May 2018 Issue – By Pemble Davis, subscriber correspondent
Editor’s note: Longtime subscriber Pemble Davis says safari operators Christophe Morio (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Jean-Luc Damy (email@example.com) of Atacora Safaris have secured a jewel of a concession in the West African country of Benin. You’ll recall that Morio operated in Central African Republic before the civil uprisings there made it impossible for most safari operators to function safely. Morio ended up in Congo where Damy had acquired hunting rights to the second hunting concession to open there. The reports we’ve had on their Congo operation, Congo Forest Safaris, have been completely positive. Now Davis says their new operation in Benin is another winner. Here’s how he describes his safari there with his wife Peggy this past December.
“Benin is a tiny country in Africa located between Togo and Nigeria with Burkina Faso and Niger at the top. The capital is Porto Nova with the international airport and economic and business sectors on the coast in the city of Cotonou. Cotonou’s population is three million people. The majority of the 12 million residents of Benin live along the coast.
Peggy and I arrived in Cotonou on December 13 at 9:30 pm from Paris on an Air France flight. The flight was fine, but the food was terrible. Customs was not a problem, and a representative of the safari company met us, helped get our luggage and then took us outside where the driver of the hotel van picked us up. We stayed at Hotel du Luc, which was very nice. After a shower and a few hours of sleep, we departed by car the next morning at 5:30 am. No charter service is available in Benin.
The traffic in the city was not too bad at this hour, although the 13 hours of driving north was a little much! There is a lot to see along the route from Cotonou to the camp. We saw 100’s of big trucks, 1,000’s of motorbikes and lots of people along the road, and quite a lot of cotton growing in fields. About nine hours north of Cotonou there is an excellent hotel, and I suggest clients spend the night there and drive the other three to four hours to camp the following day. They would arrive before noon and be able to hunt that afternoon.
There are four concessions in the north around Pendjara National Park. The Konkombri Concession is where I hunted. It consists of 100,000 acres and has been a hunting concession for at least 40 years. The area consists of savannah bush and features lots of water from the Pendjara River and Atatora Mountain range. There are no bore holes or water tanks for the game to drink. But these are not needed.
Arriving at camp was a pleasant surprise as we saw three new hunting vehicles. We stayed in a wonderful rondoval that had electricity via a generator. Electricity was available all the time, as was hot water for showers. Our rondoval had a ceiling fan that ran constantly and an air conditioner when the generator was on. We had a flush toilet, great bathroom fixtures that worked, and a very nice shower. There was a king bed and a cabinet to hang your clothes in, plus a desk and a couple of chairs.
The main lounge and relaxing area was first class with ceiling fans operating in several areas. The lounge was an open concept, so the breeze could flow through. There was several couches and chairs in the sitting area, a nice big table for eating, and a bar area as well.
There is no need to bring your rifle. The camp rifles are Remington and C-Z makes with Zeiss, Schmitt Bender and Leopold Scopes in good working order. Two of the cruisers were used for hunting and one for the 24-7 game scouts. Not much poaching goes on here.
The water for the camp comes from a new deep well; solar panels and a diesel generator power the entire camp. Lunch and evening meals featured French cuisine and wines from South Africa and France. Our food was excellent! Upon returning from the morning and afternoon hunts, when we walked into the lounge area, we were given a cool wet hand towel to cleanse our faces and hands.
Christophe Morio, Jean-Luc Damy and Yannick Exalto are the Professional Hunters. They all have done extensive hunting in Central and West Africa. Besides being excellent hunters, they are also excellent photographers. Jean-Luc and Christophe have recently secured the lease on this property for 10 years. This team also hunts bongo and other forest animals in the north part of the Congo along the Ngoko River in the Tala Tala Concession and will hunt in the CAR if it becomes safe for clients again.
The 15th of December was my first hunting day and not more than 20 minutes into the drive we cut buffalo tracks and were on their trail. The herd consisted of three bulls and six cows. After a short 45-minute walk behind the herd, they became visible. Christophe and the trackers said the bulls were not good enough, and we slipped away without being noticed. There is no shooting from the truck, and this is not needed. There is lots of game. Normally you spot from the truck, then you stalk behind Christophe and the two trackers. Yannick also went to help and take pictures.
I was very impressed with the amount of water and grass in the area. There were numerous pools with waterfalls coming out of the mountains, plus the Pendjari River was still flowing, so I could easily spot many hippos and crocs.
On the second day of my hunt, we made five or six stalks before spotting a very good bull in a herd of 15. I knew he was the one at 50 yards. This buffalo weighed 1,200 pounds on the scales. They are not small.
Roan were very plentiful, with many in the 28- to 30-inch category. I had already taken two nice roan on earlier hunts in CAR; therefore, I elected not to shoot another. A client took a 32-incher later in January with Christophe.
The Konkombri Concession has lots of animals and good roads. Peggy and I observed over 200 buffalo, roan, hartebeest and kob. We saw at least 100 elephants, 40 hippo, seven lions, two cheetahs, nine harnessed bushbuck, eight oribi and four crocs. The waterbuck and reedbuck were there, but we saw only four of each because of the high grass.
The hunting runs from December 15 through May 15, although April and May get quite hot. The amount of game rivals anywhere I have hunted in quality and numbers. Morio and Damy have put together a wonderful partnership designed to have the best hunting and infrastructure in the middle of nowhere in West Africa, and for clients to enjoy a safari off the beaten path.
The trophies I took on this hunt included a Western savannah buffalo, Western hartebeest, Western kob, and an exceptional harnessed bushbuck.