FARGO — At first sight, Sylvia Peach Leiviska doesn’t seem like someone who could take down a 600-pound blue wildebeest.
But the 12-year-old Fargo girl, who’s 4-foot-8 and 75 pounds, has quite a story to tell about the animal she snagged on safari with her family in South Africa last summer.
In photos, holding the crossbow and rifle she used, she’s dwarfed by the wildebeest’s massive body. “It was just crazy how big it was,” she said.
Grandfather Chuck Sauvageau, of Fargo, arranged the 10-day trip for himself, his two daughters, their husbands and four of his grandchildren. His wife and a younger grandson stayed home.
The group traveled to an 18,000-acre preserve near the South African capital of Pretoria, where they hunted a variety of non-endangered animals, including wildebeest, kudu and sable from the antelope family, along with zebras, monkeys and warthogs.
Sauvageau wasn’t surprised that his granddaughter claimed the wildebeest. “I knew she could do it. She can do pretty much whatever she sets her mind to,” he said.
It’s not like she had much practice at it, either.
The South African safari was the first hunt for the Sullivan Middle School seventh-grader and for most of her family members.
More often, she’s playing volleyball or soccer, or practicing taekwondo, in which she is a second-degree black belt.
No one calls her Sylvia — she goes by her middle name, Peach, given by parents Jeremy and Renne Leiviska, on the insistence of older brother Ben.
“It has nothing to do with my hair,” she said with a laugh, referring to her long, wavy, red locks.
'I just did that?'
Peach said before they went on safari, she wasn’t sure what a wildebeest was.
“I didn’t even know it was an animal, but I saw it was really pretty, and cool,” she said.
The day she hunted, she spent about 45 minutes learning how to use a crank crossbow before she and her brother and mom and dad piled into a jeep with a hunting guide.
They drove around the preserve for a bit, then settled into a hunting blind to get Peach set up. “I was standing on two crates, because I wasn’t tall enough for the hole,” she said.
The guide helped her balance the bow on a stand to keep it steady. She aimed through a scope with a little help from the guide, who used a laser pointer to show her where to shoot.
When the wildebeest stopped in its tracks, Peach fired, striking the animal in the shoulder.
It ran off with other wildebeest around it, and the group spent about two hours tracking it before she finished it off with her brother’s rifle.
“I was really excited, and I was just kind of like, shocked, like, I just did that?” Peach said.
'Nothing goes to waste'
The family hunted with Kirabo Safaris, a business they learned about while attending the Red River Valley Sportsmen’s Show at the Fargodome.
Sauvageau said the outfit raises the animals on the preserve, breeding them naturally like cattle on a range, and none of the animals they hunted are endangered.
There are two lodges on site, with living quarters and a chef. “Everything we shot, we had the next night for a meal,” he said.
What’s left over is given to the preserve employees and their families, and anything beyond that is fed to the vultures and hyenas.
“Nothing goes to waste, everything from the hooves to the hide to the horns are used for something,” Sauvageau said.
Hunters pay a certain price per animal, ranging from the hundreds into the thousands of dollars, which doesn’t include the cost to have an animal mounted.
The blue wildebeest Peach shot is getting a head-and-shoulder mount. It’s still being worked on in South Africa, a process that takes up to nine months to complete.
She’d like to hang it on her bedroom wall when it arrives, but her mom will probably want to display it elsewhere, she said with a smile.