Call me a hopeless romantic. Before leaving on safari I write my wife letters on white paper with a red pen, dated for each day I am away– time permitting. I have been slipping up of late due to my busy schedule but have promised myself and my wife to keep this special tradition alive.
In one of these notes, dated October 2013, I wrote: ‘Children white sand’. This was the first bucket list item I checked on my list in 2019 – bidding and winning the Mahango National Park hunting concession on the Okavango River. There are not many people in the world with a “hard to do” bucket list that can say that they have checked three items off in a single year. My children played in the white sand of the Okavango River in our own Mukongo Camp this year. “Mukongo” means “hunter” in the local Kavango language. What a privilege and an honor to both be a father and be able to roam, hunt and photograph in such a beautiful place.
My wife Maryke and daughter Rachel joined me for a safari in Waterberg National Park that year, with a young, but old client and they came along on the hunt. Late one afternoon I located nine Cape buffalo bulls busy feeding, and we swiftly looped around through thick red sand and bush to get ahead of them. There was a very large bull and we were able to get a shot at 20 yards. As the shot rang out, Rachel aged 3½ years old jumped off the vehicle and shouted “Papa” as she ran into the bush after us. Moses our Bushman tracker had to leap off after her and catch our pink-clad gal before we got too far from the vehicle while I was dealing with ‘our’ buffalo and his eight companions that were not all too impressed.
Once the dust had settled, we washed the blood off the felled beast before I picked up Rachel and carried her towards the buffalo.
“Papa, is the buffalo sleeping?” she asked innocently. “No, my child. The buffalo is dead” I told her gently. “Mmm.” she stared at the buffalo intently. “Papa, are we going to eat the buffalo?” – I answered honestly “Yes my child.” “Mmm.” She thought for a while and asked, “Papa, where are the buffalo’s ear’s?” We got down on the ground and I showed her where the ears were, hidden under the deep sweep of his horns. And so, a second bucket list item of mine was checked off, the kernel of the hunter’s horn transferred, but not yet sprouted.
And this is a roundabout way of telling you about a splendid elephant hunt I have just conducted. We had a father and son safari. Ferdinand, the father, who was in his 80s and in excellent health, wanted to hunt a big elephant bull. We had a good team – a second tracking truck with a PH and three Bushmen, as well as the primary truck with a full complement and two videographers for good measure.
We had felled a pair of buffalo already and had looked at our share of elephants. On a crisp Sunday morning our radio crackled that Charl, my second PH had found some elephant bulls for us to look at. We turned from our current operation and made haste in the direction of the excitement.
We were met in the two-track by Charl and three Bushmen – two seasoned, one young and enthusiastic – his name is Rambo and I am very hopeful for his future. Charl had several years’ experience in big-game areas. Eight eyes were stretched wide: “We found a big elephant.” I have never met a Bushman that has seen a small elephant…
Born in 1937, Ferdinand was the primary hunter. We made a slow walk on the tracks hoping to catch up with the elephant while feeding, or even better while they were taking their midday siesta. Trudging through the white Okavango sand we followed the spoor of what looked like two bull elephants. I measured the track of one of them – both of my #13 Russell boots fitted easily into the hind-foot. Big footed = a big-bodied elephant, but what about the ivory?
In under an hour, we could hear the elephant ahead of us. I cupped my ears to better find the direction they were going. Advancing slowly, I was stopped by one of our hunting party, and he pointed to the other side of the bush I was about to walk around – I saw an ear slowly flapping. I had almost walked into the backside of one of the bulls we were following. Oops.
We looped to get under the wind and slowly started seeing the elephant that blended into invisibility when standing still. They are only betrayed by flapping ears, breaking branches, flatulence, and the occasional ‘plop’ of digested material hitting the ground.
The first elephant carried nothing. The second elephant turned, and I had to drop my binoculars to comprehend with my naked eye if what I was seeing was truly before us. It was the largest elephant I had ever put my binoculars on in a hunting area. Or was it? More than 50 inches sticking out, thick at the lip with very little taper to the tip.
Our hunter had indicated that he would prefer symmetrical ivory, so we continued our stalk and I waited for another to turn. We lost sight of them as they melted into the thick bush, and coming around into an open lane, I saw another elephant whose tusk was not as thick, but just as long? I paused. Two big, long-tusked elephants in this group? By the sound, there were certainly more than two elephants in front of us.
I consulted with those behind me. Two big elephants? We need to be careful to shoot the right bull. With great caution, we advanced. We were now among the elephant – a large herd of homo sapiens! I located the thick bull seen earlier and saw both sides – symmetrical. This was a bull dreams are made of. We waited for him to turn. He rounded his last bush and turned to face us, completely unaware of our large party’s presence. At 35 yards I put up the shooting-sticks and instructed the client to get on them. His son eased in next to his father and prepared to take the backup shot as discussed prior to the hunt. Sticks were raised to the correct height. The crisp morning’s relative silence was shattered by a single shot. First hind then front feet crumpled from a perfect frontal brain shot. There was no need for the son to back up his father. Success.
Our team was elated. A fantastic hunt, and triumph before the halfway mark of our allocated days. An incredible moment for father and son. An incredible trophy, an incredible experience.
In closing, this brings me to the third – and I hope not last bucket list item of my days. On the Okavango River, my father, Joof Lamprecht, a PH before me, in the 1990s had hunted this river on the white sand that was now under my feet and hunted his best elephant. The elephant he hunted outweighed my best by four pounds. Four pounds does not sound like much, but it might as well be a ton in the pursuit I have been on during my whole career. This was no longer the case. A quest achieved. And under the shade of wide-brimmed hats, we looked at what we had done – and it was good. I turned in thankfulness for being able to roam these remaining wild places with gratitude for having a father that raised me the way he did.
I still miss him.
I need to make something clear. It is neither derogatory nor insulting in my opinion to call a Bushman, a Bushman. If you ask one of these well-humored master trackers where he comes from, he will answer, “I am a Bushman from the Khwe tribe,” though he might come from another tribe, he will certainly tell you which of the various tribes he comes from, very proudly. And so, I refer to them as Bushman as they want to be referred to.