Josef Thoma founded the company Westfalia Jagdreisen 30 years ago and has been steadily expanding since its beginnings. Right from the start, he has been leading the fortunes of the successful company, pioneering and developing new markets, always paying attention to fair hunting and sustainable use in the areas and hunting grounds. In the interview, he looks back - and above all forward, because the next generation is ready.
The interview was conducted by hunting journalist Bernd Kamphuis.
When do it all began?
In 1989 I called Westfalia Jagdreisen into being. At first small and modest, there was little money - but a lot of enthusiasm! In April 1991, the company was then converted into a GmbH.
Which were the first hunting destinations which Westfalia offered?
We started with Poland. As a native Sliesia, I am well versed in poland and speak Polish.
That helped a lot from the start, I was able to quickly sign up for the best territories in the country.
What happened next?
After we had become very successful in Poland, there had to be an extension of the portfolio. Because the demand was there. Luckily I also had very good contacts to Belarus. It is a great country with exceptionally good hunting opportunities.
As the first provider of hunting trips, I was able to sign Belarus.
And it went on gradually. CIS countries and Asia joined. We did the first hunting trips to Kazakhstan on Maral and Ibex. That was real pioneering work.
Which were the next steps?
In 1994 we hunted for the first time in Yakutia on snow sheep and moose, in 1995 in Tajikistan on Marco Polo.
That was a very important step.
In what way?
Because in addition to our core markets in Eastern Europe, we have established a new foothold in the sheep hunts in Asia.
We have checked the areas and recognized that there is a very high potential for top hunting there. The wild sheep, but also the Maral hunts there are fantastic.
Accordingly, I have invested heavily in education and infrastructure in Asia. It was very important to show the local people that we want to hunt sustainably. No area was excluded, if I may say so clearly. We have separated from a few areas again, if we had the assumption that you did not pull 100 percent on the same strand. Our program grew steadily. In 1995 I took the step to Africa and marketed Namibia ever since. Other African countries were added because we took experts in Africa and big-game hunting into the Westfalia boat.
Which of your hunting offers are you particularly proud of?
This is of course a difficult question, because every hunt has its charm. But just a little bit our belarussian hunts protrude from the belfry in the bjelowesch jungle. The driven hunts in Belowesch and in the Pripyat marshes are absolutely unique, incomparably rustic.
We were the first organizer and are still there today. Of course I like to think back to these beginnings.
According to which values do you arrange hunts?
Of course, the sustainability of hunting is a top priority. Only when hunted with measure and foresight in the districts, they can keep the highest standard. And I demand that. Second, the hunt must be fair. The hunting ethic that is practiced in Germany - we can also call it Waidgerechtigkeit (german Hunting Ethics)- is also lived in our partner hunts. I know all hunting areas offered by us and almost all hunting guides. Our customers are advised not only before departure, but also afterwards. We talk on the phone, ask how the hunts went, always try to identify and correct sources of error. This personal care is very important.
What about the rather expensive special hunts, such as the sheep hunts?
Is there a special service?
Yes, because sheep hunts require special preparation by the hunter. Therefore, I prepare each hunter, individually, on his dream trip. There are so many little things that you do not know in advance, but can make life on the mountain very difficult. On request I accompany sheep hunts personally.
Does the engagement go beyond purely hunting things?
Yes, because the local people are important to us. Only if they participate in the hunt in any form, they will work for the game. Through the commitment to humans, we indirectly protect wildlife. That is why, for example, in Belarus we support a hospital with money and equipment. We bought an ambulance and gave it to the hospital. In Mozambique, we actively support several wildlife conservation projects.
Westfalia Jagdreisen is considered the most successful company in the German market.
What are the recipes for success?
A lot of experience, the right partners and a clear company philosophy. We focus on sustainability in every respect. We do not teach anything blindly, the supposedly easy money is uninteresting for us. As before, we only intermediate territories that we know. There are no compromises. And that shows long-term success. We have excellent partners, who in turn have access to the best areas. In Africa, for example, we have been hunting for some time now in absolute top areas that hitherto were not open to hunting. This complete Westfalia network has grown over three decades. And as mentioned, we have a strong team. All are experts in their field, specializing in different areas.
My son is also in the company now. He is a passionate hunter, is currently studying, but is in the starting blocks.
As you can see, the future of Westfalia Jagdreisen is in good order.