Nile lechwe

Armchair Safari – First Prize of the Sudan by Abel Chapman

Armchair-Safari-Chapman-bookAlong the 100-mile stretch of White Nile between the Sobat River and Lake No, the traveler enters upon the territory of the unique African antelope, the saddle-backed lechwe. It is to the north bank that the search should be directed since the southern shore, with their “cotton-soil” are abhorrent to the taste of a swamp-loving animal. Its preference for almost impassable swamp affords it some degree of natural protection, and physical obstacles such as those swamps present small terrors to many big game hunters. The Nile lechwe is one of a genus of two semi aquatic amphibious antelopes (the other being the sitatunga) which possess no relations either in Africa or elsewhere. In short, to hunt either of these animals one must trudge through either a treacherous swamp or a bottomless bog.

The effects of natural adaptation (elongated hoofs, flexible toes, and padlike undersurfaces on the toes) becomes painfully demonstrated when the unequipped human biped seeks to compete with the lechwe or sitatunga upon their own abominable domains of swamp and sudd. It is also hard to estimate the population of Nile lechwe since no reliable census is available amid the ocean-like expanses of reed jungle and impassable swamp. In fact, because I wanted more assurance of reward when exerting physical effort while hunting, and because success when lechwe hunting was doubtful, I delayed hunting them until later in my hunting career.

Nile lechwe
Nile lechwe
Ox Hunting Ranch

And so it was that on 6 February, 1914, despite the self denying resolve just recorded – we were searching for the haunts of Nile lechwe. Starting well before dawn, and continuing until well past noon, we worked hard but no sign of those noble animals rewarded our seven hours’ of toil. As the sun peaked and then started to sink, we headed back (an over two hour trek) to the cabin where I wrote up the day’s events. It was just then, within a view from my front tent flap that we saw a herd of lechwe, including two rams, their jet black hides set off by snow white withers. Both rams, as revealed by binoculars, carried trophy heads. Most important, the herd appeared to be grazing on solid ground. Hence orders to quickly get the boat ready promptly followed and within a mile we discovered an available landing spot.

But Oh! The fraud of appearances. What we had innocently mistaken for firm ground proved but little better than bottomless bog. The first step had been knee-deep and within fifty yards we were mired to the middle. Nature’s camouflage was perfect. Above, charred stalks of papyrus and a tangle of rank swamp grasses served to half conceal the bog beneath – deep slime, fetid and stinking, intercepted by criss-crossed cans that tripped one’s feet and arrested every step. Moreover, at short intervals, yet deeps holes threatened absolutely to bar further progress. The venture appeared hopeless, but having put our hands to the plough, we proceeded.

Animal Sympathy. Disabled Lechwi assisted to escape by two of his companions—6th February 1914.
Animal Sympathy. Disabled Lechwi assisted to escape by two of his companions—6th February 1914.

The game was a mile away and at first was beyond our line of sight. Through those intervening scenes of tall canes and bulrush – often when on hands and knees – we forced a painful path. Rampikes of splintered cane or spear grass pierced cloths and flesh alike, while the armored shafts of various kinds of vegetation treated our arms like pincushions and our hands showed what seemed like a thousand barbs spicules. In the end, we survived and succeeded and eventually founds our dezen friends still feeding and only 200 yards ahead.

A second inspection at this shorter range showed that while the horns of the two rams were approximately equal in length, one of the pair displayed a far bolder spread. Him, of course, I selected for my trophy. Friendly clumps of cane enabled me to creep forward to the deadly 100-yard range. Yet, even so my shot was a poor one. The bullet struck four inches too low, just at the junction of the foreleg with the shoulder.

The shock, of course, knocked the animal over. But soon recovering his feet, he staggered after the fleeting herd. The herd headed for the river and then suddenly turned inwards, actually passing between me and the boat behind, thus enabling my watching companions aboard the boat to witness the striking incident that ensured. The stricken ram, with one obviously useless leg, had already stopped twice and appeared on the point of abandoning further effort, when one or two of his pals deliberately turned back to rescue their disabled friend. Surely a beautiful example of animal sympathy. Supported thus on either flank, for a while my quarry gamely struggled onwards. But soon it became obvious that the effort was beyond his ebbing strength. Then the gallant aides had perforce to abandon their attempt and soon the entire herd proceeded at full speed inland. I watched them from afar, bucking like impala as they sped away in the direction of Timbuctoo.

Meanwhile the wounded ram slowly staggered away and I watched with hungry eyes until he eventually lay down, luckily among some clumps of green iris, about 400 yards away. All of that green iris was invaluable as a mark. I well knew, from much bog-trotting, that the presence of green iris always covers the deepest and most dangerous bog.

Armchair-Safari-Chapman-02All odds pointed to a total loss of our prize. With tottering steps the poor beast struggled away, and hope died outright in my breast when time after time we completely lost sight behind intervening clumps of cane grass and reeds. However, we always picked him up again and at length, after a suspense that at times seemed eternal, marked him into a patch of green flags half a mile away. Unfortunately for us, that patch was merely one among hundreds all precisely similar. Sp I had to spend 10 minutes taking exact bearings and identification marks, even counting the bulrushes in that crucial clump.

Then, off we sent, spending more than an hour in the suffocating heat, plunging and wallowing through quagmire and morass. Then, when only 200 yards from the well recognized marks, we sighted, standing on the very fringe of the guiding flags, the vision of our half lost trophy – what a beauty. Aided by friendly clumps of canes, I crept to within 100 yards, and made a clean shoulder shot which dropped him, stone dead, where he stood.

It was well into dusk when we regained the camp, triumphant but bemired to the eyes, blackened with charred reeds, pierced in every limb and with khaki clothes cut to ribbons by canes and spear grass. Never did I recollect a more exhausting stalk. The wider spread of the first male corroborated our correct eyes judgment as formed at the first distant view. Ironically these two saddle-backed rams, the first I saw, were the only two first rate males of their kind that we happened upon during the entire month spent in the area. I was indeed, pleased with both of my trophies.–selected and edited by Ellen Enzler-Herring of Trophy Room Books

Leave a Reply