A Hunter’s Hunter by Robin Hurt

THIS IS A BIG book – in every sense. It measures 39x30cm and has 512 pages. And it is big in that it’s all-encompassing. It’s not only about professional hunter Robin Hurt’s life and lengthy career; it spans pretty much the entire African hunting scene from the late ‘golden era’ to the present day, covering most east and central African countries, and includes all the PHs involved, trackers, clients, gun-makers, wildlife artists and many more. Its dissertations on practical conservation measures and the future of Africa’s wildlife and the hunting industry offer crucial information. I can’t think of any other single volume in the hunting genre which encompasses so broad a spectrum of subjects and personalities.

ROBIN’S PATERNAL ANCESTORS are of England’s landed gentry whose properties include a pub that has run continuously for 400 years. His maternal grandparents, Col Donald Williams, Kenya’s Chief Medical Officer, and Emma Aggett, were among Kenya’s first settlers, owning a farm near Naivasha. Their daughter Daphne, Robin’s mother, was born in Nairobi in 1918. Robin’s father, Lt Roger Hurt of Alderwasley Hall, Derbyshire, was a career soldier posted in Kenya and seconded to the Kings Africa Rifles in 1929. He served in the Ethiopian Campaign and WWII, to become Lt Col Roger Hurt, DSO. He married Daphne Williams in Nairobi in 1944 and Robin was born in 1945. Roger Hurt was then appointed as Military Administrator of Somalia. He later became a Kenya game warden. This book contains many historically valuable photos of East Africa’s pioneer days.

Robin spent his boyhood hunting on his mother’s ranch at Naivasha, an area teeming with game. Their immediate neighbour, Gilbert Colville, often invited young Robin to cull buffalo on his land. Robin shot all of the Big Five before his 17th birthday. On graduating from the Duke of York School, he entered an apprenticeship with Ker, Downey & Selby Safaris, and by the age of 18 was a fully licensed professional hunter. After a spell hunting with the Tanganyika and Uganda Wildlife Corporations, he re-joined Ker & Downey until 1973 then established Robin Hurt Safaris. So began a safari outfitting career which spanned Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Sudan, CAR, Zaire, Botswana, Zambia and Namibia. And Robin is still at it – on his ranch in the foothills of the Gamsberg in Namibia.

IT IS IMPOSSIBLE to do justice to Robin’s career or the contents of this massive book within the confines this review. In a nutshell, Robin has done it all – everywhere. If you want hunting adventures, it contains those aplenty. Readers will recognise some which Robin contributed to Magnum over the years. His career pretty well represents the history of the African safari industry in post-independent Africa – with all its wonder and its anguish. He experienced the overnight banning of hunting safaris in Kenya, Tanzania and Zaire. This book covers in detail the most sought after game species – the Big Five (including black rhino, of which few living PHs today can write with experience and authority), hippo, crocodile and the non-dangerous species including rarities such as mountain bongo. It also has chapters on bird shooting and deerstalking in the UK and Europe. And all this is supported with seemingly limitless photographs of everything – trophies, wildlife, landscapes, fly-camps, clients, fellow PHs, trackers, game wardens, safari vehicles, rifles, PHs mauled by leopards and other nasties (both Robin and one of his professional hunter sons in Tanganyika were mauled by leopards).

Robin gives statistics of PHs killed or injured by dangerous game: 54% by leopard, 25% by buffalo, 5% by lion, 4% by elephant and the remaining fraction by hippo and rhino. This doesn’t include trackers, gun-bearers or clients. However, since leopard attacks seldom prove fatal (thanks to antibiotics) these figures do not represent the danger potential of these species to the hunter, which he ranks from most dangerous to least: 1: buffalo; 2: forest elephant; 3: leopard; 4: savanna elephant; 5: lion; 6: hippo; 7: black rhino; 8: white rhino.

In 1990, in Tanzania, Robin and Joseph Cullman established the Cullman & Hurt Community Wildlife Project, renamed the Robin Hurt Wildlife Foundation after Cullman’s death. Their philosophy: for humans to be encouraged to steward wildlife and conserve wilderness habitat, they had to benefit financially from the use of wildlife. Detailed figures showing the amount of money contributed to community development activities and conservation efforts via the foundation between 2006 and 2018 are hugely impressive. Figures showing the rate of destruction of wildlife populations due to poaching in countries where safari hunting has been banned are shocking. However, the rate of recovery of wildlife in countries where such bans have been lifted, such as Tanzania, is most encouraging.

This one-of-a-kind book is beautifully presented in hardcover on quality paper. It will be of added interest to lovers of modern African hunting history and Africana. Price: R2 900 plus postage ex-Gauteng. Phone 076-664-9276; email info@halseton.co.za. – Gregor Woods

Magnum Magazine Book Review (Link to PDF)