Hunting

Hunting Ivory to Kill Time (Page 2)

The year was 1948 and the author's future looked somewhat bleak, until he embarked on a 30-day safari that would change his life forever.

We set off at about 9 o'clock in single-file, as is the custom when traveling in Africa. The Boran guide set a cracking pace with the camel, and its handler brought up the rear. We skirted the lugga wherever possible to avoid the soft sand, but due to dense palm thickets or rocky outcrops we at times were forced to walk along its soft, sandy bed. I was amazed at how easily the slender Boran glided along. They appeared to walk flat-footed without digging in with their toes, whereas we did the opposite, which made it heavy going for us.

When we felt it safe to fire a rifle without disturbing any elephants that might be within earshot, I shot a gerenuk and collected some vulturine guinea fowl for food for our group. Africans would cheerfully endure any hardship as long as they had nyama (meat).

We arrived at the wells where the bulls were reputed to be drinking after 3 o'clock and found that there were still numerous animals waiting their turn to drink. There were cattle, goats, fat-tailed sheep and one camel that looked down his long nose in haughty disapproval at our intrusion. There ensued a babble of excited conversation between our guides and the people at the wells with much pointing in a certain direction. Our guides informed us that the bulls had been seen very recently grouped together in a dense palm thicket not far off.

We were thrilled by this news. After giving instructions to the cook and the Boran leading the camel to remain at the wells, Tony and I shouldered our double .470s with one of the gunbearers carrying my .318 WR, and we followed the man who claimed to have seen the elephants.

In less than a mile we arrived at the palm thicket and could clearly see the backs of five or six bulls some distance within it. One of us scrambled up a tree, but even from an elevated view the palm scrub hid the ivory. We sat down and had a cigarette; as it was getting late, we figured the group would start moving ere too long. In fact, we did not have to wait long. They started milling about and feeding, then gradually headed toward open country beyond the thicket. The wind was moving from them to us, and we moved along the outer edge of the thicket keeping abreast of the group.

Finally, the lead animal reached the edge of the thicket and hesitated. We hoped they would not turn back into the thick stuff, and our luck held as one after another of the bulls began to emerge. The first three carried poor ivory, but when No. 4 emerged there was a collective drawing in of breath from our group. He had long, reasonably thick, unbroken tusks-certainly in the hundred-pound class. The ivory of the last two bulls to emerge was also poor.

We waited for the group to move some distance from the thicket, then made our approach. The bulls were strung out in a line and moving slowly as Tony and I hurried up to the big one, but just as we got to within 40 yards and prepared to shoot, the bull behind him moved forward to cover him. Then slowly the big bull moved forward. As soon as its shoulder was well clear, Tony and I both fired. It faltered, then regained its footing as we both gave it our second barrels. There was a great deal of dust and screaming as the group took off. Our bull ran only about 40 yards before toppling.

We cut off the bull's tail-customary in order to claim ownership-and examined the tusks. We had no doubt he was in the hundred-pound class. Tony and I were both jubilant, as were the usually taciturn Boran guides who now saw the shillings we'd promised dancing before their eyes.

After all the handshaking and congratulations were over it was time to get back to the lugga and prepare for the night. We would not want to spend it close to the wells as there would be many nocturnal visitors there, such as rhino, hyena and possibly lions, which had a bad reputation in this general area as man-eaters. (Some years later, Kenya game warden George Adamson would shoot a man-eating lioness not far from here. He then captured her four small cubs, one of which was to become known as Elsa of "Born Free" fame.)

We decided on a spot well away from the wells where there was plenty of dry wood for a large campfire and made ourselves as comfortable as possible, dining on gerenuk liver and heart grilled on a forked stick. The men, including the two locals, talked long into the night whilst enjoying the meat feast.

I scooped out a depression in the sand for my hip and, placing my hat over a large well-dried elephant dropping, used it as a pillow. I lay marveling at the incongruity of our little group-that two young, white aspiring professional hunters, two Wakamba trackers, one Kikuyu cook, two wild and wooly desert nomads and one camel should all be happily settled down together on the bare sand in the middle of nowhere under a brilliant African moon, united in the single purpose of locating and bagging a bull elephant with a fine pair of tusks.

***

Next morning saw us up bright and early and back at our fine bull. Nothing had fed on his carcass during the night, and we busied ourselves with the lengthy chore of removing the two handsome tusks. All went well until we got to using the axe on the heavy bone that attaches the tusk sockets to the skull. New heavy steel axes were not available anywhere in Kenya until some years after the war, and those we had just were not up to the task. We hit on the idea that we'd use the old .577 to smash the heavy bone, allowing us to free the tusks from the skull. It worked, but those of us anywhere near got pretty well splashed with gore as the big slugs smashed into the heavy bone.

With tusks removed we were ready to pack up and trudge back to the car. But when the Boran tried to secure the tusks to the saddle of our previously placid camel he protested vigorously, and it was with difficulty that they eventually accomplished it. All went well on the return march and we arrived back at the car late that afternoon, which was just as we had left it.

Next morning we cleaned the tusks, took a few pictures and rewarded our now enthusiastic guides handsomely with shillings and also gave the small clan all the sugar, tea, coffee and maize meal we had left. Our own men complained that we should have accepted that sheep, for they dearly loved mutton. We replenished our needs in Isiolo, where we also refueled for the next part of our hunt. We would travel about 100 miles north along a series of huge luggas, which flow eastward and form the drainage of the Mathews Range.

Arriving in the Isiolo area late, we camped near a hole in the rock blasted out by the South African Air Force during the war called Buffalo Springs, which served as an excellent swimming pool. We enjoyed a lengthy swim and badly needed general cleanup.

Next morning we visited the main shop in Isiolo managed by an old Indian we all called Ghandi due to his likeness to the Mahatma. We refueled, and restocked with provisions to replace those given to the Boran, and Ghandi even lent us a substantial axe.

We set off for the Merille lugga about 100 miles farther north hoping for another hundred-pounder. We traveled along a good gravel road in the shadow of the brooding Mathews Range, and turned off just before reaching the bridge over the Merille lugga. We began picking our way over a lava-strewn scrub plain hoping to reach some wells downstream where I had camped previously. But with darkness rapidly closing in, we decided to bivouac and carry on early next morning-best not to run afoul of a large lava rock in the fading light.

Next morning as it was getting light there came an urgent warning-faro!-shouted by one of our staff. There was a rhino headed for camp. Tony and I grabbed rifles, which we kept loaded beside our stretchers, and were surprised to see a large rhino bull not 50 yards away advancing slowly in our direction and appearing intent on a closer look. He was carrying an excellent horn, and as Tony had taken out a rhino license he decided to take him.

He fired his .470 and the rhino spun ‘round a couple of times, then stood facing in our direction. The bull was probably about to collapse, but for good measure I gave him a .318 solid in the middle of his chest. He finally keeled over, and we were amazed to discover that the .318 bullet had traveled the length of the rhino's body and exited close to the root of the tail. This was a true testimonial to the phenomenal penetration of this cartridge. If ever a trophy was delivered on a plate, this was it-collected right from the camp.

We took a few pictures, then removed the horns and the two front feet. We packed up and went on to the wells where we planned to make our base camp, but we were disappointed to find very little fresh elephant sign there. Gone were all the bulls that regularly drank there when I last hunted the area.

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