Professional Hunter Nigel Archer survived an unprovoked attack by a cow elephant in the Kilombero North concession on Oct. 7, 2009, suffering a horrific tusk wound to his calf and another through his thigh and buttocks. Prompt first aid and the scrambling of a charter plane to medevac the severely injured PH to Dar es Salaam are why he survived.
All the muscle and skin of his right calf was tusked off the bone and left dangling by only a few strands of flesh, but his client, a Russian hunter who had served in the Soviet military, immediately applied a tourniquet. Radioing to camp as Archer was being driven back, word immediately reached the offices of Miombo Safaris, for whom Archer works, where Nicole Mantheakis, wife of Miombo owner Michel Mantheakis, organized a rescue.
I was hunting with Michel when he received a text message from Nicole on his sat phone. He immediately called her back to relay instructions via radio to the Kilombero camp where another PH, Darren Smit, was tending to Archer as they awaited a charter to get Archer to a hospital.
Thankfully, Miombo’s camps are all equipped with fully stocked emergency first aid kits. Michel is a virtual paramedic, an advanced “bush doctor,” so he gave detailed directions on how to start an IV, bandage the wound, administer pain medication and other instructions.
Mantheakis wisely vetoed the idea of arranging a second medevac to Nairobi, realizing that time was more important than the level of care. Fast treatment in Dar would be far preferable to delayed treatment at a better hospital in Nairobi. The decision proved crucial; doctors later said that even a delay of another half-hour would have cost Archer his leg. Exposed bone is highly susceptible to bacterial infection.
After a four-hour surgery, doctors repaired the torn calf muscle and reattached it to the bone. Miraculously, no nerves or tendons were damaged. Similarly, the femur and femoral artery in his thigh were both missed; this wound was not nearly as serious as the calf. Two days later, Archer flew to Johannesburg and underwent two more corrective surgeries. He is currently on his feet and taking physical therapy.
I was in camp with Mantheakis 10 days later when Archer’s two trackers, Kyondo and Zacariah, arrived for a vehicle transfer between camps. Mantheakis translated from Swaheli as the trackers gave us a first-hand account of how the tusking came about.
Archer was guiding a Russian client on his first safari to Africa, a 10 day buffalo hunt. The client was a terrible shot, yet he refused to take a rest on the shooting sticks. He had wounded a buffalo in the morning on the same day as the elephant assault. Archer had followed-up the buffalo and dispatched it. (Remember that, because it might explain the condition of Archer’s rifle later on.) That afternoon they spotted a good puku in a herd near thick riverine bush and papyrus.
Archer took the shooting sticks, perhaps hoping his client might change his mind, but failed to take his rifle, a .458 Lott, which he left in the truck. When the trackers spotted a herd of elephant with calves in the papyrus, they got out of the truck to take Archer his rifle. Meanwhile, the client let loose on the puku. He fired five shots, all misses.
The elephant panicked at all the shooting. They appeared confused and alarmed, not sure which way to run, the trackers said. In a group, they stampeded toward the hunting party, but appeared to be veering between the vehicle and the men. Suddenly one of the cows peeled off from the herd and came right for Archer.
It was a foot race. Kyondo screamed a warning and ran toward Archer with his rifle. The cow was closing fast, zeroing on Archer and the Russian. Kyondo barely beat the enraged elephant to Archer, handed him the rifle and darted sideways. Archer threw up his gun and fired at what the trackers said was six paces.
The cow didn’t even flinch as she lashed out at the PH with her trunk, but he deftly dove out of the way, realizing the awful horror as he hit the ground— his shot had missed the brain.