A bad week for professional hunters in Zimbabwe

The job of a professional hunter (formerly known as a ‘white hunter‘) in Africa is difficult.  He has to shepherd parties of foreign hunters around a landscape that’s usually foreign to them, in the midst of animals who regard humans as lower on the food chain than they are, in pursuit of individual beasts who are often more than capable of expressing their displeasure in physical terms.  If a visitor wounds an animal, it’s the professional hunter’s job to track it down and kill it.  If the wounded animal is a dangerous one, that makes the job even more important, as a wounded predator becomes very dangerous to all human beings if its injuries mean it can no longer hunt or forage as normal.  It takes out its pain and suffering on those animals who are least able to defend themselves.  In Africa, that usually means tribesmen.

This week two professional hunters in Zimbabwe ran out the odds on their success.  The first was tracking a wounded Cape buffalo, with tragic results.  (EDITED TO ADD:  I’m sorry – this report dates from 2012.  It was republished after the report below it, which obviously drew attention to the earlier one.  Apologies for the confusion.)

A British man working as a professional hunter on a private game reserve in Zimbabwe has been killed by a wounded buffalo he was trying to shoot.

Owain Lewis, 67, had been tracking the animal for three days to finish it off after it was shot and injured by a visiting American hunter he was escorting.

Paul Smith, the owner of Chifuti Safaris in the lower Zambezi Valley, said Mr Lewis was “very tough and experienced” but had been caught unawares when the buffalo charged from the undergrowth and tossed him in the air.

“It turned on him and attacked him and unfortunately the apprentice hunter with him could not shoot the animal as Owen’s body was in the way,” he said.

“It was a very tough fight. Owain’s neck was broken but the apprentice did manage to kill the buffalo.

“We are very shocked. This is the first time we have had an incident like this.”

There’s more at the link.  Buffalo are renowned as being among the most dangerous animals in the world.  I’m afraid Mr. Lewis met one such animal too many.

Only a couple of days later, another professional hunter working for the same company had a fatal encounter with an elephant.

A young bull elephant killed professional hunter Ian Gibson early on Wednesday as he tracked a lion for an American client in a rugged part of north-east Zimbabwe.

Mr Gibson, 55, one of Zimbabwe’s best known big game hunters, died scouting for prey in the Zambezi Valley after a young bull elephant charged, then knelt on him and crushed him to death.

“We don’t yet know the full details of how ‘Gibbo’ as we called him, died, as the American client and the trackers are still too traumatised to give us full details,” said Paul Smith, managing director of Chifuti Safaris’ which employed Mr Gibson for the hunt.

. . .

Mr Gibson’s trackers said the young bull had been in a musth period, which means it was producing much more testosterone then usual.

“We know ‘Gibbo’ shot it once, from about 10 yards away, with a 458 [rifle]. He would never have fired unless he had no alternative. He was a hunter, yes, but he was also a magnificent wildlife photographer and conservationist.

“He was so experienced and this is a most unexpected tragedy.”

Again, more at the link.

I know that part of Zimbabwe from when it was still Rhodesia, and the ‘game’ to be hunted there frequently shot back with AK-47’s.  It’s wild and rugged and utterly beautiful for those who know the African bush . . . and full of things with teeth, claws, horns, tusks and hooves, none of which hold humans in high regard.

It’s terribly sad for one safari company to lose two hunters in the space of a few days like this, but it’s not unprecedented.  As the old saying goes, “In Africa, everything bites”;  and, as old hands there will tell you repeatedly, “Africa always wins in the end”.  I’m here to tell you that it usually does.

May the dead men rest in peace.



  1. A lot of former 'friends' from university are gloating over this in social media. Aside from the fact that these hunts almost exclusively fund conservation efforts in cash-poor countries, what this says about their character makes me happy that I left that life behind almost as soon as I changed careers. Seeing people take joy in loss of human life, for the 'crime' of doing exactly what everyone else does when they eat a damn hamburger absolutely sickens me.

  2. My wife and I hunted that same area 10 years ago. Chewore (spelled wrong in the article) is the area bordering the Dande, and we hunted right on the border between the two for three days of our 10 day hunt.

    Amazingly beautiful area, but everything can go very, very badly very, very quickly in that part of Africa. There was one incident with us than involved sprinting several hundred yards away from some annoyed elephants that took exception to our presence. Fortunately they weren't very serious or we'd have been faced with a "them or us" scenario like the PH did. It can happen unbelievably fast.

    I remember our PH saying, "If we tangle with anything and you have to start shooting, don't miss. The odds aren't very encouraging on follow-up shots in this cover."


  3. Some years ago, I read John Hunter's book on his experiences as professional hunter. Interesting stuff. It was another time, but I imagine much is the same today.

  4. They lost the battle, but I have to think they went as they would have wished. PHs are almost the definition of adrenaline junkies. I don't believe either expected to die in bed. Having said that, may they Rest In Peace.

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