Armchair Safari – Uganda to Khartoum: Life and Adventure on the Upper Nile

Book cover

Arriving at my second camp in the Lake Albert area I found my good friend Fowler, Sub-Commissioner in Uganda, then acting as Superintendent of Marine. He had come to Albert Lake to inspect the government craft at that time plying the blue waters of the Nile between the lake and Nimule. We had lunch and went fishing for a relaxing afternoon.

The next morning I visited the beautiful Waki Falls. On the far bank of the river I saw a small herd of hartebeest refreshing themselves on the green herbage in this park-like country and, a little farther off, several Uganda kob. Tonight we were joined by a young Scotsman whose job it was to look after government boats and we sat by the campfire spinning yarns.

At daybreak everything was packed into a fine sailing boat and we sailed merrily over the rippling waters. It became hot but soon were we at the place where camp was to be pitched. Not long after, people quickly came to tell us that there were elephants close by. This news made us decide to stay the night and try our luck in the morning.

At early dawn trackers were sent off to locate the nearest herd and bring in particulars as we did not feel inclined to take a long walk in vain. At 9 a.m. they were back. “Yes,” they said. There are a few elephants 90 minutes away and one big bull amongst them.

We started off with guns and gun bearers, lunch baskets, kettles, etc. In less than 90 minutes the chief trackers stopped, lifted his hands, and pointed straight ahead into a dense bush. “They are here,” he said. However, this did not look very hopeful as the thicket was full of thorn bushes, and there seemed no path or possibility of getting through. But after a long walk in the heat, one is not disposed to give up hope at once. We decided to push our way in. The first shot fell to me, and I led the way almost on hands and knees to try to unearth the colossal monster. We could hear his huge ears flapping and his trunk sucking up water.

When I finally caught sight of his massive sides,(as I emerged torn and bleeding, from the bush), he was up to his knees in mud and water, and utterly oblivious to our presence. I crept on a yard or two, with the .450 at full cock, without his seeing me. When the crucial moment came I fired my right barrel, aiming at the head for a brain shot. Unfortunately my shot was not good, and with a shake of his head that sent muddy water flying into my face, he decided to move on and find out from whence came the irritating interruption to his bath. But, before he could get far, the second shot found its mark and rendered him oblivious to all passing events.

After making sure he was quite dead, we walked up for closer inspection. He was a mighty beast with beautiful ivories, 76 and 74 pounds respectively. Up to this moment I had shot ten elephants in Africa and only once had been badly charged, but I was able to drop the great beast before he did me any injury. But the following adventure was the most thrilling I have ever experienced, and once in a lifetime is sufficient for any man.

Jumbo down

Jumbo down after the hunt.

About midday, while I was resting during the heat, some men came in to say that there were elephants nearby, and did I want to hunt them? Having one more allowed on my license, of course I said, “Yes,” and we started. We walked for two hours through tangled jungle, across swamps up to the waist in mud and slush, through rushing rivers, the swift current of one of these making crossing a most risky business.

Then the guide turned and said, “Alas, sir they have gone.” This was rather discouraging. After having waded through swamps and battled thorny thickets we had to face the fact that the elephants had moved off and might be miles away. But our drooping spirits were suddenly roused to fresh enthusiasm when one of the men who had gone off a little to the right to look down into a broad valley came racing back  and said that he had seen three elephants in the midst of an open valley standing up to their knees in water. I crept forward and inspected their position. Sure enough the report was true. There stood three great bulls, quite unconscious of our approach. There was one little tree not 30 yards from them, and then for 100 yards all around was open country.

I left my men under the cover of the trees, and crept forward, sometimes on hands and knees, with my faithful gun bearer behind me. We finally reached the little tree into which I climbed to get a better view, although the tree was scarcely strong enough to bear my weight. I saw them very well, and as I believed they had not caught sight of me, I thought I might first take a snapshot. But just as I was getting ready, the largest bull became uneasy and commenced sniffing, and snorting and lashing himself into a rage. Evidently he had got wind of us. He was far too near for me to allow this to continue so I put down the camera and leveled my .450 at his head. He was facing me, and under the best conditions this is a hazardous shot, but no other presented itself, and something had to be done. I fired and the bullet struck the great frontal bone and only dazed him for a moment, doing no real damage, so I quickly gave him the second barrel lower down. Alas for me, this made matters worse, for he saw me, and being slightly hurt, with a fearful trumpeting, he came dashing full speed straight at me.

 To record the next few seconds takes time, for whereas the acute crisis passed in a moment, it seemed like a lifetime to me. As the huge monster came along, a second elephant, also a very large bull, joined him, both catching sight of me as I perched upon my tiny sapling. The awful noise was almost enough to drive one mad, or at least to upset any calculations made with a view to stopping the onward course of the two great beasts. At the same moment that the two started their headlong rush for me, the third elephant caught sight of the porters 40 yards to the left (they having left their shelter to find out the result of the two shots fired) and immediately gave chase. But what happened there I did not know until afterwards, nor did I much care, for my own predicament was quite enough to demand my entire attention.


One of the missionaries with his trophies.

Right after I had fired the second shot which had such disastrous results, I commenced reloading, and my the time I had rammed in the second cartridge and closed the breech, the big bull was less than 10 paces from me, still at me with his trunk extended to its utmost limit. Immediately I fired, hardly waiting to get the gun to my shoulder. There was an awful crash and I hardly knew what had happened, for mud and water were showered over me. But YES! number one was down. The bullet had gone true and a large black mass lay almost at my feet. But what about number 2? He still came on. He had been a little behind the big one in starting but now he was also quite close. When he saw the big bull fall, he stopped short, stretched out his trunk over his fallen companion as if to find out what was wrong, and then with the most blood curdling scream dashed forward right at me.

I had vainly hoped that the shot at the big one would have driven him off but again I was mistaken and the bull number 2 was bent upon mischief. I had one shot ready, but waited, hoping to the last that he would change his mind and alter his course.  But instead he was about to seize me with his outstretched trunk. I fired point blank in his face with my second barrel and jumped for my life from the tree that hardly bore my weight. There was a crash close to where I had fallen, and I half fancied I had missed and that the second beast was standing over me, and that my life would end in a second. But all was perfectly still so I sat up and commenced rapidly reloading my gun, which I still held in my hand. Then I peeped around.

A huge black mass appeared like a rock a few feet away and I knew at once that this was the elephant. But was it dead? Yes or No? That was the question. If alive, it needed but one movement from myself to betray my whereabouts and he would be after me again. And then – well, I would rather not think of the consequences. Very slowly and with utmost caution I rose to my feet, keeping my gun ready. There seemed no movement from the mountain of flesh beside me, and I saw that he seemed stretched out in an attitude of death. He was so still. I walked up to him as quietly as possible, gun ready at the shoulder, when – UP WENT HIS TRUNK, and swinging around his great head he faced me!

native and hut

Fortunately he was on his knees and had to get to his feet before he could do me any hard, and the moment that it took him to do this was his last for another bullet from the faithful .450 laid him low. His trunk when stretched out actually reached to the foot of the little tree on which I had been perched. Still trembling with the excitement of the moment I climbed onto my fallen foe’s head and shouted for my gun bearer. The gun bearer emerged, a few feet from the fallen monster, because in the melee he had concealed himself in the soft mud, and lay completely buried in the grass. He stood before me a mass of mud from head to toe, with a weird scared look on his face. We sat down and looked at each other, wondering how in the name of all that is wonderful, we should be safe and well, while two colossal beats with a thousand times our strength lay within a few feet of each other . We did not talk for a long time and then the gun bearer said, ”Congratulations.” And this broke the spell.

Then it dawned on me to ask about the porters. The gun bearer replied, “Oh, they have gone and the third elephant after them.” I knew that for I saw them go. Evening was coming on so we called for them and after a while they appeared one by one. They came from all directions, having wisely spread out when the elephant gave chase. Two of them had been knocked over by Number 3, but only a few bruises were the result. See there were so many of them, the elephant made off and left them in security. Meanwhile the tusks of my largest elephant measured over six feet long and over 90 pounds each, while the second set of tusks weighed 63 and 64 pounds. This finished my elephant hunting near Albert Lake and the next day we commenced our return journey to Busindi, which we reached after a few days’ tramp through mud and rain – the wet season was upon us.–Selected and Edited by Ellen Enzler-Herring of Trophy Room Books

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