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Incidents from an Elephant Hunter's Diary

W.D.M. Bell

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Once again the legendary Karamojo Bell marches through the wilds of Africa-traversing a land virtually untouched by modern civilization in search of adventure and ivory. The Africa Bell knew is now long gone and seemingly very far away, but, in reality, his travels took place only about a century ago. Join us as Bell takes us to a land with vast herds of wildlife living in rough equilibrium with the native human populations.

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INCIDENTS FROM AN ELEPHANT HUNTER'S DIARY
by W. D. M. Bell

2017 Long Beach, 298pp, line drawings, photos, 6x9, hardcover, dj

ISBN: 978-1-57157-498-5

Once again the legendary Karamojo Bell marches through the wilds of Africa-traversing a land virtually untouched by modern civilization in search of adventure and ivory. The Africa Bell knew is now long gone and seemingly very far away, but, in reality, his travels took place only about a century ago. Join us as Bell takes us to a land with vast herds of wildlife living in rough equilibrium with the native human populations.

Through his earlier books Bell gained the reputation for being an excellent marksman who shot small-caliber guns at giant elephants with deadly precision. Bell was best known for his exploits in Karamoja, in what is now largely Uganda, and in these newly unearthed short stories, we again find him in familiar terrain and with his faithful retinue of trackers and camp followers. We also find Bell in unfamiliar terrain. Travel with Bell to the French Congo where he encounters a man-eating leopard, and go along with him to West Africa when he ventures into the rain forest with the Pygmies to test his luck against elephants in dense vegetation. Then there are some wonderfully descriptive stories of an elephant camp and its social life, crocodiles that menace a village, several hunts for elephants on islands in the Ubangi River (not for the faint of heart!), and a trip from Kano to Khartoum via motor car.

These are just a few of our cache of new stories. Not only is Africa covered, but we also get a few stories on the calibers, bullets, rifles, and killing power needed for large game. In addition this book will be illustrated by photos and original line drawings by Walter Bell.

 

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Customer Reviews

This is an important work, appropriately illustrated with sketches by Bell himself, a once-in-a-century find, and a book which belongs on the shelf of every lover of Africana and African hunting history, not to mention past, current and would-be elephant Review by Gregor Woods
No, your eyes are not deceiving you. Yes, this book is from the pen of the Walter Dalrymple Maitland “Karamojo” Bell. Yes, it is previously unpublished material.
For the younger generations among our readers, Karamojo Bell was one of Africa’s most successful ivory hunters of the early 1900s, famous for shooting over 1 000 big tusker bulls, mostly using smaller calibres such as the 7x57 (“.275 Rigby”), .303 British and the .318 Westley Richards. He dissected an elephant bull’s skull to determine the exact location of the relatively tiny brain and what bone structure surrounded it, and he became an expert at precise bullet placement on brain-shots from all angles. He under¬stood the importance of using a round-nosed FMJ bullet with a high sectional density factor (i.e. heavy-for-calibre) launched at moderate velocity. He ended his professional ivory hunting career in 1920 and retired to his country estate in Scotland where he wrote two best-selling books published as Wanderings of an Elephant Hunter (1923) and Karamojo Safari (1949). Shortly before his death in 1954, he sent further memoirs to his American friend Capt Townsend Whelen requesting his assistance in getting these published. Whelen edited and published them in 1960 as Bell of Africa.
So, whence, then, came all this previously unpublished material written by Bell? Well, you see, every once in a while, something wonderful happens in the world of publishing. Safari Press of California was approached by a private collector who, many years before, had acquired a treasure trove of Bell’s personal writings, and asked if these might be publishable. The material comprised ten hardcover notebooks filled with handwritten and typed manuscripts, plus three huge ring-bind¬ers containing 20 typed essays, stories, folders full of handwritten notes, photos and original drawings by Bell (who was a very talented artist). Safari Press also discovered (in the UK) a large collection of short stories much like those in Wanderings of an Elephant Hunter but not previously told in any of Bell’s published books. Furthermore, they gained access to a great number of letters which Bell had written over the years, which provided wonderful insight into the character and personal¬ity of Bell, the man. In all, it amounted to an estimated 300 000 words.
Consequently, Safari Press launched a mammoth reading and editing project. Some items among the material constituted two or three different versions of the same incident, but each differing in detail, enabling the editor, Dr Jacque Neufeld, to put together a fuller and more enlightening account of the incident. Where Bell did occasionally describe an incident that appears similar to one in a previously published book, he retold it from an entirely different perspective.
The final outcome is not only this book, but a second as well, titled Reminiscences of an Elephant Hunter, which I shall review in a future edition of Magnum. The contents of both books comprise all new material. In terms of revealing hitherto unknown African hunting history, as well as being compelling entertainment, it is a treat such as we have not seen in decades.
What I most appreciate about this book, is that unlike Bell’s previously published works, which focus almost exclusively on elephant hunting and the relative rifles and cartridges involved, this one includes marvellously interesting anecdotes and observations on a variety of subjects. I found of particular interest Bell’s observations on the indigenous African people of those times and places. Bell had a rare ability to befriend the most primitive tribespeople in the remotest places, some of whom had never seen a white man, others who had, and were distrusting, yet he could quickly win their trust and soon they would be risking their very lives in his service. Of course, his being a great provider of meat had much to do with it, but Bell had a genuine inter¬est in, and fondness for these people who were so different from his own. He unhesitatingly admits that he could not remotely have succeeded as a hunter without Africans to guide him – he would have got himself fatally lost during any such attempt despite his years of experience.
He describes their ways, personalities, cultures, the place of women in their societies, their tribal wars and faction fights, their hunting skills and tactics, witchcraft practice, diseases, their raiding and trading in women for marriage and enslavement, even cannibalism, and so much more. This is African history, eye-witnessed, and, to the eternal credit of the book’s editor and publisher, all this is reproduced without genuflection to the suppressive censorial influence of “politi¬cal correctness”.
Of course, there is also plenty of infor¬mation on elephant hunting; not just anecdotes, but “how to” material on brain-shots, heart-shots, the approach, methods of overcoming barriers such as six-foot high elephant grass, and even tactics such as driven elephant hunts. He tells of boating down the Ubangi River, stopping off on islands to hunt the herds of bulls which exclusively occupied these at certain times of year. He also writes of hunting other species – buffalo, rhino, crocodiles, leopards, lions, hyenas, ante¬lope and more. Further, it does not all take place in Karamoja (Kenya-Uganda) – he hunts the Congo, Chad, Abyssinia and elsewhere. It makes for very unusual and interesting reading. Best of all, it gives the reader a window into an ancient Africa silently awash with elephants in numbers unimaginable – it evokes a sense of wonder, as if entering a time-warp into the primordial past.
This 300-page book also has an interesting chapter on rifles and shooting, and of course, small-bores versus big-bores – written right at the end of Bell’s life after much retrospection. Space limi¬tations do not permit repeating his argu¬ments here; I’ll suffice it to say that Bell’s opinion as to the best calibre for elephant hunting remained to the end as it was when he wrote Karamojo Safari, i.e. – not the 7x57 (.275 Rigby) as is commonly believed, but the .318 Westley Richards.
This is an important work, appropri¬ately illustrated with sketches by Bell him¬self, a once-in-a-century find, and a book which belongs on the shelf of every lover of Africana and African hunting history, not to mention past, current and would-be elephant hunters.

Excerpt from December 2019 issue of ManMagnum magazine. (Posted on 2/12/2020)

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