Kalman Kittenberger was an adventure-loving Hungarian who came to East Africa in 1903 to collect big game for the Hungarian Museum, and he continued hunting there until 1926. His book, Big Game Hunting and Collecting in East Africa, 1903-1926 is a classic, and still very much appreciated today. In this article, he hunts for white rhino and elephant in the West Nile Province.
The journey of 207 miles from Fort Portal to Kampala took a day, during which time I saw myself on the track of huge tuskers and the scorched savannas and papyrus swamps or Bahre-el-Jabal. We arrived at Masindi and obtained a permit to enter the danger area. J. Horthy got his license for the white rhino (for a payment of 25 pounds). It is worth mentioning that Masindi was discovered by Sir Samuel Baker when he was looking for the White Nile. We then went to a port on Lake Albert Nyanza in order to travel further into the hunting area. We had 14 days to shoot five elephants. The steamer was crowded and the trip unpleasant but three days later we arrived at our destination and offloaded our 60 loads of luggage and rifles by hurricane lamp. Luckily, nothing was lost.
Nearby we noted the foul smelling remains of an elephant skull. It had been shot by a high placed English official. We took that for a good omen. We engaged natives to carry our loads to the rest camp and pitched a tent. Then I sent two boys to fetch a man called Langa-Langa who was reported to be a very good tracker. Meanwhile, we heard stories about large tusks and a big white rhino, all of which had to be taken with the usual grain of salt and we sent trackers in all directions promising a reward for any report of a white rhino.
Two hours later, we had news of a rhino. The next morning we started out and I invited men from the neighboring huts to follow at a distance and, in case they heard a shot, to come immediately. The promise of rhino meat did little to entice them as in this area few natives eat rhino.
Our guides advanced quickly through cut fields and burned savannas and a bushy mimosa forest. Game tracks were everywhere. Kob and bushbuck bolted from the jungle while elephant tracks were all over the place. Some tracks were of big bulls. Rhino spoor was conspicuous by its absence although the men promised we were NEAR a rhino for a longtime. Eventually we came upon an old track and dried rhino dung. It was hard to find spoor on the dry ground. And when Langa-Langa arrived we learned that he had already been hired by a wealthy sportsman and could help us only with the rhino. So we were left to hire other local guides and porters for elephant hunting.
Langa-Langa followed the tracks and said the rhino went into a darker, thicker part of the mimosa jungle. The wind was not in our favor. I had just given up hope of even photographing the rhino when our watcher stopped short and said the rhino was standing in front of us. I could not make it out, and neither could Langa-Langa. Eventually I spotted it under a tree. In fact, I almost took it for an elephant, so much taller was he than an ordinary black rhino. I beckoned to Mr. Horthy who also detected the rhino and stood with his .465 H&H raised to his shoulder. On advancing a few paces, we could see the front and rear horn. Then, with a snort, the animal bolted away, but not before he got the contents of the left barrel fired by Mr. Horthy. Another shot hit him in the shoulder and he advanced only a few paces before dropping.
We ran to the carcass and stood over it in deep emotion. The rhino had a strong, thick horn, 28 inches long. Horthy was the first Hungarian to shoot a white rhino. Then the work of skinning began and after that, the transporting of the heavy hide to camp. Just as we departed, a guide came in to report seeing another rhino and I was tempted to go after it. But one of the head men reminded me that if I left the group, the hide might never make it back to camp. En route home, we saw two elephants. I wondered if one was a record size and was tempted but decided to stay with the group.
I was satisfied. Never did I think that we would get a white rhino on our first day in the West Nile Province. This would leave plenty of time for elephant hunting. A couple of days later we got news of elephants and started immediately after them. But the elephants went into the papyrus swamps and Horthy could not get a glimpse of their tusks. A lot of work for nothing. Uganda kob were plentiful, but, hoping for a big elephant, nothing would make me fire at an antelope.
The next morning I started out with our new head man, Masuramke, a very long legged man and it was work for us to keep up. He explained that we had to find elephants early in the day because later on they headed for papyrus swamps. We saw lots of game on the savannas and swamp flatlands as well as fresh and old elephant tracks and continued to hope some good tuskers waited for us. On reaching the papyrus swamps we saw the first giant quietly feeding, fanning himself with his mighty ears. His back was turned so we could see nothing of his tusks and he was heading to the thickly reeded part of the swamp.
The wind was right and we went as fast as possible but it was of no use because the bull had entered the thickest part of the swamp. We could only guess his whereabouts by the white herons fluttering up and settling down again and the swaying of papyrus bulbs. I ordered the men to stop and took only two with us. The ground was favorable for an advance for the papyrus had been trampled down by elephants in great patches and there appeared to be six elephants not very far ahead of us. Once we saw a head, then a back. Alas, I thought their tusks were thin so we let their owners move on without shooting. Two of the elephants had large bodies and in former days it would have been an easy matter for the hunter to get the best. He simply would have shot all six and examined their tusks. Now it is a strain on one’s nerves to select the best tusker. It needs much practice and a quick eye.
We hovered around the elephants for an hour. After we crossed a stream, the ground became disagreeable but we could see all the elephants. It was a trying time. We came to a spot overgrown with bushes and an elephant, taller than the rest, though not the largest, was breaking branches off a tree. His tusks looked like better than 75 pounds. Meanwhile Mr. Horthy was watching a different elephant that also seemed good. Then our chance was gone. Shooting was impossible. Meanwhile the herd dispersed and we feared one animal might get our scent. We managed slowly to get closer but then the elephants got restless.
A good one appeared and Mr. Horthy fired and the bull went down. But he got up and turned toward us. The other elephants ran up to the wounded bull but before they could get him up, Mr. Horthy put a second shot into his shoulder. But the herd still bounded away and the trackers were mad because so much meat was getting away. Elephants usually do not bleed much as the thick skin and masses of fat soon close the wound. We could not keep on the spoor because the ground that had been trampled so much caused us to lose confidence.
Once we reached the stream, the men said they feared going any farther because the elephants might charge. We heard noises but it was not the herd, only the wounded bull coming back to exact revenge. What a wonderful sight! Those who have not seen an infuriated elephant charging will think far less about the lion, and even a buffalo will seem tame in comparison. As soon as he came close, Mr. Horthy fired two more, fatal shots. The natives, who minutes before were in a state of panic, now yelled out with shouts of joy.
We thought about leaving the tusks in to rot, but our head man said that a tribe living close by would soon come for the tusks so we had to start and complete our work on the spot. Just as we were finishing, and exhausted, the head man’s brother came to report seeing more elephants close by.
Horthy agreed that I should take some men and go. “When hunting elephants, every chance must be taken.”
The heat was terrific and we were heading west, to the mountains. The character of the country completely changed as barren scorched slopes were covered with leafless mimosa forest with very little of interest to look at. The elephants like the fruit of the borassus palm that grows here. We saw plenty of elephant tracks, some nearly three feet deep. Certainly these trails were several hundred years old. Some areas of several hundred acres were entirely trampled down. I felt a few painful stings that reminded me we were in tsetse fly country and it was hard to protect against them. Those who get nervous about bites and their consequences should not hunt in the West Nile Province.
The nearer we got to the mountains the thicker the flies became but we soon found a beautiful spot in the bed of the river Endeni where a waterfall had washed out a huge basin in the rock and the water was unusually clear for Africa. This was the drinking and bathing place for elephants and other animals for miles around. Luckily, there were no crocodile. We continued the march, still fighting the flies. At one point, I thought I saw movement of an elephant’s ears and headed in that direction until we could see that his tusks were small. On and on we went.
The sun was sinking when we heard shouts from our scouting group not too far off. We ran to them to learn of three or four small groups of bulls but their tusks had not been seen. A small group of hartebeest was standing midway between us and them and we could not risk the hartebeest disturbing the elephants. The ascent and descent of the banks were noisy operations. We had to do something (behind the first small group of elephants, a waterbuck was getting nervous) so we crawled into the dry waterbed running between the elephants and ourselves. As we crawled out the waterbuck took off and that alerted one group of elephants. Luckily, they stopped and raised their trunks to look for the reason of the stampede. But the wind was right and they got no clue.
Suddenly and for no reason I could see, all the elephants, about 30 of them, stood up in fan-like formation lifting their trunks AND advancing towards us. We had to draw back for if they got our scent it could be dangerous. Meanwhile we worried about our men running away. I had seen two good bulls, but they were always hidden from sight by cows. I raised and lowered my rifle several times, listening to the men encouraging me to shoot, when suddenly the big bull came into view. He followed in the rear of the frightened herd but never seemed to stand at the right angle.
The men became so excited that I feared they would drag at my arm while I was aiming. At last the moment came. As the bull crossed in front, I aimed at his shoulder and fired twice in quick succession. I could not tell the effects as the others closed round their patriarch and what was more, I had to dash after one of the men with my second rifle and ammunition! (This was done quickly.) There was great commotion among the elephants but fortunately the wounded bull was much taller than the rest and I did not lose sight of him. At an opportune moment, I gave him another shot, which made the others run around even more. A fleeting glimpse at his head gave me the chance for a head shot that collapsed the trophy. His companions could no longer be of help.
Then a good-sized elephant decided to seek vengeance. Critical moment! Luckily, my first rifle was not loaded or the man carrying it would have fired from fright. Meanwhile the elephants were now milling behind us, which meant they could get our wind. Thus, we waited until the dead bull was left alone and we ran down the riverbed, made a large detour, and got back to the dead animal. Finally, the herd crossed to the other side and we could congratulate ourselves at having shot such a mighty bull. We cut off the tail – but not the feet – for it was late and there were few of us.
Unforeseen and sometimes disagreeable circumstances sometimes make up the luck of a hunter. I was disheartened when the waterbuck stampeded the elephants. Yet in the end, this turned out for the best because the big bull was standing behind the others and might not have shown himself. And then I might have shot only a medium sized animal. To please the men I shot a warthog on the way home.
The setting sun was shedding its last rays when my tired feet at last reached camp and Mr. Horthy appeared to congratulate me. Once more I had proof of the rapid means of communications used by natives. From all sides the hungry natives were closing in on the carcass. My head man assured me he had left sufficient protection.
Our stay in the West Nile Province was limited and although we still had three elephants to shoot, we could not delay the date of departure. As often happens, the elephant I took early in the hunt turned out to be the best I would see. Indeed, the West Nile Province is a grand place so long as you are elephant hunting…but it turns into an inferno of tsetse flies and mosquitoes the moment hunting is over.–Selected and edited by Ellen Enzler Herring of Trophy Room Books