David Blunt

Commander David Enderby Blunt was invalided out of the Royal Navy in 1919. He had spent fifteen years in the service, many in submarines. He drifted through a variety of jobs, both good and bad.

It was in 1925, however, that he was offered the job that captured his imagination, that of a Cultivation Protector with the Game Preservation Department of Tanganyika. It was here that he once again put into practice the deadly principles he had employed so successfully when stalking shipping in the cold waters of the North Sea.

During the next six years Blunt was an active part of the Elephant Control Scheme. In his first year, actually seven months of hunting, he shot ninety crop-raiding elephant.

The obvious dangers of the job only spiced what was an exciting and action-packed life in the bush of Tanganyika. A fascination with elephant developed from his constant, close experiences with these animals.

While he shot many of the large beasts, it was not wanton slaughter but the disciplined implementation of a government policy to keep the elephant in the national parks in order to minimise the destruction of native gardens.

In the twenties the combination of increasing elephant numbers and spreading cultivation forced the authorities in Tanganyika to undertake a culling program.

A large part of the blame for this was due to the banning of traditional, but cruel, native methods of hunting elephant.

There were several popular techniques. One method, commented on by various early hunters and explorers, was that of a large, heavily weighted spear slung from a tall tree and released by trip wire. Not a few unwary travellers had found themselves transfixed by this lethal device.

Other techniques consisted of pitfalls, setting of encircling fires, foot snares, poisoned arrows and hamstringing.

Native hunters had used muzzle-loading firearms for centuries, but with a high incidence of wounding and a small success rate. Other factors which had contributed to the upsurge in elephant were the government rules that had made elephant licences very expensive, the complete protection of cows and calves and the fact that only bulls with tusks over thirty pounds weight could be legally shot.

The result of this was a scarcity of big, legal-sized, bulls and a plague of all other varieties of elephant.

Many of the European hunters were unwilling to pay for licences when given the small chance of success on “legal” elephant.

Elephant enjoy a high level of Intelligence and the guidelines for their control, relied on this for success.

The intention was not to shoot all crop-raiding elephants but to kill several from each raiding herd as “lessons with intention of teaching the big beasts not to raid cultivations. For this reason the cullers were under instructions to only shoot the raiders at the scene of the crime, so to speak.

This was not always possible and any persistent raiders were pursued with deadly intent. One constraint was that cullers were to avoid shooting any big, legal-sized bulls.  These were to be left for licence holders.

The crop protectors were told to fire over the heads of such big bulls, to scare them off. It did not take the cunning old elephants to work that out and they began to stand their ground.  Under these circumstances a number had to be shot by the cullers.

Each of the Cultivation Protection Officers had large areas to cover and each had a staff of native cullers.

Blunt found that his men needed fairly close supervision because … “these armed cultivation guards, unless adequately controlled, will certainly pay less attention than they should to their duty of shooting elephant raiders and more than they ought to shooting antelope for meat”.

Blunt stressed that on no account were wounded elephant to be left to suffer but must be finished off.  He allowed his men six rounds per elephant for this purpose while realizing that the better shots would average two or three rounds per elephant and employ the remainder for obvious extra-curricular activities.

One of the complications here was that many of the tribes in the area were Muslim and, as such, elephant flesh was classed with that of the pig and so could not be eaten on religious grounds, whereas antelope was quite acceptable.

On one occasion, very early in his career, the Senior Game Ranger visited Blunt’s camp. He was not impressed by Blunt’s battery which consisted of a .416 bolt action, a .303 and a double-barrelled twelve bore black powder express rifle.

The senior ranger declared that the .416 was a good buffalo gun but that the only gun for elephant was his .450 No 2 double rifle.

Blunt was very new to the job but had already shot a couple of elephant with the .416, as well as a large variety of other game. He was proud of his .416 and determined to prove its worth as an elephant calibre.

The very next day Blunt broke camp early and started off on a six hour march to his next destination. He preceded the porters, accompanied by a local native guide who carried the .416 and eight rounds.

After a couple hours of trekking the pair passed through a small village where it was obvious that elephant had only just left the maize fields after a night of gorging.

Blunt sent his guide off to find the headman, who told him that the elephant had been in residence for a week and had done much damage.

The herd had normally sheltered by day in a nearby patch of bamboo but that morning had moved off to parts unknown. With the arrival of the porters Blunt decided to stay the night in the hope of encountering the raiders.

The guide and the headman lead the party to a nearby camping spot, passing down a dry river bed. The guide suddenly stopped and listened carefully before cautiously climbing the river bank to peer over the top. He turned and beckoned Blunt to join him.

There stood four elephant between a few stunted trees amidst thin, but shoulder-high grass. The elephant were facing away from the men and the wind was perfect.

Blunt walked up close and brain shot the smallest. This exposed the shoulder of the largest of the group and Blunt heart shot this animal. He then spun around and fired at a third elephant which staggered and commenced to fall.

The  second, wounded, elephant was circling, apparently looking for the hunter. As the big elephant approached Blunt, it fell to a frontal brain shot. The remaining elephant had sagged against a tree and Blunt quickly finished it off.

The white hunter felt quite pleased with three elephant in as many seconds. Blunt kept the lone survivor, a cow, in his sights, but she offered no threat and so he let her escape into the bush.

Blunt dispatched a runner to tell the senior ranger that “… the old buffalo gun had accounted for three elephant”.

Following this success with his 416 Blunt was keen to try his black powder twelve bore. The gun had been given to him by a relative who had used it in India to take leopard and tiger.

Before long he had an opportunity. Blunt crept up to a herd of raiders and aimed at the shoulder of one of the eight animals. There was the usual commotion but Blunt could see nothing for he was enveloped in a cloud of smoke that seemed to take ages to dissipate.

The experience made him fully appreciate the tribulations, handicaps and dangers that the early hunters had to contend with.

As the cloud finally cleared he caught a glimpse of a sick looking elephant disappearing into heavy cover. The animal was badly wounded and had not gone far.

The hunters quickly overtook her and Blunt finished the job with his 416 rifle. Not long after this he tested the twelve bore on a dead elephant. The huge lead projectile, fired from a range of three metres, merely flattened against the skull.

One of the easiest ways to shoot marauding elephant was to catch them in the gardens. This could normally only be done at night

Blunt acquired a light source provided by a flare pistol for this night hunting. Blunt found that the Verey flare provided sufficient, if brief, light for him to shoot, with confidence, a couple of elephant.

Most times such night shooting forays were impromptu events. The hunter would be awoken from his sleep by a torch-bearing native runner. He and his bearers would quickly dress and collect their gear before setting off on a narrow, winding path through thick thornbush country in the pitch dark.

A fumbling walk of an hour, or more, in such conditions would suddenly find them a native hut in a small clearing. With no idea of the terrain or the location of the gardens and the elephant they would follow the garden owner into the dark, straining to hear any evidence of the raiders’ presence.

Once located, there came the even more nerve-racking approach to the feeding herd. Once the hunters thought that they were close enough Blunt would tell the man carrying the pistol to “Fire the bunduki ya taa (gun of light)”.

In the sudden glare Blunt would quickly assess the situation and then shoot one or more of the elephant, often at very close range.

On more than one occasion the hunters found themselves in the midst of a milling, trumpeting herd of alarmed elephants and needing a second flare to finish a wounded animal. And more than once the operator of the bunduki ya taa would forget how to reload or lose the pistol in the dark.

Their night vision blinded by the first flare, the hunters would find themselves in absolute darkness.

Experiences like  these  led  Blunt  to  declare  that  “For sheer  excitement  I don’t  think  this  night hunting can be equalled”.

There were episodes that, in hindsight, were quite amusing.  After many nights of chasing a persistent lone raider Blunt and, on a particularly dark night they had carefully stalked the elephant using the sounds of its feeding as a guide.

After a tense drawn-out final approach the men crouched low to the ground hoping to see the elephant’s huge frame against the faint glow of the night sky. About twelve metres away they could make out a towering object.

They took their stations and up went the flare. Blunt found himself on the verge of shooting a mango tree. A few metres away, the real culprit crashed into the bush.

There was no point in taking a tail end shot and so the men watched the raider escape once again.

In 1926 Blunt was given a respite from his elephant hunting duties. The Veterinary Department researchers were keen to breed a strain of water buffalo that was immune to the effects of tsetse fly.

They reasoned that if they could cross water buffalo with the cape buffalo then the resultant hybrid might be what they were looking for. All they needed were some young buffalo.

Thus Blunt found himself on secondment near the Rufiji River. The area was terribly hot and rampant with fever and other complaints.

It took weeks to reach the spot because Blunt was hampered by the slow pace of several hundred goats. All water had to be dug for, forage was hard to find and every night the herd had to be encircled with a thorn boma in order to protect them from prowling lions.

The goats were to supply the necessary milk for the young calves that Blunt was to catch. The instructions from head office were quite simple; corner a herd of buffalo and catch a few calves.

Easier said than done!

The experts had at least been right in their belief that buffalo were thick in the area.  There were herds running into the thousands.

Blunt focussed his attention on herds of less than a hundred. His plan was to stalk in close to such a herd and search for a cow with calf at heel. Ideally the calf would remain by its mother after Blunt had shot her.

The conditions were very trying. The plain was covered In thick, tough grass that grew to a height of two metres.  A fire had swept through some months earlier leaving the stalks even tougher and covered in soot and ash; dreadful stuff to walk through.

The difficulties were compounded by the blazing, unrelenting heat.

It took days of hard effort before Blunt was in a position to try his theory. Proceedings did not run according to plan however, for, in true buffalo behaviour, they detected the hunter and formed a protective circle with the calves at the centre.

All Blunt could do was to pick out and shoot three of the cows. One of the cows proved to be in milk but the calf had not stayed behind.

Blunt’s trackers set off to spore the herd while the white hunter waited for the men with nets to arrive. They then followed the herd for over an hour at which point Blunt decided to call off the chase.

They had not seen hide nor hair of the expected calf. The party sat down to rest before making the return trip. Blunt lent back to enjoy a cup of tea and a cigarette.

Suddenly one of the bearers crawled up to whisper that a buffalo calf was approaching. There was no time to rig the nets so the men merely got off the game trail and lay still.

The calf was virtually a yearling, being half grown and with little four Inch horns. The calf kept his nose to the trail as he backtracked trying to scent his mother. It got within half a metre of one of the waiting porters but the man seemed overawed and did not react.

Blunt dashed forward and tackled the youngster. The little buffalo was far too strong for one man and he shook Blunt off and turned to bolt. As he did so Blunt caught hold of his tail.

The white hunter remembered having been told that a donkey whose tail was held could not kick, “but this donkey could, and let out with both hind legs…” Blunt was lucky in that the powerful kick just missed his face.

Wisely he let go and the buffalo rampaged off surrounded by a yelling mob of natives. The melee bumped off trees and ant heaps and more than once the young buffalo bested his attackers.

Finally the numbers told and he was pulled to the ground in a seething, dusty scrum. Unfortunately the call died shortly after, apparently of shock.

Some days later Blunt and his men chanced on another loan calf. On finding itself surrounded it unhesitatingly charged the white man and delivered a powerful butt straight to his ribs.

The pair fell to the ground and in a moment the scouts ran up and they had the calf.”It was great fun but less so the next day when my bruised ribs made me very uncomfortable”.

Unfortunately this calf died as well. Not long after Blunt developed a fever which eventually turned into an attack of typhoid and “so ended a most exciting sport”.

Blunt had firm ideas on the ethics of hunting.  He deplored shooting from vehicles and stressed the importance of fair chase and marksmanship.

The first shot was critical, he believed, and quoted the experiences of soldiers who had survived multiple gunshot wounds and were unaware that they had been hit more than once.

Blunt felt that the same applied to game and was the reason why animals could soak up large amounts of lead after a poorly placed first shot.

Blunt recommended that if the hunter was at all uncertain of placing a fatal shot then he must hold his fire, even at the risk of losing the animal.

He added that no hunter should fire at an animal unless he was prepared, in the case of wounding, ‘to follow wherever it goes to finish it off”. This applied to all game, but even more so too dangerous big game.

The  white  hunter  felt  that  the sport  of elephant  hunting could easily become  an obsession,  “…it gets  into  the blood”. He thought that a sportsman may have a surfeit of hunting all other game, “…but not elephant”.

On the subject   of elephant charges, Blunt stated that he had been charged so seldom he did not feel qualified to comment.

His experiences indicated that what was often taken to be a charge was in fact merely the attempt of a confused animal to escape danger.

Blunt noted that in heavy cover It was often difficult to determine the source of a rifle shot. He believed that the lessons of unseen attack he learnt in the submarine service helped him to avoid repercussions when hunting elephant in his travels.

Blunt had his share of interesting experiences. Obtaining bearers was often a problem. Particularly when elephant hunting, it was sometimes hard to persuade bearers to shoulder heavy loads and set off, leaving a feast of meat behind.

There was a period, however, when Blunt could just not keep his bearers. Every day large numbers of his porters disappeared. Some of the villages that he entered appeared to be deserted, only frightened old people being left behind.

Eventually Blunt managed to extract the reason from a scared old man. A rumour was circulating that he was employed by the government, not as a hunter, but to cut the throats of natives and send the blood back to Dares Salaam.

Blunt tried to convince the populace that it was a lie, but they refused to believe him. His story was outlandish! Why would the government employ someone to shoot garden raiding elephants?

Blunt suspected that the story was circulated by poachers who feared detection if Blunt were tree to travel widely. The story faded slowly, although other white officials occasionally found villages fleeing their arrival, in fear of the dreaded “Bwana Nyama” (Blunt).

There were various other hazards to travel, apart from reluctant bearers. Thieves were rampant in some areas, and were so determined; constant vigilance was needed to avoid their predations.

Blunt thought that “providing the victim is not oneself, their acts of robbery rather savour of sport and are amusing”. He went on to recount the story of a travelling Indian trader who made his bed on top of his goods.

Sometime during the night he was carefully lilted off, only to be replaced when all the stores were stolen. He awoke after an uninterrupted sleep to find his bed considerably closer to the ground than the previous evening.

In the nineteen thirties Blunt wrote a book of his experiences. Titled “Elephant”, the book was well received.  A modern reprint was released some years ago and will probably still be available in some areas, for those keen to obtain a copy.

A large section of Blunt’s book was devoted to a detailed, and interesting, natural history of the elephant.  Blunt dedicated the book to “Pemba Moto, my African tracker and faithful companion in the bush..”