By Nate Tenopir, Editor-in-Chief
When most of us look for gifts for mom, we spend time at the mall or online browsing for that one perfect item. Some of us are better at it than others.
But despite your ability to surprise, it would be wise not to try and compare yourself to Zahn Raubenheimer. Collector’s items, all day trips to the health spa or tickets for an exotic cruise are no doubt impressive.
But those all seem considerably mediocre compared to a zebra.
A native of South Africa, Raubenheimer counts zebra as the 14th species he’s successfully hunted in the wild of Africa’s southern plateaus. His collection includes warthog tusks, the mounted head of a kudu, a wildebeest skin, impala skin and most recently the zebra skin now on the wall at his parent’s house in Canada.
“He said if you see anything you like, maybe you can get mom a present or something like that,” Raubenheimer said about his dad’s advice before going on his latest hunting excursion. “Maybe something nice, like a zebra. When I got there, the guy said he had a couple of zebras that needed to be taken out. They’re really hard to hunt, but we wanted to give it a try.”
Since arriving at UNO, Raubenheimer has been fortunate enough to visit his birthplace five different times since the age of nine. On his most recent trip last summer, he became acquainted with his cousin’s new husband.
While sharing a few laughs and a few drinks, Raubenheimer learned his newest cousin-in-law had a friend who owned a game farm. He was immediately invited along and the very next morning, Raubenheimer and his new pals were making the three hour trip into the wild.
“In South Africa you’re in an element where you’re away from society; nothing is close to you,” Raubenheimer said. “So if you do get bit by a snake, you got about a 90 percent chance of not living. There, it’s usually a hunting trip, not a hunting day where you jump in the truck and go out. This is a weeklong thing.”
In Africa, there is so much more wilderness that the distances require a commitment of several days. Raubenheimer said it took the hunting party 15 hours before they even got a glimpse of a zebra.
But even then, that doesn’t guarantee anything. Zebra are very alert. Raubenheimer said anytime they see – cars, people or anything out of place, they warn the herd and they’re gone.
Luckily when his chance came, he didn’t miss it.
“One opened up at about 150 yards for me,” Raubenheimer said. “I took about two seconds to load the gun and put it on it, and I got it. It was pretty sweet.”
His aim was perfect. Raubenheimer bagged a zebra with one shot right through the heart. He credits his marksmanship to his father Anton who had been teaching him about shooting and firearms since he was younger.
Raubenheimer’s father also ensured he gave his son more than just hunting skills. Anton Raubenheimer taught his son an understanding and appreciation for his surroundings.
Survival in the wild of South Africa requires more than just a good shot. Man may be at the top of the food chain, but when Raubenheimer is hunting, he has learned he’s the most insignificant creature out there.
“My first trip I just kind of wanted to see the area; my dad wanted to take me out for the first time and really show me Africa, show me the animals, show me the birds, show me the trees,” Raubenheimer said. It’s not just a hunting trip. You’re out in an area where it’s completely different, where it’s out of your bubble. There’s snakes everywhere. There’s snakes in the trees, snakes in the grass; there’s spiders.”
His first trip may have been mostly a learning experience, but it wasn’t without success. Nine of the 14 species Raubenheimer has collected came on that first-ever hunting trip into the wild.
Besides his latest outing to the game farm, Raubenheimer has also been hunting to both coasts. Trips to the west allow the opportunity to hunt kudu and warthog, while impala are mostly found in the east.
The adventure of the hunt is one part of the attraction. Raubenheimer said the camaraderie built around the campfire with the rest of the hunters is another.
After a day out in the wilderness, the hunting parties start to return to camp around five o’clock. The fire gets going, some of the day’s kill is cooked and stories are shared about the day, about what the hunters saw, about girls and various other tall tales.
“Pretty much most of the animals are absolutely delicious,” Raubenheimer said about meals in camp. “The kudu, its meat is unbelievably good and its liver, it’s about one of the cleanest livers in that area. So as soon as we shoot it, we usually gut it, take the liver and cut it up right there on the spot, make a fire and eat it right there. It is so fresh and so clean and just so good for you, so we’ll eat it right there.”
To get to South Africa Raubenheimer spends up to 17 hours on a plane. His travels normally take him to Atlanta then Johannesburg or from New York or Toronto south to the tip of the African continent.
The climate and the wildlife take some getting used to. The part of South Africa Raubenheimer could never get used to is the lifestyle.
The dangers he faces while hunting are expected, and with careful preparation, can somewhat be controlled. Unfortunately those dangers often pale in comparison to the culture of violence South Africans are subjected to on a daily basis.
Raubenheimer calls South Africa a beautiful place, but not a place we’d probably want to live in. There he says he couldn’t leave his bike outside or his car unlocked because they’d be stolen.
Certain times of the day it’s unsafe to be outside the walls of your home. Female citizens deal with the anxiety of being kidnapped, raped or killed on a daily basis.
“One of my cousins got shot about three weeks ago and passed away,” Raubenheimer said. “He was just going to the grocery store in the middle of the day. A guy walked up to him, shot him in the chest and walked away.”
Incidents such as the murder of his cousin are why Raubenheimer calls himself blessed to be at UNO and to have grown up mostly in Canada. When he visits his homeland, he deals with fences around the schools, bars on the windows, pit bulls protecting front doors and alarms on every entrance into a home.
“You hear about someone getting shot here (Omaha), [and] it’s in the newspapers and it’s talked about for a week,” Raubenheimer said. “There it happens every two seconds. It’s just a regular thing there.”
South Africa’s inability to solve its racial tensions encompasses the country’s troubled past and its uncertain future. But in Raubenheimer’s mind, his homeland cannot be judged solely on the humans who inhabit its borders.
Murder, crime and corruption are only part of the story. Out in the wild is when Raubenheimer appreciates his roots and feels most at home.
“You take your best buddies, your wife, your kids, whatever,” Raubenheimer said about South African hunting trips. “You build a fire, you’re drinking, you’re having fun; it’s a different element to see animals ranging from a giraffe down to a little bush buck. It’s an unlimited amount of animals. Here (in Nebraska) it’s just the one or two [and] you’re lucky if you see it run through a field.
“You won’t find the same hunting element anywhere else in the world. It’s literally one of the best places in the world.”