Didier Sambat hails from the island nation of Mauritius. Known for its stunning beaches, lagoons and reefs, the paradise island spans just 45km in width and 65km in height. Didier spent the first three decades of his life being educated in his home country, working hard and learning about conservation.
“At about 14 years old I was introduced to conservation,” he said. “My dad was a member of the World Wide Fund (WWF). He was an international hiker so we walked around a lot of Mauritius and other countries. We saw caves, volcanos, mountains, even under the sea and that’s why I was called to conservation. I learnt when I was quite young why sometimes you have to kill animals to protect the environment or another species.”
Mauritius – which is about 2000km from the south-east coast of Africa – is known worldwide for its rainforests, beaches, waterfalls, hiking trails and wildlife. It’s no wonder tourism is one of the country’s major economic drivers.
Unlike in Australia where hunting is available to all people, regardless of socio-economic status, in Mauritius, hunting is reserved for the privileged. “Very few people have access to firearms and can go hunting in Mauritius,” Didier said. “The government doesn’t want people to have firearms because there is a fear that these people are armed and will do something silly against the government.”
Didier did go hunting in his birth country, and he loved it. Deer hunting is available in Mauritius, though heavily regulated. Fortunately for Didier, he knew people with permits and went hunting for Javan Rusa deer twice with friends. “That’s where I got the passion for hunting,” he said.
But, growing up in such a small country, Didier eventually got itchy feet and looked for opportunities abroad. He earmarked three potential new homes – Canada, Sweden and Australia. “I applied for visas in each country,” he said, “and Australia was the first to accept me. In just eight months I had my visa.”
Moving to Australia 13 years ago was a huge change for Didier. While he was always bilingual, Australian English was difficult to understand at first. In fact, he still struggles with some of the sayings. There was also a cultural shift to adjust to. “This is not a society where you repair things, you replace them,” he said. “That was a shock for me.” Fortunately, Didier had an aunty and uncle in the country who helped him settle in to his new home.
About a year ago Didier discovered one of his work mates was an avid hunter. The pair visited Springvale Range, then Eagle Park Range together, before heading out on a couple of hunting trips. “Going out hunting by yourself in a country you don’t know is a big no-no,” he said. “My friend showed me around and we did some deer stalking and hunted other animals.”
Getting involved in hunting in Australia is far easier than it is in Mauritius. Didier said the firearms were more accessible to fit and proper people in Australia and the range of firearms and accessories available was larger. “You can personalise your firearm here,” he said. “In Mauritius you are not allowed to have long-range rifles – only 200m or 300m. You’re also not allowed to have anything above a .40 calibre.”
The environmental conditions in Australia are also more conducive to hunting, when compared with the tropical climate of Mauritius. “The humidity – over there you sweat like a pig,” he said. “There is no humidity here so it’s heaps easier to move around.” Pest animals like foxes, wild dogs and rabbits rarely cause issues for farmers in Mauritius, so there are fewer opportunities for people to assist farmers.
The conservation side of hunting in Australia is a major drawcard for Didier. “I am really happy that I can continue my conservation efforts in Australia as well,” he said. “What upsets me is the amount of native wildlife being killed by these invasive species. If I see a wild dog, I do my job.”
Along with the conservation benefits, hunting has taught Didier important survival and navigation skills. Through experience he has learnt how best to pack for a trek, how to handle basic injuries and how to reduce risks during outdoor adventures.