As a hunter, an indestructible spirit is essential to keep us returning
to exotic and remote areas of the world. And sometimes we believe
so much in our own longevity that we really don’t plan well
for life-threatening events that frequently occur in these adventurous
places . . .
Hunting with Barrie Duckworth, P.H.
and owner of Mokore Safaris, I just survived one of the best and
most memorable elephant hunts possible. We were at Kazuma National
Forest located in the extreme northwest corner of Zimbabwe, about
a two hour drive by bushroad from Victoria Falls. After nine safaris
to Africa and waiting several years to access this recognized big
bull area, this trip was intended to be a memorable one. Not only
was my son, Donald, accompanying me to Africa for the first time,
but our main target was to take a minimum sixty pound-plus bull
– not an easy task these days.
Being a very patient hunter, I had
spent several years going through the agonizing and difficult thought
process that a true hunter requires when trying to decide to actually
hunt the world’s largest and most dangerous land animal. For
me, the peculiar set of ethical, economical and emotional decisions
involved in elephant hunting not only took a long time, but called
into question the very essence of the hunt, i.e. is it right to
kill such a noble animal? So with heavy thoughts accompanying me
and with stout heart (I thought) we found ourselves in the Kazuma
Camp during late August 2004.
Everything went well for the first day –
seeing and stalking lots of large bulls, enjoying my son Donald’s
delight at seeing Africa game for the first time, and renewing acquaintances
with several locals who I had met the previous years.By the second
day I noticed I wasn’t able to walk more than few hundred
yards without some shortness of breath and chest pain. At 64 years,
I pride myself on being in reasonably good shape and since I always
hunt hard in Africa, I make sure I increase my workouts prior to
the trip. By the fourth day, and now in some distress, I decided
to visit the tiny Victoria Falls clinic for a checkup. After an
ECG and blood pressure checks, all is declared normal and the local
doctor suggests a severe case of indigestion, and sends me back
on the 90 kilometer journey through the bush to camp.
Mid-afternoon of the following day,
hunting in the famous Panda Masai block, we see three large bulls
at a distance. Reluctantly, since by this time I was unable to walk
without distress, we decided to stalk. After a one mile walk we
were able to see the way – all three bulls were above 50 pounds
and one was well over 60. Finally, after several years, “my
elephant”! A heart pounding final stalk, but at last moment,
all the bulls decided to depart. Again, a decision to continue following
is made with a certain understanding that physically I am in deep
trouble. Another mile or so of excruciating pain and we find ourselves
again in the final stalk of the largest bull. Finally, a first barrel
to the heart at 65 yards and a quick
second barrel as the bull turns to run. A fast
and furious 250 yard run and after two more left and rights, the
bull finally collapses in a cloud of broken trees and dust. Simultaneously,
I collapse and cannot move. I am at the final stage of a four-day
heart attack! Briefly I recover enough to appreciate the majesty
of this magnificent animal and reflect on the abject stupidity of
my continuing a hunt that should have ended several days earlier.
A 90 kilometer evacuation through
the bush to the Victoria Falls airstrip preceedes a lapse into full
cardiac arrest just as the Air Rescue plane taxis to a stop. Aboard
is (wonder of wonders!) a cardiac defibrillator machine that miraculously
brings me back to life. A two hour plane ride to Johannesburg, heart
surgery, and I’m home in two weeks.
I am reminded of
the great line in the very bad movie “White Hunter, Black
Heart”, when famous director John Huston, told that killing
an elephant was a crime, responded, “No, it’s far worse
than that, it is a sin.”
So, sometimes life is not all
what it seems to be.
As I reflect on this experience,
now seven months past, I realize it simply was not my time to go.
But I can’t help but appreciate the poetic irony of both my
magnificent 65 pound bull and myself dying at the same precise moment.
Can you imagine the great stories
that he is telling his friends in Elephant Heaven about the day
he almost got even?
I will be back at Kazuma Camp in