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The Great Adventure
A pretty fair case could be made that the evolution of the African safari is really a historical overlay of the past century and a half of white expansion into the interior of Africa. After Jan Van Riebeeck, South Africa's founder, pitched up at the Cape in 1652, both he and another 180 years of descendants either had too much on their hands keeping body and soul in one chunk to make much of a dent in the continent, or various colonial policies kept them from it, which amounted to white expansion reaching only a vague 150 miles inland. There were still enough elephants in the general vicinity of urban Cape Town to get settler Pieter Roman trampled and tusked to death there after he presumably wounded one with what was definitely not enough gun in 1661. That there was still little pressure on the local fauna 145 years after Roman's death seems clear from a British dispatch written by the commander of the troops garrisoned there after capturing the area in 1806, describing the "roaring of lions" after dark.
The Portuguese, who had long before established trading posts and forts on both the east and west coasts, showed even less interest in probing the secrets of the dark, dank, mysterious beauty that lay just past the bright beach sands. Ten miles inlandwas a long way for Portuguese influence to have any swat, even after literally hundreds of years of their presence.
It wasn't until the mid-1830s that the Cape Dutch and other elements of the people who now thought of themselves as part of Africa, rather than Europe, decided they had had enough of British domination and headed off in a series of great treks upcountry, effectively changing the status quo of white tenure in Africa. Not only were there political and ethno-religious reasons for packing off to what was presumed to be the Land of Milk and Honey (bring your own cow and bee, said some on returning), but the technological improvements in firearms, resulting in more reliable muzzle-loaders, had an influence too.
These ox-wagon pioneers were to change the profile of Africa forever. It is appropriate, in mentioning these early settlers as the first major white group to enter what at the time must have seemed unlimited game fields, to indicate the huge cultural differences between these people and their heritage and that of British hunters and sportsmen who had just started to get their feet wet in African big game shooting about this time.
The Boers, as they were better known to the outside world, were essentially peasant farming stock. Boer in fact means "farmer." They were not sport hunters by tradition, that privilege of northern Europe having been pretty well reserved for the landed aristocracy, with some singularly unpleasant penalties for clumsy or unlucky poachers. In the new land of South Africa, though, as farmers, they tended to hunt for commercial reasonsespecially elephant and hippo for ivory, antelope for meat and biltong (still the national snack of dried venison or beef) and to protect their herds and crops from animal encroachment. Any concept of preservation or conservation, at least at that time, would have seemed as strange to them as a notion that they should not kill the snakes in their homes because at some hazy point in the future the land might run short of mambas or cobras.
The first British adventurers into the interior, other than the ubiquitous missionaries, saw things differently, even though they could hardly have been commended for any particularly naturalistic foresight. Most were army officers, usually with Indian service, where they had been able to expand the love of the chase they had learned at home as boys in Britain. Asia, with itstiger beats, pigsticking meets, buffalo hunts and other sporting succulents, had primed them for Africa and its renowned wild game. One who unquestionably influenced more sportsmen than any other over the next fifty years after his book was first published in 1838 was William Cornwallis Harris. Harris started his Indian military career as a sixteen-year-old second lieutenant of Engineers and, as a captain after thirteen years of service, was ordered to the Cape Colony for two years to recover from continued attacks of severe malaria. A gifted artist, he left us not only ethereal views of the land and game of the time, but also penned the only known and surviving portrait of Mzilikazi, the extraordinary Matabele king who figured so prominently in the war and peace of the region. A dedicated naturalist, he provided invaluable museum specimens crowned by the rarest of all, a completely new species of large antelope.
Three years after he wrote his bookthe version published in Bombay called Narrative of an Expedition into Southern Africa, and the more popular version reissued in London the following year, 1839, as The Wild Sports of Southern AfricaHarris led a mission from the Government of Bombay to the Ethiopian king, Sahela Selassie of Shoa, the success of which resulted in his being gazetted major and knighted. This last trip resulted in another book, The Highlands of Aethiopia, and closely coincided with the publication of a volume of lithographs of his paintings of southern African wildlife, which is today considered one of the rarest and most valuable of all Africana. Harris died of fever near Poona, India, on October 9, 1848. He was thirty-nine years old.
Harris' recollections of his trip by ox-wagon north from the Cape Colony in 18367 represents the first book on African big game hunting, and is particularly notable as Harris' reasons for hunting were sporting, not commercial. So it might be argued that he was the first person to go on safari and leave a recordalthough he as likely as not had never even heard the worddespite the fact that many British officers must have done considerable hunting at least near Cape Town over the thirty years that troops had been garrisoned there.
Although some of his fellow officers and relative contemporaries were mostly interested in how frequently and how quickly they could kill game, Harris was much more than just anothercap-popper. Actually, his scientific interest in specimens was about equal to his joy in the sport of obtaining them. Certainly, the Zoological Society of London was the richer for his trip. The sable antelope, Hippotragus niger, was long known as the Harrisbuck, and that such a scimitar-horned, anthracite-hued beauty does not still carry the name of its discoverer is more the loss. How the first sable was killed is one of the best early safari tales so let's off to the remote Cashan Mountains and try to see it through Harris' eyes ... .
It is the afternoon of December 13, 1836, pleasantly cool for the rainy season, in what is now the Magaliesberg range, near my home in Pretoria. Four and a half months out from Cape Town, Captain Harris is with a party of Hottentots, following up a wounded elephant on horseback. One of his frequent falls has bashed up his favorite 10-bore percussion rifle and he carries a cumbersome, thundering great flintlock obtained from the soon to be famous missionary, the Reverend Mr. Moffat, at Kuruman. It is a cannon firing a quarter-pound hardened lead ball persuaded rather violently along by fifteen drams of coarse black powder. As he pounds rhythmically over a dried vlei or marshy area, he notices a small herd of oddly dark antelope about a half-mile off in a parallel valley. Reining in, he looks them over with his pocket telescope, a shock of realization that they are completely new to science shivering through him. Instantly, he forgets the elephant among the jeers and jibes of the Hottentots, who figure that anybody who trades an elephant for an "uglybuck" like whatever those are must have been out in the sun too long. Spurs flashing, Harris rushes his shooting horse toward them.
After a hammering run, the officer is among the weird, dark antelope, two looming bulls and nine paler, buff-colored cows. Hauling up his pony, Harris leaps from the saddle only fifty yards away and sees the herd slow, then stop in curiosity, staring back at the odd white man, the iridescent purple-black skins of the loop-horned bulls gleaming like wet ebony in the summer sun. Harris takes a shooting breath, lines up the rough flintlock and squeezes the trigger at the biggest male. The smoothbore slips its hammer like a bear trap, the flint throwing a shower of sparks into the pan. Nothing. Misfire. A bull stampsa forefoot as Harris wipes the grime from his smeared forehead and recocks the big gun, centering the coarse bead of the front sight on the black chest once more. Snap! Clash! Flash! Silence. The antelope, now alarmed, begin to canter off, the furious Harris lining up yet another misfire. Then, they are gone.
Harris, his frustration more than he can contain, howls a curse, throws the perfidious gun on the rocky ground and remounts to dash back to camp where he will try to repair his own weapon.
It takes two hours before his own double-barreled, 10-bore rifle can be patched up and the hunter on a fresh horse, is back where he last saw the strange, dark antelope. Still, as hard as the Hottentot trackers work, the sun is gone before he catches another glimpse of the animals. Furious, and despairing of finding them again, Harris rides back to camp for the night.
Dawn is still a coy blush somewhere over the light bushveld and feathery trees of the Cashans when Harris leaves camp and is back on the cold trail of the mysterious antelope, his frustration turned to obsession to collect one of the unknown, exotic creatures. For a whole searing, sweat-soaked day he and a tracker ride without a glimpse of the elusive wraiths, the black guillotine of darkness leaving them to sleep on the faint spoor, exhausted and with only tea and biltong to eat. The third day, they are again gone long before first light, cold tea and more biltong lumped like acid and harness leather in their stomachs.
The sun is high and ferocious in a sailcloth sky before the Hottentot hauls up at the edge of a series of low, broken ridges stuttered with rocky hills. At the feet of their horses is a scattering of compact dung pellets near the heart-shaped hoof marks. Fresh. Harris changes the percussion caps of his rifle to be sure the dew has not affected them, eases the hammers down and removes the sling. Tethering the mounts, the Englishman and the Hottentot crab over the burning, saw-edged rocks to the lip of the emerald ravine, the officer's blood pounding in his temples with excitement. Will they be there?
Through the shield of brush, Harris catches a flicker of movement and the dull gleam of arched horn where the antelope are resting in the heat at the end of the snarled draw. Slowly, he inches up the 10-bore, the sight settling on the chest of the big bull. PHUTTDOOM! The double fires, the hunter upand racing to see beyond the billowing bloom of white powder smoke. Score! The near hind leg of the bull has caught the big ball. Immediately, Harris touches off the second barrel, seeing and hearing the ball thump home into the animal's chest. No point in trying to reload as the antelope stream by, Harris watches them run out of the draw, past his hiding place, the big bull galloping well despite his wounds. The Englishman's hands are shaking as he reloads, powder, linen-wrapped ball, ram, recap. As the mutter of dust-muffled hooves dies away, the dry slither of the ramrod sliding into its housing under the barrels blends with Harris' call for the horses.
Harris and the Hottentot follow the splashes of blood easily for a full mile along a dry watercourse with no indication of the wounded bull slowing down. And then, there he stands at bay, about one hundred yards off, the hind leg given out. Harris is off his pony in a single movement, raising the rifle for the final shot. As he glances at his priming, a rumble of fear runs through his bowels as he hears a squeal and a series of low, angry grunts mixed with the clatter of hooves. The bull is charging.
Harris holds on the chest and touches off the first barrel, the quarter-pound shotput of lead knocking the black male down with a hollow thump as the big ball strikes. To Harris' growing fright, the bull scrambles back to his feet, the grunts of anger now a steady rumble of low, determined fury. Thoroughly scared, Harris slaps the wobbling foresight on the chest again and fires the last barrel. Whock! The bull falls and once more starts to rise to kill the man. Spilling powder, Harris manages to get a charge down one barrel, followed by a hasty ball. Still fumbling with the percussion cap, he realizes that it is not necessary. Halfway to his knees, the jet-black bull staggers, hooks his long horns twice and shudders as death takes him.
Captain William Cornwallis Harris realizes he is the first man to take the sable antelope, in the opinion of many the noblest, fiercest and most handsome of his kin on the African continent. Kudu bulls are delicately beautiful, oryx are savage and stark. But, the sable? The sable is a man's trophy.
I've often wondered if Cornwallis Harris' collecting the first sableor Harrisbuckjust might not have been the grandest experience anybody ever had on safari. And, Harris did it the right way, spending three days to come up with his game andeven taking a half-charge at the end. It's likely that he who did the deed wrote it best.
"It were vain to attempt a description of the sensations I experienced," said Harris, "when thus, after three days of toilsome tracking, and feverish anxiety unalleviated by any incident that could inspire the smallest hope of ultimate success, I at length found myself in actual possession of so brilliant an addition to the riches of Natural History."
That sort of talk makes me conclude that Harris was a pretty reasonable dude. Ah, but there were plenty of them.
It's possible that Roualeyn George Gordon Cumming might have had a chance to read Harris' book, but if so, the second major writer on African hunting doesn't mention it. A very big man for his day at fourteen stone (196 pounds), Cumming was the perfect freelance individualist, replete with a beard like a wild bushfire and a penchant for wearing kilts under any and all circumstances. Tall and powerful, he was probably everything that the well-built but recuperating Harris wasn't: Cumming was a showman who became known throughout Europe and the British Isles by the sobriquet "The Lion Hunter," while Harris was much more the scientist, zoologist and artist.
Roughly thirteen years younger than Harris, Cumming was an Eton graduate and the son of a noble Scottish family who had his first whiff of African sport on a South African stopover in 1838, the same year that Harris was back in India publishing his book. Evidently it made a lasting impression, because after a few years of wanderings through India and North America, Cumming joined the Cape Mounted Rifles and arrived back where it looked like he belonged.
In 1843, Gordon Cumming took off for "the blue" and stayed there for five years, his adventures culminating in the 1850 book Five Years of a Hunter's Life in the Far Interior of South Africa. An instant success, Cumming gained a reputation not unlike a combination of Dick Butkus and Tom Selleck in one characteristically shirtless hunk. Of course, he was either fearless or crazy or, as anybody who has spent any time in the African bush will likely surmise, both. His specialty was jumping into crock-crawling waters after wounded hippos, cutting slots through their hides and dragging them to land with the help ofhis men, one of whom, his personal servant, had been a cab driver in London.
That by himself Gordon Cumming, during his five years of bare-chested hunting in a tattered kilt, killed over one hundred elephants is not extraordinary. Some forty years later, members of a venerable Voortrekker family called Van Zyl had what was presumably a charming single afternoon slaughtering one hundred and four elephants, mostly cows and calves, after chasing them into a marsh near Moçmedes, in southwestern Angola. Why did they do it? I assure you that I have no idea except that it may have represented rural white mentality toward wildlife generally, or more likely, extremely, at that time. Today I doubt that anybody would come down harder on the Van Zyl party than a modern sport hunter.
When Gordon Cumming returned to Britain in 1848, he had with him a captured Bushman named Ruyter and an incredible thirty tons of trophies, including his ox wagons! This passel of loot was shown in the Great Exhibition in London in 1851 and was used to open a museum seven years later in Fort Augustus, Inverness, which kept Cumming well in the limelight as a lecturer and raconteur on African hunting. Loving every moment, he wallowed in his reputation, growing his red beard to the size of a bath towel and generally playing the unrepentant wild man with hair nets, daggers and pistols until he got a funny hunch around the middle of March 1866. On the 24th, he was laid out in the newly delivered coffin he had ordered, eccentric to the last. Pretty good. He was forty-six.
South Africa remained for the next fifty-plus years the springboard for adventure into the interior, the hunting grounds always moving farther north as man cut the bush, drove off the game and generally overbred, leaving the recently teeming plains and vleis of the Transvaal and other new farming areas in much the same state as those achieved through similar and earlier methods in Europe and America. Eventually, Rhodesia was opened through the rather grudging courtesy of King Lobengula and much new interest was focused there. It attracted such great hunters and naturalists as Frederick Courteney Selous, who started his career as a professional at South Africa's Algoa Bay in September of 1871, nineteen years old and with £400 in his pockets, quite a bit in those days. Selous was killed in 1917 in askirmish with German forces in Tanganyika but he pressed a lot of mighty fine times between the pages of his life. It was he who guided Cecil Rhodes to Rhodesia, wrote a string of good books, was a close friend of Teddy Roosevelt and is generally considered to have been Rider Haggard's model for Allan Quatermain. He is often referred to as Roosevelt's "white hunter" in 1909, but this is not so. The two only met a couple of times for lunch during Roosevelt's stay.
It wasn't until the great colonial rush at the turn of the century, and especially the events of the building of the Mombasa Victoria-Uganda Railway between 1896 and 1901 that East Africa, and with it the modern safari, found a foothold in some pretty rough terrain. The "Lunatic Line," as it was better known in Parliament, cost about 34,000 various imported Indian coolie casualties, more than one hundred of whom were taken by the Man-Eaters of Tsavo, two highly innovative male lions that shut down the entire project before being finally sorted out by an officer named Patterson, who wrote a best-seller on his experiences.
At last, though, here was a situation that physically permitted a visiting sportsman to get to his hunting grounds, possibly the finest on earth, without having to spend long weeks or months in an ox-wagon. By using the 560-mile steel ribbons, a man could land in Mombasa and actually be hunting only a few days later, often near a funny little tent town that had sprung up on some high flats, a crazy place full of crazier people called Nairobi.
True, there had been considerable private hunting activity in East Africa before this, but again along the lines of the do-it-yourself Indian shikars or the southern African shooting trips. Probably the first spot an officer or a gentleman of means considered in the 1890s was then called Somali Land. Just across the Red Sea from British Aden, it was primitive (hell, it still is!), full of game and largely still wild tribes, yet within reach of British influence.
Before the Uganda Railway came into use in the early 1900s, Somali Land was just the ticket for the man a bit tired of tigers. One of them, in fact, seems to have owned my copy of Captain C. J. Meliss' Lion Hunting in Somali-land (the hyphen apparently having been optional), a charming 1895 opus onshooting sport in that country. Mine is full of notes and comments by one General G. H. More-Molyneux, C.B., D.S.O., and dated Agra (India), February 25, 1901. Clearly, from his inscriptions, General Molyneux was considering a shooting trip to Somali Land. On the fly page he writes:
In a review of this book in The Pioneer of July 12th, 1895, the following occurs. "To all who want good sport at a reasonable cost Somali Land may be recommended. All expenses including those of voyage can be covered for Rs600 [rupees] per month on a trip [illegible] over twelve weeks or longer, and the gain to health from living in a glorious climate is worth more than the outlay."
But, for all the joys of Somali Land, problems with the Mahdi and subsequent military expeditions dampened civilian enthusiasm considerably just at the time that Kenya was getting into gear. By 1909, the first really big East African safari was in the field. At the helm was Theodore Roosevelt, who, nineteen days before his departure, had been president of the United States.
Probably nothing in the world of hunting ever rocked the public as did the Roosevelt African Expedition, and a reading of his subsequent book, African Game Trails, is more worthwhile with every year that passes. Other books on the expedition give an even better insight into the times, particularly such marvelously lunatic flights of fantasy as that taken by J. Martin Miller, "the celebrated Author and Traveler," who has the African thickets hopping with Australian kangaroos and, from his illustrations, teeming with Asian tigers.
To appreciate the impact of the Roosevelt safari on the public in general and the infant safari industry in particular, it must be remembered that Roosevelt, even before San Juan Hill, had always been bigger than life. For one of the most flamboyant men of his times to hie himself off to what many thought would be sure death at the claws and teeth ofas he called them"the beasts of raven" was a pressman's dream. Teddy didn't let them down, either. Back home, whole congregations prayed for his safety as he started off on the Uganda Railway atMombasa and eventually ended up at Khartoum some ten months later.
At the head of some five hundred porters, askaris (guards) and other personnel, Teddy carried along such oddenda as a rabbit's foot given him for luck by ex-heavyweight champion John L. Sullivan, a British double express rifle subscribed to as a gift from virtually every living author on the subject of African hunting as well as half the peerage in England and even a pigskin-bound library of classics weighing some sixty pounds and carried along with everything else on a porter's head.
He personally collected, mostly for museums, 296 animals ranging from bull elephants to Naivasha pygmy mice, the entire bag of the expedition encompassing 164 different species. From the publicity of the Roosevelt trip, safari was off to a roaring start.
At the time of the Roosevelt safari, the premier if not the only outfitting firm in Africa was Newland & Tarlton of Nairobi who, working with F. C. Selous and Edward North Buxton, made Teddy's arrangements. One of the two Australian partners, Leslie J. Tarlton, acted as "second" professional hunter to R. J. Cuninghame, a famous character. The Scottish Cuninghame's qualifications for keeping the recent president's tail away from all those snapping jaws, besides being a Cambridge graduate, included having been a professional ivory hunter, an arctic whaler, a hunter-naturalist in Lapland, a transport rider in South Africa and a collector for the British Museum in other corners of the world.
As soon as they organized their firm, Newland & Tarlton realized that they had nearly cornered what would be an institution of immense financial importance to the new colony of Kenya, whose balance of payments was still very shaky. Essentially, the company acted as agents for visiting sportsmen or naturalists by receiving baggage shipments, organizing headmen, porters, guides, cooks, mounts, tentage, servants, equipment and askaris, as well as virtually all the thousands of items required for a long safari. There were licenses to be bought, medical supplies to be purchased and properly packed, liquor, tinned goods, arms and ammunition and clothing to be hand-tailored by the local Indian merchants according to patterns sent ahead. Anybody arriving fresh without this preparation would haveneeded weeks, at least, to get an expedition into the field, and that provided they knew the local languages and conditions. A well-known Chicago cartoonist, John T. McCutcheon, who accompanied the 1909 Carl Akeley American Museum of Natural History trip, wrote that, upon merely sending a cable to Newland & Tarlton, he could arrive "with only a suit-case, with the certainty that everything would be in readiness."
The staff at N&T had style. The arrangements they put on for their safaris, perfectly provisioned and prepackaged, normally featured a hundred-plus porters, each wearing a navy sweater with N&T sewn on the front in scarlet, two pairs of new boots usually swinging from their necks. (The law required that the porters be supplied with the boots; they were rarely worn: they hurt.) The askaris were even snazzier in the N&T private army uniform of white knickerbockers and blue shirts. If you could afford it, nothing was too much trouble on an early "champagne safari," but perhaps it made small difference to a wounded lion or charging buffalo, which stood a pretty good chance of getting you removed from Who's Who without the slightest consideration for your last donation to the Fund for Animals. Despite the obvious trappings, however, there remained the fact that in no way could dangerous or elusive game be hunted without discomfort and some degree of dangerat least not if you were doing it right.
After Roosevelt's book hit the market and safari became the equivalent of the European Grand Tour, other outfitters and hunting organization firms entered the market, doing well for themselves and the colony's economy. Not all agreed with the "champagne safari" approach, though. Chauncey Hugh Stigand, elephant hunter and author, reckoned that such carryings on were "out of place" and "spoilt the charm of the wilds." Roosevelt, too, wrote that camp life "seemed almost too comfortable" for those used only to the wilder aspects of the American West and the North Woods. After a few years, most safari-goers seemed to agree with them, and the Arabian Nights atmosphere of the early trips settled down in favor of those who would rather listen to a hyena symphony than a gramophone, and prefer red stringy guinea fowl to Chicken Kiev. I often wonder when it was that warm beer usurped champagne. Probably just before I got into the business.
The early, boomtown days after the Roosevelt safari firmly established East Africa, particularly Kenya, as the classic safari country, in my opinion largely because of the incredible people who lived there from that period, overlapping one another right up until the 1960s. A dozen books would be needed in addition to the hundreds already written about the early East African hunters, many of whom penned their own or were written of by other hunters. Some were Selous, Frederick Jackson, Philip Percival (thirty-five consecutive times president of the East African Professional Hunters Association), his brother Blayney, once the only game warden in Kenya, "Karamojo" Bell, Jimmy Sutherland, "Samaki" Salmon, "Deaf" Banks, Bror Blixen, Rainsford, Dugmore, "Bwana" Cottar, Cuninghame, Carl Akeley, Sir Alfred Pease, Foran, Powell-Cotton and Stigand, not forgetting Arthur Newmann, J. A. Hunter, Fritz Shindeler, Denys Finch-Hatton, P. J. Pretorius, Pitman, Ionides and the Greys (both killed by game). Every name brings three more to mind. Outfitters like Safariland. Places like Tsavo Bridge. Hotels like the New Stanley and the Norfolk. They all meant one thing: safari. May the shades of these old ones forgive me if I have omitted many of their names. They knew who they were.
But paradise in the "Pleistocene," as Roosevelt viewed East Africa zoologically, was not to last indefinitely. Only until 1914, in fact, when the British opened fire at Bagamoyo and Dar-es-Salaam on August 8, beginning the East African campaign of World War I. War in this theatre was perhaps not as savage as the complete slaughter in Europe, but it was nonetheless deadly. Of course, all safari activities were immediately shut down, most professional hunters and ivory hunters alike either flying fighters or scouting, as did both Bell and Pretorius. Selous was killed fighting as a captain. Finally, on November 11, 1918, with the German forces poised to flood into Rhodesia, the Armistice was signed and happy days were here again. And they were, too.
From 1920 to about 1938 was the real heyday of the East African safari. Most professional hunters operated in Kenya, Tanganyika (formerly German East Africa and then British until independence in 1961) and Uganda, finding incredible concentrations of game because of the long cessation in hunting activity. Of course, upon special request, they often went into theBelgian Congo, Sudan and Ethiopia, but the main areas were still Kenya, Tanganyika and Uganda.
One thing that vastly improved after World War I was the automobile, greatly facilitating access to remote areas. That the "motor safari" has been long misunderstood, even by the old hunters themselves, is a suspicion that continues to lurk under my balding brow. Somehow, there was a concept that taking a Dodge Power Wagon, a Willy's-Knight or even a Buick (as Lord Delamere did) on a hunting trip was in some way "unsportsmanlike," the logical presumption being that the actual hunting was to be done from the automobile or car. Well, so far as I know, there is no place in Africa where this is not strictly illegal and there is no sportsman's group anywhere in the world where such practices are considered fair chase.
When a hunter has, say, a month's vacation and has waited all his or her life for a crack at a safari, such a trip would be instantly ruled out if the hunter had to walk or ride in an ox-wagon for the full month just to get where he was going. A Jeep or Land Rover certainly doesn't help stalking; if anything it is a hindrance. It doesn't help shooting either. That's up to the hunter. What it does help is facility of access into and simple mobility through the hunting area, provided it is not misused.
It would be as logical to suggest that a man who flew from New York to Johannesburg or Lusaka, Zambia, or Maun, Botswana, was equally unsporting rather than taking a windjammer. Of course, hunting cars are abused. Certainly, game is killed illegally from them in some places. On the other hand, people cheat at marriage, cards, golf and business, too, but they rarely hang a memento of their perfidy on the wall. Like guns, knives, scissors and some drugs, a hunting car is merely another tool that can be misused but, in fact, rarely is, especially considering the stringency of the game laws and the hunter's self-imposed code of conduct.
The postwar period was typified by such work as that of Martin and Osa Johnson, whose self-avowed "objective" was "to film, more completely than it had ever been done before, a record of Africa's fast-vanishing wildlife, in order that posterity might be able permanently to recall it as it had existed in its last and greatest stronghold." That they shot tons of big game, often in provoked charges, while making their films never seemed todawn on anybody as an inconsistency, nor would I second-guess the Johnsons who were, after all, in the business of adventure and held valid licenses.
The greatest event since Teddy Roosevelt's safari was that of H. R. H. the Prince of Wales, briefly to be Edward VIII in 1936. In September 1928, the Prince arrived and was taken in tow by Baron Bror von Blixen, "Pete" Pearson, "Samaki" Salmon, the Honorable Denys Finch-Hatton and a proper collection of knights, governors and notables for a shooting trip that lasted into December. He must have had a pretty fair time as he returned for the period January-April 1930.
East Africa, of course, realized the value of the safari trade and it's always interesting to note that the degree of game protection came directly in proportion to the amount of money spent through hunting tourism, as it should have. Price increases stayed pretty much in line with inflation, which was slight even in those days.
More and more private individuals, largely ranchers and farmers who dealt with big game every day, became licensed professional hunters, although all had to pass stringent requirements. Dead tourists were bad for business. As the years went by, firms like Ker and Downey, White Hunters Africa, Safariland and dozens more came into being, each jealously guarding their stable of well-known professionals as movie studios guarded their leading men.
World War II, of course, shut down operations, and it wasn't until the late forties that things got rolling again. With the postwar financial boom, the result was more and more Americans and fewer Europeans, particularly Britons and Germans. Still, one of the most far-reaching aspects of a war that accounted, in one way or another, for 55,000,000 dead people was the fact that for millions of other people who had previously considered hunting either the province of the backwoods or of the socially and financially elite, firearms were now a part of their lives. In the United States, blue-collar workers, who would never before their military training have thought of buying a deer rifle or pheasant shotgun, swelled sales of arms and of hunting licenses to a previously unheard-of level. Britain clung to its usual iron-clad licensing laws for guns, so the case was different there. Perhaps the whole thing culminated in RobertRuark's Horn of the Hunter (following earlier works by Hemingway), the really charming tale of his first safari in Kenya and Tanganyika in 1952, with the then almost fuzzy-cheeked Harry Selby. The book not only made Selby but cast him as the model hero, Peter MacKenzie, for Something of Value, Ruark's smash later novel.
Horn of the Hunter, although it sold well but not magnificently in those days, was the first message to the American hunter that safari need not be the mere musing of a British baronet. In the new opulence, many could afford their own shauri (work or undertaking, business, loosely used in KiSwahili) and many caught the hint, booking the outfitting companies as fully as sugar cubes in a box. In East Africa, all went well until various independences in the 1960s, especially Kenya in 1963. Uhuru, it was called.
I well remember being there in those days, of seeing the shift of power, which became more of a landslide. It took some years, but sure enough, in the early seventies, safari was closed one bright day, without warning to prepaid clients, in its real home, Kenya. The official reason was pressure on game. That the pressure came from poachers who moved their ivory after sale through the national airline to the Far East in what has been shown to have been direct collusion with the family of the then president of Kenya, Jomo Kenyatta, seems not to have overly impressed the preservationists who see the death of any game for any reason as totalling the same result, a simplistic and untrue conclusion. The point was that the booming safari trade was producing the funds to support an effective game department that greatly curtailed poaching and the movement of unlicensed game products. To the "heavy" money, this just would not do. Hunting was outlawed, to what must have been the resounding cheers of the preservationists and the resigned heartbreak of the conservationists, the hunters and those who really cared about animal dynamics. Kenya has gone downhill ever since, poachinglike any larceny, impossible to fight without funds and organizationtoppling in two-handed ax strokes what was left of the commercially valuable animals. Perhaps it was just another example of commerce slaughtering conservation.
A fine example of how it might have been handled to the good of all but the poachers would be that of the Selous GameReserve in southeastern Tanzania, which was opened to very carefully controlled sport hunting late in 1961, and which contains the great man's grave near where he was killed at Behobeho. A full 22,000 square miles, it is the second largest reserve on earth. Whereas the whole area had been poached previously, this concept permitted hunting safaris from America and elsewhere to support three game department bases, one of which alone had a staff of more than 450 people, a dry-season track much longer than the east-west width of the United States, antipoaching posts in large numbers, three ferries and three bridges, and which still had enough of a surplus from the million and a half shillings produced by the less than one hundred hunting safaris each year to provide the government with a tidy sum for its coffers. Now, that's common-sense game management, good for the game and hunter alike, as well as for the host government.
That, twenty-two years after its opening to sport hunting, the Selous is still one of the top spots in Africa for big game clearly shows that the pressure that would have been put on the place by unpoliced poaching hasn't occurred as it has in Kenya, where sport hunting is illegal. It also shows that game management is completely viable, if only control can be maintained by responsible authorities. Those are facts, not emotion.
The example of the Selous was quickly followed in the early 1960s by other emerging countries (e.g. Zambia, formerly Northern Rhodesia until 1964, and Botswana, the Bechuanaland Protectorate until 1966). The safari industry has been one of the mainstays of development of these and many other newly independent nations. Roughly in the same time period, hunting became more available in Chad, the Central African Republic, Sudan, Zaire, Ethiopia, Angola and Mozambique as well as some of the far more specialized west coast nations such as Gabon, Cameroon and Senegal. This increased availability of sport hunting was largely the result of former East African outfitters and safari firms realizing that, although Kenya was dead through poaching corruption and Uganda gone with Idi Amin Dada, there were many other lands with sport as good and economics as needy as the Cradle of Safari. They provided the equipment and expertise. Free enterprise being what it is, thereis still a wide variety of hunting in Africa for the visitor or local alike.
An especially interesting example of the economic value of safari and the concept of game being handsomely able to pay its own way would be that of the Republic of South Africa.
Not much more than ten years ago, few sportsmen would have even hallucinated about taking a general safari in the relatively "civilized" Republic of South Africa, long under the plough or grazed by domestic herds. Today, not many countries produce more foreign exchange than South Africa directly through what is locally known as game farming. Clearly, South Africa could have used a public relations firm when developing the label "game farm," which gives an impression of closely fenced pastures stocked with game that is bought and sold much as at an American "game farm," which rocks pheasant to sleep and releases quail for dog trainers to work their bird dogs. It's just not so.
The size of some South African "ranches" would make Texans blush with envy, but the point is that the only real difference in this type of hunting is that the ground is privately owned as opposed to the "block" or "concession" system used in other countries where safari firms lease hunting rights to companies over one interval or another. Not all, but much of South African hunting is as wild as you find elsewhere. There are differences, many highly favorable to a visiting hunter's purse, and there's a difference in flavor no matter where one hunts. The interesting thing is that untold hundreds of thousands of hectares and morgen that even a few years ago were scrub grazing for a mix of game and cattle have now been entirely allocated to game. Why? Economics, as always. Game pays its own way, eats nearly anything, is more resistant to disease and predators and generally produces a higher and better use for the land. In times of extreme drought, even game needs a hand, as it does now while I write in the African winter of 1983. Still, it doesn't have to be caught, innoculated, dipped for ticks or branded. Even the old enemies become assets to the farmer who switches from cattle to game. One friend of mine used to lose as many as thirty calves a season to leopards not so far north of the city where I live. Now, those same leopards are worth a cool $1,000 to $1,500 each to sport hunters, not a bad trade-off for animals thatcaused an annual liability of well over ten grand and had to be poisoned! Tell me, is that bad for leopards?
Lions were and are shot and poisoned as vermin legally in cattle country near the Kruger National Park. Now, in hunting areas, they're worth a couple of thousand bucks each. They sure aren't indiscriminately killed any longer by farmers or control hunters on lands reserved for safari. Is that bad news for lions? It was a problem when it involved $900 steers. But what game farmer would deny a pride of lions a few wildebeest at a couple of hundred dollars each, considering the fees the lions will bring just to be hunted, collected or not?
This sort of thinking is, then, the basis of the modern mechanics of the safari industry in Africa, whether in South Africa or Sudan. Once again, the elemental economic rules apply, whether to the garment district of New York City or to the wait-a-bit thorn of the Luangwa Valley or the Okavango Swamp: what can justify its existence stays, what can't must go, whether a skirt-manufacturing plant or a herd of impala. Sorry, I didn't make the rules ... .
SAFARI: THE LAST ADVENTURE. Copyright © 1984 by Peter Hathaway Capstick. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews. For information, address St. Martin's Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010.