Blog adapted from Wild and Jag article, pub
In the third delivery of the series initiated by Rubin Els of Thaba Tholo to acknowledge the work done by the pioneers of the wildlife industry in Southern Africa, the spotlight falls on Peter Johnstone of Zimbabwe. Peter’s life story portrays his passion for wildlife, the ups
But let Peter tell his story himself …
I was sitting on the lodge observation deck at my Cawston Wildlife Estate watching the passing parade of animals and, with some alarm, thinking, “How did I get to this ripe old age of 80 years so quickly? I do not feel it!” I feel maybe in 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! What was passing by that got me so happy? Well, two herds of sable,
No silver spoon
The interesting thing is that I am third generation European extraction Zimbabwean and my children fourth generation. I am the first one of my family to own land in this country of our births. I did not get it handed to me for free. I left school with not much more than the clothes I stood up in and my Model-A Ford car (which I had rebuilt) and set off for Gwebi Agricultural College for a two-year stint. Some years later when I had married, I completed a Diploma in Wildlife Ecology by correspondence and tutoring and was pleased to obtain
I grew up in the mining town of Wankie in Western Rhodesia. The coal mine was surrounded by state land so there were no farmers there, but quite a lot of wildlife, from elephant down to the smaller antelope. My father enjoyed his job as an engineer on the mine and was able to hunt weekends and holidays, and we often went out after he had come back from work.
Of course in a remote mining town like Wankie, there was no outstanding entrepreneurial spirit to look up to, no such thing as game ranching.
Men talked about cars, hunting
Not much Alzheimer’s in those days, too much brain exercise. My best friend Bob Vaughan-Evans’ parents owned a 20 000 acre ranch next to the Wankie Park, called Nantwich. Bob and I planned the future
Appetite for a proper wildlife job
After agricultural college, I worked in the Zambezi Valley on the resettlement of people due to be displaced by Lake Kariba. The job involved, amongst others, finding and assessing suitable land, planning it into village sites, fields, demonstration plots and
Talk of game ranching
There began to be
True game-ranching pioneers
Those were wonderful days, working for the Hendersons, with the Americans and the national parks people developing techniques for recording systems, game counts and a host of other interesting daily problems. The Hendersons were the real pioneers in Zimbabwe, but I consider myself one of the most ardent pioneers because since 1960 I have only devoted my time to the promotion of the sustainable use of wildlife in various forms.
Very early on when Jan Oelofse was developing the plasticsheeting boma system of game capture, I spent time with him in Natal parks. This honestly and without
After working there for about two years, I was offered a lease to hunt with the intention of eliminating the wildlife on Lemco Ranch. I could not resist that opportunity. After I had secured the lease, I reluctantly left Henderson brothers, because they were good to work for and life was good, but I had to move forward.
I had partners, some friends of mine. We went along just fine, then we had a foot-and-mouth hunting ban, resulting in no income. Meanwhile I had secured a lease on forestry commission land and we moved over there, several hundred
However, today, after he has long gone, Lemco is one of the most wonderful, if not the best wildlife areas in our country and even possibly the whole SADC region. Instead of going broke with the cattle, his company could well have still been there.
With foot-and-mouth disease hunting bans and personality
After working for some years for the baron, I went to meet him in Belgium where he gave me shares in the Rosslyn Farms company in thanks for the work I had done for him. After seven years, the Smith government
When opportunity knocks
What a lucky break for my wife Carole and I (we were married in May 1969); we had our own lease and we had the required capital from our Rosslyn Farm shares. We got going in January 1974, and although we did well, we had the nagging worry that our lease would come to an end one day. In the
In 1987, my wife and I bought the Cawston Block ranch (32 000 acres / 12 666 hectares / 50 sections), quite cheaply in fact, because there were a lot of dissident problems resulting from the civil war in that area. We proceeded to develop the property. 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 go up. The boundary fence of 52 km was also built in the shortest time possible. We built a proper village for the workers, from our own bricks and thatch. Then we upgraded our initial client facilities to the fabulous place it is today. When we had to service the thatch 22 years later, the costs for the camp alone were about the same as it were to build the whole place originally!
We drilled boreholes and developed waterholes and now have 13 water holes that help to keep our large game- bird population expanding and growing. Most importantly though, I believe they keep the very dominant sable bulls apart and the sable population increasing. It is a problem keeping those waterholes full, mostly due to engine and pump breakdowns, and of course water that seeps into the ground. The drying and shrinkage of the black basalt soil also
My next project is to sort all that out. The temptation is to go the solar panel and solar pump way. It seems the obvious and the best way, but how does one stop the theft of the panels? Our radio relay mast has a full-time game scout camp to protect the solar panels from theft; however, it is not possible to do that on all the boreholes we have.
My beloved wife Carole died from cancer in 2008 when she was only 67 years old, while her mother died the next year at the age of 100. The best thing I ever achieved was persuading Carole to marry me. She gave up her plans for her future and wholeheartedly endorsed my plans and ideas. Our strong marriage and common vision ensured our successful future. Some of the bets at our wedding were that it was not possible for such a beautiful refined lady to stay married to such a rough diamond for very long. Well, it lasted 40 years.
I was so lucky in my lifetime to achieve what I did by following my dreams to see a viable wildlife industry path every time.