[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]January 20, 2018
Great Man, Great PH, Great Friend
By Lowell C. Douglas
I lost a dear friend yesterday – a true gentleman by royal standards, for he took the Queen and many of her subjects on safari. He has been written about by the most famous wildlife authors – Robert Ruark in “Something of Value” – and Ernest Hemingway. He was the author of many periodicals and short stories about Africa and its glorious animal life, and was a conservationist to the core. He was the ultimate friend, and he was a true family man – and that was hard to accomplish when he was so often on safari.
Besides Ernest Hemingway and Robert Ruark, he guided some of the most famous people in the world – English royalty, Juan Carlos King of Spain, and so many more, yet he made me feel that we were the closest of friends. I had five three-week safaris with Harry in Botswana and Kenya, and that was when Kenya was the African movie capital of the world.
This gentleman of all gentlemen – a wildlife conservationist who will be forever honored as such – is a friend I’ll never forget. When I flew into Nairobi, Kenya, or into Johannesburg, South Africa, he was always there to meet my plane. We shared the same respect for all fauna and flora. We both wanted the old days to live forever, for our kids, and for every person that loved the wild. We faced almost certain death together in stopping charges from elephant, lion, and buffalo, but we closed each night with toasts of thanks to the good Lord and our good fortune.
Harry literally wrote the book on conservation and the saving of all wildlife species – and that was hard to do with the encroachment of civilization and tourists. Of course there is still the awful poaching of elephant and rhino for tusks and horns to be sold to China. Ninety per cent of all poachers work for corrupt governments; portions of wildlife parks are shut down by the governments because of alleged need for road repairs, so the government poachers can slaughter the government’s quotas for shipments of rhino horns and ivory to China. It is a mess. But there are more elephant alive and well in all of southern Africa today than when I first hunted them in 1973, thanks to the political presence of Harry. “You have to give some ivory to the government leaders to protect most of the herds.” SHAME.
Harry loved to tell the story of his early days in Kenya when Princess Elizabeth came on safari. The now Queen is an avid markswoman, and she is and was a hunter, as well as an outdoor enthusiast who loved to just sit and view the wildlife of Africa.
On an auspicious occasion she stayed at the newly opened “Treetops” in Kenya. There, all guests were treated to lodging in the finest raised bedrooms that overlooked a favorite waterhole. When guests were finally readied for bed, an elderly Kenyan ex-soldier would patrol the area with a double side-by-side .458 to prevent any potential trouble that ventured too close.
It was there at Treetops on 6 February, 1952 that the young Princess Elizabeth was told her father, King George Vl was dead.
Her bodyguard at the time, hunter Jim Corbett, wrote in the visitor’s log book:
“For the first time in the history of the world a young girl climbed into a tree, one day a Princess, and after having what she described as her ‘most thrilling experience’, she climbed down from the tree next day a Queen – God bless her.”
As far as I know, no client was ever killed or injured on one of Harry’s safaris, but many suffered mild heart flutters from being scared to death. I had two of those flutters. One was when we were on an elephant hunt where we had tracked an elephant for eleven hours through rather thick brush, but we never got a high-percentage shot. Finally, we were within twenty metres of him. But that 20 metres was uphill to him, and that meant that if the first shot didn’t bring him down, he would seek his escape downhill. After keeping very still for about 20 minutes, he suddenly whirled to face our direction – trunk raised for a better whiff of our scent. He couldn’t make up his mind to charge or not. Thank goodness elephant’s eyesight is very poor. Harry held his double rifle to his shoulder and clicked off the safety, and I did the same. At the sound of our double clicks, the elephant flared his ears and took a step towards us. Harry whispered, “Wait! But be ready! Aim slightly below the middle of his eyes if he comes – but wait until he comes halfway.” My mathematics came into play – He’s just over 20 metres away now – that’d be a shot at ten metres! I obeyed.
The elephant suddenly stretched his trunk toward us, his butt seemed to fall toward the ground, then his trunk folded under his chest, and he charged.
“Shoot!” shouted Harry. The huge animal seemed to stop on a dime, and Harry shot. Its front legs splayed, and he fell straight down on his chest. We slowly stepped forward, side-by-side with rifles on our shoulders. Harry pushed me back a step and poked the eye of the downed creature. No blink, and no movement. We had our elephant.
I was not with Harry when he had the most bizarre hunting experience ever. He had stashed his client-hunter in a safe spot with one of his trackers, and he took his favorite tracker to track a wounded lion that had made it to the edge of a small river. A lion doesn’t usually want to get wet. Its tracks were on an animal trail that was also a vehicle two-track, and were easy to follow. Then Harry decided to stop pushing the lion, and sent the tracker back to get the Land Rover, but told him to tell his client and the other tracker to stay safe. When the tracker returned with the vehicle (which had had its doors removed) they began to follow the wounded lion in the Rover down the closest side of the vehicle tracks to the river. As the road turned toward the river, the dense brush on both sides of the road lessened. After Harry glassed all of the low cover for the lion, the tracker took a second rifle, and suggested that he examine the open drinking area for blood spoor that would tell which way the lion had chosen for his next walk.
Harry was sitting at the steering wheel, the furthest seat from the river. After the tracker was nearly down to the water’s edge, Harry noticed a slight movement of the brush. He stood up in the seat – rifle ready – and searched for any more movement. When he saw nothing, he slid back into his seat, his rifle across his lap. He was looking down the dirt road for his tracker when he heard the loudest roar ever, and the lion leapt from the bush right onto the passenger seat of the Rover. Harry’s gun was still in his lap, with his left hand on the trigger. He had no time to shoulder the firearm, but he managed to fire both barrels from his lap. He admits to the luckiest two shots ever fired – both bullets hit the lion right in the face, and the lion lay dead in the passenger seat!
Harry said that he told the quickly arriving tracker that he had coerced the lion into the passenger seat so that the two of them would not have to load the 600 pound beast! And the tracker swears to the story!
In Botswana, Harry and I were on safari after one of Botswana’s famous big Cape buffalo. We would drive in the open-air vehicles down every dirt track that led to thicker brush, then we’d try to follow game trails when buffalo tracks seemed to warrant a closer look. Big buffalo seldom want to put up with all the grunting of a big herd, so they typically travel in small bachelor units. Harry’s tracker spotted a group of five buff bulls to our left.
“A beeg one!” he shouted! They were in a pretty big open area, so we drove slowly to a better viewing opportunity. After following them for about ten minutes, Harry put the binoculars back to his eyes.
“My God – that’s the biggest buffalo I have ever seen! Get out, and get the guns – I’m going to leave the motor running to cover our first movements.” We walked and crawled for about thirty minutes. The big boy was the closest of the five to us. Harry would glass and glass, each time resting his grip, and muttering, “That’s the biggest buff I’ve ever seen!”
Finally we got an unexpected break. They began to feed in our direction, and unbelievably closed the distance to our hiding place behind really good cover. The wind was perfect. Suddenly, they stopped feeding, and the big one raised his nose into the air.
“He’s got us! It’s too far for a shot,” Harry whispered. Then the herd began to feed again directly toward us. We waited. Again they suddenly lifted their noses into the air. They were about 150 metres away – too far for a certain killing shot. They turned and began a slow stroll away from us. But when the big herd came into view just beyond them, the group of five turned back toward us and actually made a short trot in our direction.
“Get ready!” Harry whispered. I had a perfect branch on a high piece of brush we were hiding behind. They kept coming toward us. At about 75 metres, they stopped to graze again, the big one closest to us.
“Line him up,” Harry whispered. I slowly brought the rifle to my shoulder, and Harry raised his as well.
“If he turns sideways, take him through the shoulder.” The buffalo turned for a perfect broadside, and I squeezed.
“A perfect shot!” Harry shouted. He was down and the rest fled. We waited for about five minutes, then reloaded and walked toward him with rifles ready. Harry’s tracker had found a long stick, and we covered him from about 10 metres as he slowly walked to behind the buff. The tracker poked him with the stick – but the buffalo was dead. It ranked Number One in both horn and boss width.
Harry called everyone on the radio to come and see the biggest buffalo ever taken. The tracker started a fire with green brush to make smoke, and soon the other trackers and skinners arrived, and the partying and picture-taking began. In photos of Harry’s clients’ trophies, Harry always has his client’s smiling head above his, giving all the glory to his client.
What a gentleman – I’ll miss him every day of my life.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]