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The "pod" revisited

> Figure 1: Juice is squeezed from the larva of Diamphidia beetles onto the shaft behind the arrow point (Wikipedia).

Archery and bowhunting have an intriguing and fascinating history, writes Cleve Cheney. The bow has for thousands of years been an instrument of survival, a weapon of war and a means of recreation. It has progressed from being a bent stick to a highly sophisticated technological marvel of ingenuity.

I made bows of a sort, or attempted to do so, as a young lad but acquired my first manufactured bow at the age of about 12 (48 years ago!) – a laminated bamboo longbow which was very effective and a great improvement on my home-made attempts. I remember the sad day when I broke it. Standing on top of a hill, looking down on our farmhouse in the distance and holding the bow at a 450 angle I was of a mind to see how far I could shoot an arrow from my elevated position. Having outgrown the draw length of the bow I drew it back as far as I could – CRAAAACKK! The bow shattered and all I was left holding was the string – each limb half having gone its separate way down the mountain! I was devastated, but my interest in things archery never wavered and I read everything about it that I could lay my hands on. I bought my first compound bow in 1979 – a Martin Warthog 50-pound bow with 33% let-off and six cedar arrows, shooting glove, pin sight, stick on arrow rest, and quiver all for just under R400 (new!) from Jack's Archery supplies in Pretoria.

< Figure 2: The poison dart frog of the genus Phyllobates has a powerful poison in its skin (Wikipedia).

I had subscriptions to a variety of American archery magazines and it was around 1976 that I began reading of a hunting technique practised by some American bowhunters called "the pod". Some of you younger bowhunters will probably not know about this – only old toppies like Adriaan de Villiers, myself and maybe a handful of others will recall this interesting turn of events in bowhunting history. This was a modern version of using a poisoned arrow which of course had been around for hundreds of years.

The Kalahari San (bushmen) and contemporary hunter-gatherers are still known to make poison for coating the tips of their hunting arrows. Our indigenous bushman use Diamphidia beetle larvae (Figure 1), while tribes in other parts of Africa use cardiac glycoside poisons for their arrows derived from plants such as Strychnos toxifera (Figure 3), Akokanthera, oleander, and milkweed. These cause rapid heart failure once they get into the bloodstream. The poisons that contain tobocurarine are grouped under curare compounds and are derived from the bark of tree species. Curare is a muscle relaxant which causes respiratory arrest by paralyzing muscles used for breathing. Poisoned arrows are used widely by tribes living in the jungles of Malaysia and Burma. In South America tribes living in the jungles of Columbia use a powerful poison obtained from the skin of a frog (poison dart frogs of the genus Phyllobates (Figure 2)) to coat the tips of their blowgun darts.

> Figure 3: Most arrow poisons are derived from plant source. This example is Strychnos toxifera from which the poison curare is obtained (Wikipedia).

It comes as no surprise therefore that "modern" man would try his hand at using poisoned arrows. The compound of choice was succinylcholine or scoline – a drug I was to become very familiar with when I worked as a researcher/ ranger in the Kruger National Park as it was this compound that was used to cull buffalo and elephant with.

Scoline works in a similar way to curare poisons. It blocks the transmission of nerve impulses passing from nerve to muscle fibres and causes muscle paralysis. When the diaphragm and intercostal respiratory muscles become paralyzed the animal stops breathing, becomes unconscious within a few minutes and dies from respiratory arrest. Scoline is used in human medicine as a muscle relaxant during certain surgical procedures. The patient has to be kept on a respirator until the drug is broken down by the body and normal respiration restored.

The thinking behind the "pod" was that this method would result in less wounded animals getting away. Once the arrow had pierced the skin the drug would be absorbed into the bloodstream and even if the arrow had not hit in a vital area the animal would soon collapse once muscle paralysis set in and die from respiratory arrest. It was effective and worked but resulted in a huge debate revolving around ethics. One of the big problems was that hunters were no longer selective about the shots they took because as long as they got their arrow into some part of the body the animal would die. A Scoline death although fairly quick relatively speaking was also not a pleasant way to die – if any way of dying can be described as pleasant that is. The peripheral muscles of the legs would first be paralyzed so the animal would collapse and not be able to get away, but would still be conscious. One can imagine the anxiety and stress experienced by a wild animal – being aware of imminent danger but being unable to escape. Scoline also causes very painful and rapid muscle contractions called "fasciculations" which occur prior to paralysis setting in. As the respiratory muscles became progressively paralyzed breathing would become more and more difficult as a result of air hunger, increasing levels of carbon dioxide in the blood and decreasing levels of circulating oxygen. Finally after three to five minutes the animal would lapse into unconsciousness when the brain was starved of oxygen and would then die.

< Figure 4: (1) The rubber sleeve is rolled onto the shaft. (2) A paste made of scoline powder and water is applied to the sleeve. (3) The sleeve is rolled up. (4) When the arrow penetrates the sleeve unrolls and scoline is absorbed into the bloodstream.

The method employed was to place a rubber sleeve over the broadhead end of the arrow shaft and coat it with a paste made of scoline and water. The sleeve was then rolled up from the back towards the broadhead. When the arrow hit and entered an animal this roll would roll out and expose the scoline to muscle tissue. Because muscle is well supplied with blood vessels the scoline would be taken up into the blood stream where it would begin to exert its effects (Figure 4). It works quite rapidly. In buffalo darted with scoline during culling operations the animals collapsed within less than a minute, but would then take a few minutes to die from respiratory arrest.

After much heated debate the method of bowhunting was fortunately banned in the United States. Culling of elephant and buffalo with this drug was also stopped in the Kruger National Park around 1991 or thereabouts if my somewhat dodgy memory serves me correctly.
Modern man hunting with poisoned arrows is thus part of bowhunting history.

Updated: Tuesday, August 12, 2014 10:11 AM


About the Author

Cleve Cheney

Cleve Cheney

Cleve Cheney,  hunting and environmental editor of Africa’s Bowhunter is a very well known figure in bow hunting and in conservation circles in South Africa. Cleve Cheney has been in conservation for 27 years, of which 20 years were spent with the National Parks Board – most of it in the Kruger National Park. During the time spent in the Kruger National Park Cleve culled no less than 50 elephants with a rifle and he has hunted most African game during culling operations.

Cleve has also been an avid bow hunter for 22 years and he has an extensive technical knowledge on bows, arrows and broadheads. Cleve is also an accomplished bowyer and has built many recurves over the years. He began offering bowhunting education courses more than 15 years ago. Until recently, Cleve was a lecturer at the South African Wildlife College where was a lecturer and instructor. He has a diploma in Nature Conservations and a MA degree in animal Physiology. Over the years Cleve has written more than a hundred articles on tracking, hunting, survival skills, and bow and rifle hunting. He started an 18 month long professional hunters course at the SA Wildlife College where he trained the first group of professional hunters.

Cleve has trained many bow hunters and his educative articles on how to hunt African game, as well as many other articles on different aspects of archery bow hunting an bush skills has been published in Africa’s Bowhunter, Game and Hunt magazine, Universal Hunter and many other magazines. He has been the lead article writer for Africa’s Bowhunter for more than 14 years.

His book on tracking, The Comprehensive Guide to Tracking: In-depth information on how to track animals and humans alike, is probably the most in-depth study on this subject available. For those who want to learn more than the basics, this book is a treasure trove of tracking information, insights, methods, and knowledge. The book is divided into logical sections: teaching yourself to track; understanding wildlife behavior; identification of tracks and signs; gait patterns and pressure release; blood trailing; tracking specific animals; track, stalk, and approach; bird, reptile, and invertebrate sign; man tracking; and dangers in the bush.


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