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Ivory - Gold at the End of the Hunter's Rainbow - Richard Harland

While Victor and I loaded our rifles and inspected our spare rounds, I sent the trackers to check on the direction of the elephants’ spoor. Yes, they were proceeding westwards. We set off, moving slowly, expectantly, all senses tuned to high alert. From time to time, Tsuro would check on the tracks in the forest while the rest of us stood and listened.

We had been sneaking along for only half an hour when Tsuro stopped us with a hiss, and pointed into the thicket ahead. A branch cracked, and some seventy metres away we caught a glimpse of an elephant, then a huge shaft of ivory.

Victor mouthed “Did you see that?”

“That’s him all right”, I whispered, awestruck. Tsuro grinned; Willie murmured “Zhulamiti”.

Between 1910 and 1929, a well-known elephant hunter, Cecil Barnard, roamed these parts. Named “Bvekenya” by the Shangaans, his exploits are well recounted in T.V. Bulpin’s book “The Ivory Trail”. At the close of his hunting career, Bvekenya met up with a huge tusker, Zhulamiti (Taller than trees). The local tribespeople had always recognised a “Zhulamiti” as the king of tuskers in that vast wilderness. A sort of hereditary title.

Checking the wind with my ash-bag, I led our little group forward, searching for a gap in the forest suitable to ambush the elephant. At the same time we were looking out for any possible disruption by the younger bulls. Fortunately, we shortly heard them well ahead, at a pool in the river.

Closing in on the dense thickets overshadowed by huge Tamarinds, Nyala Berry and Natal Mahogany trees, we found an avenue leading towards the river bank. We paused to listen. Almost immediately the swishing of foliage on elephant hide was followed by the appearance of the great tusks through the wall of greenery a mere 20 metres to our left. As Zhulamiti strode ponderously into the clearing, Victor slowly raised the .470, and seconds later fired.

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The old elephant momentarily rocked, received a second shot, turned towards the river and shuffled off through the bushes. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Victor re-load, push the safety catch off and turn to me. Right then there was a crashing of branches and loud thud. I nodded and smiled at Victor, then we moved slowly, carefully, through the forest.

The two heart shots had put the bull down in less than 100 metres; he was dead when we reached him. I held up my hand for silence; we did not want a nasty surprise visit by the younger bulls. After a minute of quiet, we decided they had decamped with the shooting.

The four of us stood, overawed by the size of the tusks, grinning at each other in disbelief. Eventually I remembered to congratulate Victor! Words like “incredible”, “fantastic” and “unbelievable” gave way to “what will they weigh?”

“Well, Richard, do you think the long tusk is over a hundred pounds?”

“No, Victor”, I replied seriously, shaking my head and pausing a moment. “No. Definitely over 120”, I declared with a laugh.

We duly returned to camp and collected everyone to come and start photographing, measuring, skinning and butchering. Nobody had the patience to wait several days for the tusks to pull out, so Tsuro set about the job with his axe. By evening we had the huge ivories in camp, still with some bone socket attached.

Early next morning, while Tsuro surgically chipped the remaining bone off the tusks, I drove to my base at Chipinda Pools to collect a spring scale. My return at mid-day was greeted with much excitement, and we quickly hung the scale up, hooked a folded grain bag on and laid the bigger tusk in the sling. The needle swung around to 132 lbs as we let go of the 8 ft. 6 inches long ivory. The shorter tusk weighed 107 lbs, measuring 7 ft. 2 inches.

As far as we knew, these were the heaviest tusks taken by a hunter in Southern Rhodesia, and they were duly recorded in Rowland Ward’s “Records of Big Game”. In my 1984 edition, they still ranked top in Zimbabwe and 88th in Africa. For Victor (and myself in the “reflected glory”) the ivory was indeed the prize at the end of the hunter’s rainbow.

(Writer’s note: In common with international usage, tusk weights are referred to in pounds, length in feet and inches. My apologies to the metricated uninitiated!).

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African Hunter Vol.5 No.2 April 1999
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