Armchair Safari – Hunting Elephants and Rhinoceroses in Southwest Africa

Charles John Andersson lived and hunted in south and southwestern Africa in the mid 1800s — a time when hunters throughout Africa saw enormous herds of game and believed they were inexhaustible. He most enjoyed hunting elephant and rhinoceros. His book, Lake N’Gami is a classic of exploration and hunting. Some of his safaris were indeed memorable and show what a tough hunter he was.

Hearing that elephants and rhinoceroses continued to return to Abeghan, I proceeded there and took up my position (alone as usual) on a narrow neck of land dividing two small pools. It was the only land for an animal to stand between me and the water. I had one blanket and two or three spare guns. It was a magnificent tropical moonlight and the moon was so bright that I could discern even a small animal at considerable distance.

Suddenly a noise that I can liken only to the passage of a train of artillery broke the stillness of the air. It came from the direction of one of the numerous stony paths leading to the water and I imagined that it was caused by some wagons that might have crossed the Kalahari. I raised myself to look but for some time I was unable to discern the cause. All at once, however, the mystery was explained by the appearance of an enormous elephant, immediately followed by others. In all, eighteen. Their towering forms told me at a glance that they were all males. It was a pleasant sight to behold so many huge creatures approaching with a free, unsuspecting and stately step. The somewhat elevated ground whence they emerged gave an increased appearance to their bulk and mightiness to their naturally giant structures.

Crouching as low as possible I waited with beating heart and ready rifle for the approach of the leading male, who, unconscious of peril, was making straight for my hiding place. The position of his body was unfavorable for a shot. Knowing from experience that I had little chance of obtaining more than a single good shot, I waited for the opportunity to fire at his shoulder (which is the preferred shot when shooting at night). But the chance never came until his enormous body literally towered above my head.

The result was that, while in the act of raising my rifle, my body caught his eye, and before I could raise the rifle to my shoulder, he swung himself around with ears spread and trunk elevated. He desperately charged me. It was too late to think of flight, much less of slaying the now savage beast. My own life was in imminent jeopardy. If I remained erect he would seize me with his trunk. So I threw myself on my back, and without shouldering the rifle, I fired upwards at random towards his chest. In all probability, this change of position saved my life for at the same time as I shot, the trunk of the elephant descended precisely to the spot where I had been crouched. His trunk swept away the pebbles and in another moment his broad fore-feet passed directly over my face.

I expected nothing short of being crushed to death. Imagine my relief when, instead of renewing the charge, he swerved to the left and moved off with considerable rapidity. I attribute my extraordinary escape to the confusion of the animal caused by the shot I had fired at him. Immediately after the elephant left, I was on my legs. Snatching up a spare rifle, I pointed at him and pulled the trigger. To my intense mortification the rifle misfired (how lucky I was that this had not happened when the animal had charged). During this interval, the rest of the elephants retreated into the bush. But by the time I returned to my original positions, they reappeared, taking stealthy and cautious steps on the opposite side of the pool, staying far enough away that I could not fire with any prospect of success. As they did not approach nearer, I attempted to stalk them (remember it was dark), but they would not allow me to come any closer and after a while moved off altogether.

While pondering my late wonderful escape, I observed, at a little distance, a huge white rhinoceros protrude his ponderous and misshapen head through the bushes. Soon he had approached to within a dozen paces of my hideout. His broadside was then fully exposed to view. I still felt a little nervous from my conflict with the elephant but I lost no time in firing. The rhino did not at once fall to the ground but from appearances I had every reason to believe he would not live long.

Scarcely had I reloaded when a black rhinoceros (a female) stood drinking at the water. But her position, as with the elephant, was unfavorable for a good shot. But since she was pretty near me, I was sure of breaking her leg and thereby disabling her. And in this I succeeded. My first shot seemed to madden her and she rushed wildly forward on three legs. My second shot apparently had little or no effect. I was sorry not to be able to end her sufferings at once. But I was too well acquainted with the habits of rhinoceros to venture on pursuing her right away. Rather I decided to wait for daylight and then track her with the aid of my dogs. But it was not to be.

As no more elephants or other large game appeared, I thought after a time it might be well to go in search of the white rhinoceros previously wounded and I was not long in finding his carcass. My ball, as I had supposed, had caused immediate death.  When heading back I accidentally took a turn in the direction taken by the black rhinoceros, and by ill luck, as the event proved, I suddenly encountered her. She was still standing, but her position, as before, was unfavorable. Hoping to make her change it for the better and thus enable me to end her suffering at once, I picked up a stone and hurled it at her with all my strength. She snorted, raised her tail, kept her head to the ground and, raising clouds of dust, rushed at me with fearful fury. I had only just time to level my rifle and fire before she was upon me. In the next instant, while turning around for the purpose of retreating, she laid me prostate. The shock was so violent as to send my rifle, powder flask, ball pouch and cap in the air. The gun flew, as afterwards ascertained, a distance of 10 feet. With the beast charging me it crossed my mind that unless gored at once by her horn, her impetus would be such (after knocking me down, which I took for granted would be the case) as to carry her head beyond me, thus giving me a chance to escape. Indeed, it happened. Having tumbled me over, her head, owing to the violence of the charge, was half buried in the sand and while trying to trample me, her fore quarter passed over my body. Struggling for life, I seized my opportunity and as she was recovering and preparing for a renewal of her charge, I scrambled out from between her hind legs.

But the enraged beast was not yet done with me. Scarcely had I regained my feet before she struck me down a second time and with her horn ripped up from my right thigh (though not very deeply) from near the knee to the hip. With her forefeet, she gave me a terrific blow to the left shoulder near the back of my neck. My ribs bent under this enormous pressure and for a moment, I think, I must have lost consciousness because I have a relatively indistinct notion of what happened next. I remember that when I again raised my head, I heard a furious snorting and plunging in the neighboring bushes. I stood up, although with great difficulty, and made my way as much as possible towards a large tree not far away. This might provide shelter. But this precaution turned out not to be necessary for the rhino, for the time being, showed no inclination to molest me anymore. Either in the melee or owing to the confusion caused by her wounds, she lost sight of me, or she felt satisfied with the revenge she had taken. Be that as it may, I escaped with my life, though sadly wounded and severely bruised. It was in this sad state that I made it back to my original hunting position.

During most of the conflict I preserved my presence of mind. But after the danger was over and when I had leisure to collect my scattered and confused senses I was sieved with a nervous affect, causing violent trembling. (I have since killed many rhinoceroses, for sport as well as for food, but it was several weeks before I could again hunt any of them with any coolness.)

About sunrise, my half-caste boy, whom I had left about a half mile away the preceding evening, came to my camp to get the guns and other things to bring back to base camp. In a few words I related the events while he listened with seeming incredulity. But the sight of my gashed thigh convinced him that I was not joking. I directed him to take one of the guns and proceed in search of the wounded rhinoceros, cautioning him to be careful in approaching the beast, which I still had reason to believe was not yet dead. He had only been gone a few minutes when I heard a cry of distress. “Good God! The brute has attacked the lad also.”

Seizing hold of my rifle, I scrambled through the bushes as fast as my crippled condition would permit, and when I had proceeded two or three hundred yards, a scene suddenly presented itself that I shall vividly remember to my dying days. Among some bushes, and within a couple of yards of each other, stood the rhinoceros and the young hunter. The rhino was supporting herself on three legs, covered with blood and froth and snorting in the most furious manner. My young helper was petrified with fear, spell bound as it were and riveted to the spot.

Creeping to the side of the rhino, opposite to that on which the boy was standing so as to draw her attention from him, I leveled and fired. At the shot, the enraged beast charged wildly to and fro without any distinct object. While she was occupied, I fired again, and again, but it seemed like she would never fall. Finally, she sank to the ground. Imagining that she was in her death agonies and that all danger was over, I walked unhesitatingly up to her. I was on the point of placing the muzzle of my gun to her ear to administer the coup de grace, when, to my horror, she once more rose on her legs. Taking hurried aim, I again pulled the trigger and instantly retreated, with the beast in full pursuit.

But the race, however, was a short one. For just as I threw myself into a bush for safety, she fell dead at my feet, so near me, that I could have touched her with the muzzle of my rifle. Another moment and I should have been impaled on her murderous horn, which, though not long, was as sharp as a razor.

When reflecting on the wonderful and providential escapes recently experienced, I could not help feeling that I had been spared for some good purpose and my heart was lifted in humble gratitude to the Almighty who had extended His protecting hand over me.

The second day after the scenes described, my bruises began to show, and on the third day they were fully developed, giving my body a black and yellow hue. So far as I could tell, no bones were broken, but burning and agonizing pains in my chest were symptomatic of some internal injury. At first I was seriously concerned for my life. But, after great suffering, I recovered, though during that time my shooting mania had cooled down a bit. But my spirit would not allow for that to continue for long.  So with the assistance of my men, I mounted my horse, and was off to new hunting grounds.–selected and edited by Ellen Enzler-Herring of Trophy Room Books



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