because hope is what comes next…
Educate yourself in conservation. Stop using plastic bags. Save more water. Gather science and data. Become an even more responsible citizen and get much more involved on all levels, because you are not only a hunter. You are a conservationist.
About Danene van der Westhuyzen
Namibian Conservation Board
Conservation Advisory Board
Dallas Safari Club
CEO Operators and Hunting Associations of Africa
Trustee of Hunters United against Poaching
Professional Hunter for Dangerous Game
Married, three children
Hobbies: Photography, Writing, Cooking, Singing