“And after the thunder of guns, I saw the deadly giant beast humbled and heaped whilst solemn faces stared out from under the shadow of wide-brimmed hats.” - Unknown Author
On day 18 of a three-week hunt, hazy smoke floated across the river from Zambia as we drove the two-track road in the Kwando Conservancy of Namibia’s Caprivi Strip. The big tom leopard had not returned, and our hopes, as well as our rear ends, had been well-worn by the antics of that astute feline. Still, we had taken a huge hippo and a wide-bossed buffalo, and still we were after the pinnacle of African hunting.
The red sun, well above the horizon, blazed down as we stopped to relieve ourselves and for Karl to puff on a cigarette. On his seventh safari with me, Karl, 75 years old despite his pitch-black hair, stood and gazed around him, mesmerized once again by Africa. “What a beautiful place,” he said in his slow, steady voice. Below us rushed the swollen waters of the Kwando, at a 24-year high.
The cigarette extinguished, we resumed our patrol, keeping a careful eye on the ground ahead. It had been a long, hard hunt already, and our hopes were looking more and more like a dream. Normally at this time of year one might see three hundred elephants before breakfast, but now there was water everywhere and no need for them to gather at the river. We cut tracks daily, but not in the usual numbers or variety of sizes, and everyone in our hunting party was secretly beginning to suspect that, failing a miracle, this safari would end without its primary trophy. But the vigil continued, always looking for those huge round indentations that accelerated our pulses. An hour and a half later, traveling
from north to south, we arrived at our boundary, where hunting concession abuts Mundumu national park. All fell silent as the vehicle came to a halt. Before us, miraculously, was the trail of an elephant bull that had exited the park and swung onto our road. He had a good track – not huge, but worth following. Everyone gathered their gear. We left the Land Cruiser and set off at a brisk pace to see about this bull. The temperature began to climb higher, with the air thick with humidity and the smoke of bushfires. The track left the road, fortunately to the north, into the hunting area and away from the park. The bull’s hind feet left impressions twenty-three inches in diameter. He was easy to follow, but for us walking in the soft ground was laborious.
Several miles later, my tracker’s pointing finger brought the team to a halt. Feeding in the distance was the maker of the indentations that we’d been following. His wide, sunken temples, thick trunk and overall condition indicated an old bull. I’d been taught to take only the oldest of tuskers, the post-productive males who have already left behind their genes for my sons to hunt. And then Humphrey, the tracker, gently slapped his thigh and grabbed it with both hands, confirming my initial thought: thick ivory – very thick. The bull’s stubby right tusk stood out only about two feet. Its blunt, worn tip, stained black with the sap of untold felled trees, confirmed his age. “Karl, that’s your bull!” I whispered in excitement.
We re-checked our rifles and laid down any unnecessary gear and advanced on the colossus before us.
A few tall trees dotted this otherwise open area. The burned and black grass crackled beneath our feet as we took the wind in our faces and the sun on our backs. Everyone was breathing noticeably faster, even at our reduced pace, as we single-filed in behind an enormous termite mound, the only thing between the elephant and us. As we peered around it, a creaking, cracking noise arose. The bull had his forehead against an enormous knob-thorn tree and was rhythmically rocking it back and forth. The ancient tree crashed to the ground with a deafening sound and an impact we felt through the soles of our shoes.
With evident satisfaction, the bull delicately began to pick blossoms from the fallen branches, with his right side toward us and the thick, short tusk protruding proudly. No shot here, with the fallen tree now in the way – we needed the other side of the termite mound. The rich smell of the uprooted soil mixed with the musky tang of elephant in our nostrils as we carefully changed positions to look for a clear shot.
Seemingly at arm’s length, the statuesque creature fed intently. Karl was now propped against a tree, at the ready, with me on the other side of the trunk trying to keep him calm. Then the bull pivoted and showed us his left side. That yellow-brown tusk made us all go wide-eyed and dry-mouthed. At least four feet of thick, worn ivory jutted from his lip.
It became eerily quiet. The years of preparation for this moment took over and a deep calm settled over me. My mentor’s instructions, the books and stories all fell into place. We would take the safer shoulder shot for Karl’s – and my – first elephant. The first shot played out in slow motion. I could smell the powder burn, but there was no sound. And then the bull crashed to earth just 20 paces away.
The dust settled. Handshakes all around. As a low, dull ringing of several shots echoed in the base of my skull, the enormity of what lay before us became apparent. In the hunter’s reflection, we looked upon the prize that lay before us with utmost joy and distinct remorse.
Some years have passed since this day, and each time I see Karl – at a hunting show, a dinner, my wedding in Texas, or in the hunting fields of Africa – we share a quiet moment
as we greet. Through this elephant, we have a lifelong bond. That ivory, by the fireplace in Karl’s home, fills the room with many memories. The tusks each had a diameter exceeding 18 inches. The bull’s left tusk, 6’2” long, weighed 75 pounds. The right tusk, 4’6” long and 55 pounds. This is Karl’s prize trophy, the lifelong dream that holds the place of honour and the first story told when new guests arrive.
Karl Pedroni and Tom Aitchison have booked safaris with Jofie and Monica for 2010, 2011 and 2012 and are planning future safaris. Tom and Karl have walked a long road with Jofie on eight safaris so for, and for all of the Big Five in the wild places of Africa. There are many stories.
About my mentors: I have had the distinct pleasure of spending time with some of the most famous elephant hunters of modern hunting, all but one calling Namibia home. Volker Grellmann, the “grandfather” of hunting in Namibia. Kai-Uwe Denker, the 100 pound title holder, and most dedicated hard working ethical hunter I will ever have the pleasure of meeting. Koos Pienaar, the quiet and reserved hunter, hard working, with a masterful silent knowledge of tracking and intimate knowledge of the quiet places of Africa. Ryan Wienand of Tanzania, for giving me my first taste that is becoming a lifelong passion. And last, but not least, my father, Joof Lamprecht – sharing tales of ivory hunting in Angola and Namibia were my bed time stories as a child. Thanks to you all.