In 1966, I made a pilgrimage to the basements of the Museum of Natural History, London, to pay homage to the “world record” tusks: 226 lbs (102kg) and 214 lbs. Breathtaking. There were big tuskers roaming my hunting grounds in Zimbabwe’s south-east lowveld, but nothing this monumental.
Elephant bulls of the Gonarezhou, their ranges extending into adjacent Mozambique and Kruger Park, certainly had “hundred pounders” in their ranks. On elephant control during the 1960s, I avoided shooting bulls with good ivory over 50 lbs. In the Tsetse Corridors the big bulls were harassed with gunfire, thunderflashes and pursuit. Usually they would break through the fences, or cross the Save or Mwenezi rivers out of the killing areas.
One of the few occasions when a large tusker was killed on control work illustrates the size of ivory found in the Lowveld. A complaint of crop-raiding took me down to the remote wilderness between the Mwenezi and Limpopo rivers, an area that I had hunted once previously. On that occasion I killed one of a group of five bull elephants. (I also met Venda people who had never seen a white person).
This time, I was accompanied by a fresh-from-school Cadet Ranger, Barrie Duckworth, excited about his first elephant hunt. Tsuro, my companion since boyhood, and Willie, a Shangaan who worked with us for years as a tracker, had no trouble following the herd of elephant bulls into the hilly country north of the lonely villages. We found them feeding in a small valley.
We counted eleven bulls, roughly composed of two “small” ones with 50 pound ivories, seven in the 60 to 80 lb class, and two hundred-pounders. Their tusks reached the ground when they lowered their heads. Having watched the great beasts feeding for some time, we got in amongst them.
One of the “good” sized tuskers offered a brain shot just as the ash-bag indicated a shift in air movement, so he was dropped there and then. During the subsequent stampede, we chased the lumbering giants up a hillside and, when one of the two “youngsters” turned on us, it was shot. The first bull carried 75 and 74 pound tusks, the little one had 48lbs a side.
Aside from the control work which occupied much of my time in this area, there were occasions when I was required to guide private hunters in search of good trophies. A year later, a mythical giant was to cross my path, culminating in what was to become the heaviest set of tusks to be recorded from Zimbabwe at that time - a record which still stands today.
August, 1967, found a small group of hunters on safari in the northern part of Gonarezhou State Land, camping on the Lundi (Runde) river next to the great pink cliffs of Chilojo. Tim Braybrooke and I were guiding South Africans, Pieter Henning and Victor Verster, both of whom wanted an elephant bull and a buffalo, and I had prepared us a little tented camp under the huge Nyala Berry trees in the riverine forest.