Death in the Jesse by Kevin Thomas

  • Monday, 05 August 2019 09:33
  • Read 400 times

Death in the Jesse by Kevin Thomas: Be careful of cow herds

Being attacked and killed by an enraged elephant is an horrific way to die. In 1972 at the time of this incident, I was a Rhodesian Department of National Parks & Wildlife Management game ranger. My area of responsibility was the Zambezi Valley’s Urungwe CHA (Controlled Hunting Area) which, back then, had three alphabetically named hunting camps fronting the Zambezi river; A, B and C Camp.

The CHA was a vast area stretching eastwards from Kariba gorge downstream along the Zambezi river to the Zambia/Rhodesia border hamlet of Chirundu, and then south from there inland to the Zambezi escarpment. It was wild, remote, and unforgiving country. Spread across the central area and running west to east was a tract of almost impenetrable jesse thickets, known as the Sharu jesse.

The vegetation surrounding this vast jesse thicket was mainly mopane woodland, a mix of canopy forest and coppiced shoulder-high scrub mopane. Within the whole there were scattered waterholes, muddy and seasonal.

Finding elephant cow herds and bulls within the Urungwe CHA wasn’t difficult. However, to be successful usually meant venturing into a jesse thicket. Most mornings, at first light, following their nightly forays onto the Zambezi river floodplain to water and feed, the elephant would start returning to the Sharu jesse. These thickets afforded them security and a place to wait out the heat of day. Invariably by about 10am most of the cow herds would be deep inside the thickets.

Hunting elephant in dense jesse calls for an extremely high degree of experience plus honed hunting skills, alertness, and a thorough understanding of elephant behaviour. Cow herds in particular can be exceptionally aggressive if they feel the herd security is threatened. 

Once a hunter has closed with an elephant cow herd, the most important thing, aside from wind direction, is to immediately place every member of the herd before any shooting commences. Equally important is identifying the matriarch and which cows have dependent calves.

During the winter months of the early 1970s, amateur hunters could buy hunt packages in the Zambezi Valley. Package composition was determined by the research branch of the National Parks department, and then put out via a draw. Packages that included an elephant cow were popular with commercial farmers who augmented their labourers’ protein rations with elephant meat. Included too, were a buffalo cow or bull, a kudu, a zebra, a waterbuck, four impala and perhaps two warthogs. Packages varied depending on what species needed reducing, the concept being that sport hunters were the management tool, the rifle the regulator. Each camp could accom­modate a maximum of four hunters.

Alf Chasan, a successful Rhodesian tobacco farmer and businessman, bought a hunt package out of C Camp. It was to have been a relaxing hunt linked to business and he took with him one non-hunting observer, the late Johan Mostert. 

Chasan’s hunt package included an elephant cow, a buffalo bull and a mix of plains game. His borrowed rifle was a .425 Westley Richards. First introduced in 1908, its 410gr bullet had a muzzle velocity of 2 350fps making it an adequate calibre for elephant and buffalo. However, by the 1950s it had fallen into disuse due to the scarcity of .425WR ammunition, which resulted in the increased use of Winchester’s .458 Magnum. 

It later transpired that prior to departing for the Zambezi Valley, Chasan and Mostert had visited a Salisbury gun shop to purchase ammunition. A young salesman sold them a box of twenty Eley Kynoch soft-nose bullets. Why they weren’t sold solid-nose (FMJ) bullets as well, knowing an elephant cow was to be hunted, remains a mystery.

Read the full article in the September 2019 issue of Magnum

Rate this item
(1 Vote)
  • Last modified on Monday, 05 August 2019 09:34
  • font size

Latest from Kevin Thomas

On Sale from 16 September!