By Tom in Oregon

Recently, I realized a 30+ year old dream of going on safari in Africa. While planning this trip was a long 14 months in the making, I quickly decided I wanted to take my own rifle and not rent one from the outfitter.  If you have something like this in your future, I hope what I share here can make your trip a bit easier than mine was . . .

Rifle Selection: What I really wanted was a classic double rifle in .375 H&H. After getting over sticker the shock of even a well-used double rifle, I opted for a Remington bolt gun in .375. No semi-autos allowed in South Africa. In reality, unless you’re going after the big five, a .308 bolt gun would work just fine.

U.S Customs: You will definitely want to locate and go to your local customs office a week or two before travelling. The form to fill out is only a one-pager, but without it, you won’t be taking possession of your firearm when you return to the states. The form can also be used to memorialize anything that has a serial number. I was told to log my camera, laptop, scope, rangefinder, etc. on it. It keeps you from having to pay duty on your own stuff when coming home. Avoid paying duty? Yup, gimmie some more pages. The folks at customs will inspect what you’ve described, then stamp and sign your form(s).

Airlines: Our flight was a three-leg journey. Portland to Seattle, Seattle to London, and London to Johannesburg. Leg one was simple, all Alaska Airlines wanted was a simple 3×5 card signed and dated indicating that the firearm isn’t loaded and it’s in a locked, approved case. Original goes in your pocket, carbon copy goes in the gun case. In order to place the CC in the case, it had to be opened. I ask the gal if she wanted me to open it up with all the public standing behind me. She says no, and points to the counter next to her.

Leg two: Uh-Oh. From the U.S to the U.K. — yUcK. Transferring from Alaska Air to British Airways. Apparently, the Brits don’t like guns. But you probably knew that. They most especially don’t like Americans with guns. Man can they hold a grudge.

They require another form. (more about ammo later). We get their form filled out, tuck it inside the gun case, (mistake), and barely make the flight to London. Nine and a half hours later, I’m looking for the exit at Heathrow so I can have a cigarette. At hour 6 of an 8 hour layover, we check back in to the secure area of the airport in time to hear our names over the P.A system. Ruh roh.

We saunter up to the counter, and are rather rudely escorted down into a basement room where there are two SWAT-looking, kitted-up police officers standing next to our gun cases. Quick scan…yup, the locks are intact. A rather smarmy gent in a suit then informs us that we are not allowed to possess firearms in his country. He then turns to the officers and demands that they do something.

They ask if we have documentation for our journey and we both answer yes, inside the cases. Yup, shoulda had ze papers on our persons. After a few more minutes of Mr. Smarmypants, I inform him that “we” aren’t in possession of our guns, “he” is. This actually brought a smile to one of the officers’ faces. The coppers wish us a safe trip and walk out. We watch as a baggage handler carts off our cases. We leave the office with about five minutes to spare, just time enough to catch…

Leg three: London to Johannesburg. About 10 hours later, we walk into the airport lobby and see our guide. Wow, it’s really happening. He escorts us into the South African Police Services (SAPS) office to get our SAPS 520 form notarized and completed. Oops, it’s in the case. Not a big deal really. What we are missing is our Hunting Invitation Letter signed by our outfitter. Slight delay as our guide calls the office. The office faxes our letters to the SAPS office. Good to go. Finally. They notarize our forms, and off we go.

Having watched plenty of safaris on the Sportsman Channel, I thought gun bearers handled your guns for you in the field, then handed it to you when you were ready to shoot. Um, no. I was rather glad that we were allowed to have our rifles the entire time we were there. Even keeping them in our rooms at night. Loaded. But please don’t shoot the warthog that wanders the property. It’s a pet.

Return trip, leg one: Johannesburg to London. Now things get really interesting. We get to the airport with 4 hours devoted to checking in. While you are allowed to bring in up to 80 rounds per caliber, a maximum of two guns, not of the same caliber, you can’t leave with ammo. Having gifted my Professional Hunter, (P.H.), most of my ammo, I had five rounds left. My hunting buddy had 70.

I walked outside, opened my suitcase, took the five rounds and put them in a garbage can. My buddy called the PH who was only five minutes away and gave them to him. They, British Airways, were rather butthurt that they didn’t catch the ammo thing on our way in two weeks before.

Next, we go through security. Apparently, the dude running our particular line really liked my walkie talkies. In some mixture of Afrikaans and English, they aren’t allowed on planes. They are only allowed in his house. For his kids. Then British air extracts an $80 dollar firearms handling fee, a $60 dollar extra bag fee, and a fee fee. Payable only in pounds sterling. They also insist on a bright orange flag that says “FIREARM” on the pelican case.  Three and a half hours later, we’re boarding for . . .

Leg two: An 11-hour flight followed by a nine-hour layover in London. I’m good with the layover, though, as my sister moved there and I haven’t seen her in a year and a half. Good, but really expensive lunch. Pretty much everything in the UK is really absurdly expensive. Petrol was a bit under $11.00 per gallon. Maybe my math was wrong between litres, pounds sterling, carry the 3.14159, divide by 1 stone.

As we make our way through security, My buddy Sean wants to make a bet with me about a gun hassle before boarding. I’m still on cloud nine over the hunting, fishing and sight-seeing. After five countries over the past two weeks with nary a problem, I take him up on his bet. That was stupid.

In order to make it difficult on a gun thief, I have the habit of removing the bolt from my rifle and keeping it in my luggage. But that rather bored-looking guy sitting in front of the x-ray machine was actually was paying attention when I went through. He spots it. They make me empty my back pack, then tell me that since it’s a gun part, I have to check my bag. There was zero argument I could come up with to change his mind or the two supervisors’ or the Bobbie’s. Another $60 extra bag fee. Then it’s off for a nine hour flight to Seattle for…

Leg three: We arrive in Seattle. I’m kind of in a bad mood. OK I’m in a pissy mood. I want a cigarette and this snippy bitch in a British Airways skirt-suit (not pictured above) insists on a 2-hour hassle to move our guns from “her” line 50 feet away to the Alaska Air check-in line. We miss our connecting flight to Portland. Then miss the next one. I reach down and grab my gun parts back-pack from her cart. She protests and tells me that I can’t open checked baggage. I tear the tag off the backpack and advise Her Bitchiness that it’s now a carry on. She was one of those “Can’t Understand Normal Thinking” types.

I go outside and have a couple of smokes. When I return, nicotine mercifully coursing through me, we finally locate an Alaska employee who rolls her eyes and quickly takes care of us. We catch the third flight for the short hop to Portland.

Lessons Learned: It would have been easier and cheaper to rent a gun in Africa for the $25.00 per day fee.

If you’re dead set on bringing your own rifle, have all of your customs docs, SAPS 520 paperwork, your Hunting Invitation Letter and — most importantly — your passport with you at all times. Keep duplicates in the gun case. The paperwork is rather easy to fill out, and not very time consuming.  If you plan on hunting with a hand cannon, you must have prior approval from SAPS at least 60 days in advance. If you plan on hunting in Botswana, Zambia, Zimbabwe, or Namibia, the same 60 day rule applies. I was told it’s the same for Mozambique. Have your paperwork done WELL in advance.

Pro tip: you are not allowed to buy ammo in South Africa. Not from a store, anyway. Your outfitter will gladly sell you what you need. You are, however, allowed to buy a suppressor for your rifle at the local gun store. For about 500 rand, ($50), a rather nice .30 caliber suppressor can be bought with no paperwork, no approval, no waiting list, no fingerprints, no photographs. No shit.

When, not if, I go on another hunt in South Africa, I will bypass British Air and any stops in London. I learned from two other couples there that they flew Delta from California through Atlanta then J-burg. Their flights were shorter, and they suffered zero hassles.

Go to whatever bank you bank with and get currency for the countries you will be travelling through. Get a mix of small and large notes. A lot of places will not make change. They just take whatever you hand them. Whether it’s rand, pula or pounds sterling. One hundred dollars each will likely work. ATMs aren’t behind every Baobab tree.

While the travelling portions of this trip had more than a few hiccups, I’d do it all over again in a heartbeat. If you plan a trip like this, I hope just one of these tips help to make your trip easier than mine was. Oh, and try the blue wildebeest. It’s delicious.

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43 Responses to Going On An African Safari? Read This First

  1. I was enjoying the story til you got to the part about the suppressor. Then I started to cry. Dear NFA, please FOAD. Sincerely, Nathan

    • I have hunted pigs in Italy with an AR slug over my shoulder while walking through towns without even a second look and yet in CT I can no longer purchase one anymore.

      Its all about irrational emotions, fear and above all, control

      • It’s all about these socialists (England being overrun with them and the USA getting there) demonizing guns to the point that when future generations see a gun it will instinctively incite fear and panic. Notice that EVERYONE he encountered that was directly associated with the word BRITISH was paranoid of even a gun part! (Does Pierce Morgan ring a bell?) This is exactly why we need to take our government back and run all of these socialists out of this country, born here or not.

  2. By jove, the sun has set on the Empire, jolly BAD.

    That nightmare makes a Texas hog hunt look like a trip to Walmart.

    • Wholeheartedly agreed. I admit after reading this story, the last thing I want to do is leave this country to go anywhere else anytime soon.

  3. Great story, Tom. You have to admit that the bolt in your carryon was pretty much your fault. The rule is no firearms or firearms components. I got pulled aside for empty magazines for my XD(m) once (before I knew how strict the rule was). (It was my fifth leg carrying them when they caught me, so I was a bit incredulous; I’d already been to Virginia and back twice.) Stripped lowers will not pass either. Well, they might, but you’re counting on the screener not being savvy enough to recognize them.

    The paperwork thing was a rookie mistake, but it’s the kind of thing you only learn when it happens to you, or if you’re lucky enough to have it happen to someone who relays it (like you did for us).

    I really liked the “we don’t have possession, you do” part. You don’t have to be in London for that to matter, folks. Remember that line if you ever have to transit through New York or Chicago and get stuck overnight. If they try to hand your luggage to you, politely decline. You do not want to have that rifle case in your hand in La Guardia. Most airlines, if you explain the situation, will be happy to store your luggage on premises should you find yourself spending an unexpected night in a stopover city. If it never leaves their possession, you can’t run afoul of the law.

    I presume there’s some legality here that prevents you from coming home with that $50 silencer, but I don’t know specifically what it is. Maybe someone can enlighten us.

    Lastly, I’m actually surprised you had trouble with British Airways. I’ve always heard they were quite efficient at handling firearms for transiting passengers. You didn’t mention if the smarmy guy in the suit was from BA or the airport authority or what. Did he identify himself?

    Glad you had fun!

    • Spot on about the paperwork. Also, bolt should have been in checked bag. My bad.
      Oh we’ll, live and learn. I’m anxious to go back. Seeing and smelling everything up close was amazing to say the least.

    • > I presume there’s some legality here that prevents you from coming home with that $50 silencer, but I don’t know specifically what it is. Maybe someone can enlighten us.

      I took a quick look around; it appears that any items falling under the National Firearms Act (e.g. suppressors, machine guns) are prohibited for import unless the importer can show that the item is being imported under certain criteria, including for use by a US or state agency or scientific purpose.

    • Ha Ha Ha … I am enjoying reading your comment while starting up my Sunday BBQ. Gonna be grilling LOTS OF DEAD ANIMALS TODAY!! Yummy yummy !

    • CP, vegetarians are the only ones that have a right to complain about hunters amd you don’t hear me bitching, do you? Unless you’re a non meat eater. FLAME DELETED. The man was engaged in a legal activity which brings revenue into several economies.

  4. Great post and BOY AM I EVER JEALOUS !!!

    I would like to amend or at least add to your info. I worked for a number of years as a Customs Inspector. That was a long time ago, so feel free to check on current policies etc. This is just an FYI…

    First – when you exit the USA and fill out the customs registration forms, it does NOT guarantee you won’t be hassled on the way back (is that a double negative sentence?). Typical scenario is that they look at your passport, see that you went to Hong Kong PRIOR to the Africa trip and registration date. Woops “show me proof you declared that Rolex PRIOR to the Africa trip”. SEIZURE AND TARIFF. When you are traveling PLEASE make sure you have bill of sales documents somewhere at home. If not, leave the item home. It is not worth losing it to the Feds.

    Second – coming home with more than memories is problematic. Mounts, hides, horns etc need to be REALLY REALLY PLANNED OUT. Unbelievable complicated and gray area laws covering all of it. Same with FOOD (ag law applies). Check today, but I will bet you dollars to doughnuts that meat is absolutely verboten from Africa. Also be cautious with native trinkets. They also can be seized and destroyed based on agriculture law. They sometimes contain insects/bacteria or virus. Finally spend ALL your foreign money in country. It is just a supreme hassle back here.

    Third – little thing but clean your gear before coming back. Muddy boots and an outbreak of foot and mouth disease in the country you’ve been to is gonna lose the boots at worst. Lucky if they they clean them for you after an hour delay.

    Fourth – please go to an International Travel clinic at a big hospital to get the drugs planned for and started MONTHS ahead as called for. Malaria, various Hepatitis strains, and more exotic stuff can ruin your whole life going forward. Remember your going into the boonies of the third world folks !

    Like I said, just educating you all. Have fun on the trip and take lots of photos and videos.

    • As to Malaria drugs, it’s a bit tricky. Clinics in North America will often prescribe drugs that are far stronger than are actually needed. One idiot doctor at a travel clinic tried to put me on Mefloquine for South Africa – thanks but no thanks. I’d rather not be a nightmare-ravaged psycho for my vacation. I called a friend in South Africa, he called his buddy who is a Dr. and they told me what was actually seasonally appropriate for the area I would be visiting. Then my home GP got me a prescription so that I could begin taking the drugs before travel. “There’s no thrill like overkill” is fine when applied to the caliber wars and C-4, but not cool for meds.

      • For short trips Malarone is the best. Doxy, second. Latium/mefloquine a distant third and only for longer duration trips. If you do take mefloquine make sure you start it a month in advance to make sure you tolerate it. Insomnia, nightmares and headaches are common side effects but some tolerate it better than others. A once a week pill is easier to track than a once a day pill.

        • The once-a-week nature is why the Canadian Army liked it – you could line up the troops every Monday and watch them take it. Too bad about its contribution to a series of horrible events that ended in torture, murder and a regiment being disbanded.

  5. Congrats on the trip, saw you ran into the Prez and Wife and took their picture. Good shot. Should fit into the Lincoln bedroom.

  6. Good write-up. And you have caught the ‘going back to Africa bug’ as well.

    A couple of friends and myself have been to the Republic of South Africa (RSA) a couple of times. The first one we flew on airline miles via American Airlines. Initially we were going through Heathrow but where then told that AA won’t let you do guns through there. It’s not the Brits policy in this case but AA’s so we went through Madrid instead. Other than long layover times everything went ok. On the second trip we did the ATL-JNB trip via Delta and *that* is the way to go. Plus lots of people on the trip are either going hunting as well or on a sight seeing trip through the parks over there so it’s easy to strike up a conversation to help pass the time.

    My recommendation is to use one of the various services that will get your SAP520 form cleared through the South African Police (SAP) before you even arrive. It costs about $120 but you know that your forms are correct and good to go. Plus when you arrive, someone will meet you there and because you are “pre-cleared” you go to the front of the line which can be nice if you’re arriving at a busy time in the hunting season.

    Another good thing with these meet-and-greet services is that they can help assist in getting you to your connection and/or return flight with less hassle as they deal with the airline folks all of the time. Ours helped us as we were getting ready to leave in what could have been a scary situation. He (our guy was Mr. X, as he said his last name was too hard for us to pronounce) met us at the airport as we came in on our flight from Bloemfontein. We collected our baggage and headed to our return flight to ATL. We got on the elevator to head to the checkin counter and there were two other “locals” in there. They acted friendly and pressed the button for us. Mr. X told them that the floor that they pressed was wrong. It turns out that what can happen is that these guys will take the unsuspecting tourists to the basement and rob them of their luggage, etc. Whew! One more thing that Mr. X was good for as he met us on arrival from the U.S. was that we avoided having to hassle with the baggage carrier guys that want tips for every little thing.

    The limits for guns and ammunition were different than what we were told. I took 3 guns, but they *do* have to be of different caliber, one rifle, one T/C Encore, and a Super Redhawk. The good thing for us handgun hunters is that handguns to be used for hunting can be taken so long as they have a scope. Even if you don’t plan on using the scope, I just put one in the gun case and say that it is for the handgun if asked, but we never were. In general, getting the guns there and back were no problem except that the guys that check your guns in on the return trip will try to get you to tip them. They can’t ask for tips as it’s illegal and you can turn them into the SAP. Instead they’ll ask “if you have anything for them”. Mr. X said he would have stopped that but they made him stay outside the office where we were because they know they’re not supposed to ask for tips. We knew about the tipping scam beforehand and just played hard of hearing.

    We didn’t get much extra cash for the trip. If you need to buy something in a layover, most take U.S. dollars but will probably charge you a small conversion fee. But you get charged a fee at one of the banks anyway plus we didn’t have to convert to say $$ to Rands to $$’s again getting hit with two conversion fees. For tips we took travelers checks so we didn’t have to carry large amounts of cash.

    Finally, don’t be afraid to get an outfitter or their recommended travel agent to get everything set up. On our second trip we used a travel agent and it didn’t cost us anything extra plus they got us pretty cheap flights in the seats we wanted. We used Travel Express, http://www.travelexpressagency.com/. (Not trying to be a commercial for them, just letting folks know that we used them and it was hassle-free.) Additional helpful information is available at the Accurate Reloading Africa forums page, http://forums.accuratereloading.com/eve. There you will find a bunch of information from outfitters, PHs, taxidermy, plus some of the big time TV guys like Col. Boddington and Ivan Carter.

    I highly encourage anyone thinking about going to Africa to ‘just do it’! When you compare the price of a plains game hunt against a guided elk, moose, or bear hunt in the U.S., I think you’ll be surprised. You’ll get to take more trophies for the same price except you taxidermy bill will be higher ;).

    I’m planning my next trip to be in a couple of years for my handgun cape buffalo hunt. Woowhoo!

    • Having learned some lessons, I’m sure next year will be lots smoother. Good call on the medical side. I’ve got a week left on my anti malarial pills. We took portfolios documenting all immunizations. Zimbabwe wanted proof of yellow fever vaccination. Every border crossing made us walk through a soaked carpet for foot and mouth cleaning.
      We’re using an RSA taxidermist to handle our skins and skulls. Should arrive in about 8 months.
      Definitely going Delta through Atlanta!
      Going to sleep in a tent, hearing a pride of lions grunting, knowing you just might wake up in 3 days reincarnated as lion poop produced feelings I’ve never felt before. Much like turning the cape buff charge at 9 yards. And THAT is on go-pro 3 video!

  7. Just my opinion, but if they expect me to jump through all those hoops, they can keep their danged wildebeast. Especially when you consider all the costs incurred just to hurl some lead at a strange beast in a strange land.

  8. Think that’s bad. Try the JFK to Joberg direct flight. They’ll just arrest you in NYC and keep your guns. I have to fly to Atlanta first then direct to Joberg – damn NYC and it’s BS.

  9. When I went to South Africa I flew Delta 200 from ATL to JNB. It sure was nice to leave Atlanta and avoid Europe all together.

    I didn’t bring any firearms with me; however, if I was going to this would be the only flight I would take. Delta can be expensive but they are quite competitive on this route. I paid 1200 dollars for a round trip ticket from Detroit to Johannesburg.

    I thought it was a no-brainer to fly Delta to Africa. The guy really must have wanted his Alaska Airlines flier miles…. little did he know that he could have flown Delta and received mileage on his Alaska account.

  10. Be careful on Delta. If you are traveling through to a location and the layover is more than six hours they will put the baggage out at the LAYOVER location. On a recent trip to NH I brought my handgun for a course. Luckily I checked my baggage ticket and discovered this before my suitcase and GUN were left next to the unsecured door by the street! I brought the case to the nearest Delta agent who explained they do not take luggage early. When I told him I had a firearm that policy suddenly changed and everyone was happy to check my bag back in. Luckily this happened in Georgia, but it could have been a bad experience had this occurred in NY or California or Chicago.

  11. Yes, double rifles are expensive. There’s a limit to what can be CNC’ed on a double gun, and things like fitting the ribs, regulating the barrels, fitting barrels to a monoblock (on guns that use a monoblock) are all time-intensive, manual operations that can be performed by only experienced and careful craftsmen. That’s how you get new double rifle prices of about $30K and up.

    But, one should remember that double rifles were hideously expensive even 100 years ago. The fancy-pants Brits loved them because their bespoke double rifles said “I’m richer than you… and you, and you, and you and you.” Even the German double rifles and drillings are very expensive. It doesn’t matter whether you have the ribs fitted by a Limey, Kraut or Yank, it’s time-intensive and expensive. I think Butch Searcy is getting $35K for a new double rifle these days.

    That’s why Otto Bock (German gunsmith out of Berlin 100 years ago) created the 9.3×62 for German colonists in Namibia in 1905. Take a cheap(er) bolt gun, blow out the standard military case to maximize capacity, put a heavy pill on it and call it good. A couple decades later, Americans did the same thing with the .35 Whelen in a sporterized Springfield ’03. Both rounds, loaded with the proper bullets, in the hands of a good hunter, are sufficient for all hunting in North America and would do for most all but the most dangerous game in Africa.

    If you want a bolt gun in a good, major African cartridge that says “I’m a guy for the classics,” consider the .404 Jeffery. It’s a grand old cartridge with some stout bullets. A few years back, CZ introduced a line of “classics” in their magnum-length bolt guns at very reasonable prices – .404 Jeffery, .505 Gibbs (where you’d want to go for a step up from the .404) and .450 Rigby.

    If you ever do go for a double rifle, then don’t play about with a .375 H&H. Go for a true rimmed double-rifle cartridge, like a .470 Nitro. Doubles in rimmed, grand old cartridges say “I’m a guy who has doubled down on the classics – classic rifle and classic cartridge.” Then you need a pith helmet and a nice pipe, stoked with long leaf tobacco. 😉 These doubles also retain their value. These are not “just another rifle.” They’re investments, which if kept properly in good condition, just seem to go up in value over the years. They also break down into two parts, so you can transport them in a shorter case that doesn’t scream “Gun! Steal me!” to the baggage handlers at major airports.

    • Just checked Butch’s web site. He’s got a PH double rifle model in .470 NE (as one of the options) for less than $20K. It’s a more modest rifle than the highest end rifles I’ve seen from his shop in the past, but it’s still an A-D action, cased, etc.

    • There are always those that try to tell *us* what to do. Thanks, Jason.

      And schiznuki is correct, everything get used even if it isn’t by the hunter themselves. The camp uses some for meat depending on the animal, the trackers and skinner take some, etc. It’s all gone.

      • Great. Hunters that wastefully kill for sport makes ethical hunters look bad.

        Oh, and advocating for moral behavior is hardly “telling you what to do”

        • First, I came across a bit harsh, Jason, so for that I apologize but it seems that everyone wants to come across with their two cents worth of value regardless of their experience. But you failed to make the distinction that those who waste aren’t “hunters’, they’re shooters.

          Hunters are what keeps most of Africa available to the rest of the people and provide an impetus for landowners to keep the those beautiful wild creatures around on their property. If it wasn’t for hunters and their dollars, most of the country would be devoid of foliage and would be covered in cattle or goats.

          Also, contrary to what you might read, elephants are not in any danger of extinction, but rather there is a problem with over-population in Botswana and the P.C. crowd has just shut down hunting in that country on public property.

          I simply ask that you first go see that of which you attempt to speak about.

  12. Is it bad that reading the title of the article made me think it was discussing some crazy journalist claiming it’s open season on black’s now?

  13. Why are there always panty wasted, tree hugging liberals lurking on these boards? Get a life, please.

    I traveled in country twice before 911 with guns. Rifles and shotguns in big hard side cases with locks were no problem. 38 Super race gun in anvil case with special handling tag. Got left at the door to behind the scenes at the baggage carousel. Luddites.

  14. The British have been paranoid about guns as far as I can remember. On a trip to the European continent in the early 2000s, I bought myself a Bren Gun paperweight/desk display in the Netherlands. No problems at all (as it should be)until Heathrow, when they started to search my CHECKED-IN luggage. I sort of knew what they were looking for already, so I reached in and pulled out the box and asked if that was what they were looking for. The security person (younger Indian guy) said yes, and it needed to be put aside and in a special compartment for safekeeping until I get to my destination. Noticing that there was an older gent next to young Indian guy, and thinking that he may be less uptight since it was likely that he may have gone through National Service, I directed my question to him saying, ” …but it’s just a paperweight.” I was disappointed that he agreed with his younger colleague. Heck, I could probably do a heck of a lot more damage with the dinner knife on the plane, but remember that my Bren Gun was in my CHECKED-IN luggage. There’s no hope.

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