Death in the Dande

by Hannes Wessels

Alistair Travers was no stranger to dangerous game. As a ranch- child the family favourite pet was a rhino which wandered in and out the house when not destroying the garden. Evening walks with parents and siblings included Cassius the lion, Potter the otter, Bere the hyena, Dudley the warthog, two Labradors and a daschund. The group was reduced when Cassius was disinvited on being seen salivating on sight of the farm-workers’ children.

An outstanding schoolboy-sportsman, Alistair saw action in the Rhodesian war before turning professional hunter and joining his great friend Bill Bedford in a safari venture.

Hunting buffalo in Zimbabwe’s Dande Safari Area near the ZambeziRiver he cut spoor early in the morning and started to follow. His client was Johan Bellingham, a South African banker and experienced amateur hunter. A big man, Johan did not have his own weapon and was using a borrowed .375 which may have been too short for him and the cause of trouble to come.

Having found the herd without too much trouble Alistair identified an excellent ‘head’ and without much ado Johan fired what appeared to be a well-aimed shot. There was no great concern when the animal disappeared in a cloud of dust along with the rest of the herd; the general feeling was the animal would soon be down. But excitement turned to despair when some four hours later, despite diligent and determined efforts, the targeted animal was no where to be found.

At a loss, Alistair, decided to abandon the pursuit and return to camp where they lunched and deliberated. Upset and frustrated, like the fine PH he was, he was unable to accept that they had lost their quarry and insisted on returning to the field to continue the search. Johan elected to go along too.

All knew the chances of finding the animal were now slim; the trail was cold. All they would do was return to the vicinity and do circular sweeps around the point of impact. This they did in ever increasing circles and by late afternoon it appeared all was lost when suddenly fresh tracks of a lone bull were cut. Further investigation followed and there was mild elation when fresh spots of blood were found. But they would have to wait; the sun was setting and they could track no further.

First light the hunting party was back on tracks and soon heard the loud cackling of happy hyena thrilling over a big feed. Alistair picked up his pace and walked quickly towards their sound thinking the buffalo was dead but he was wrong. The hyena fled, all was quiet again and still no buffalo.

Surveying for sign of movement he checked the wind, placed Johan and the trackers in extended line and ordered a sweep. They would have to carefully comb the bush again. Keeping a wary eye, suddenly there was a shout from one of the trackers telling them he had the animal visual. The two hunters ran towards the tracker just in time to see the bull barrelling down a ravine where they lost sight of it but then it momentarily came back into view as it climbed a lip on a rise and Alistair fired, hitting it in the hindquarters before it was gone again.

Anxious not to lose momentum, Alistair spied a well used elephant path traversing the thicket which offered the best way to cross the ravine and close with the buffalo. He sprinted off with Johan trailing closely but unbeknown to them the wounded animal had hit another wash-away which was impassable and was frantically cutting back towards them at full speed.

With no warning and no time to shoot, their passage in the thicket was suddenly blocked by a heavy black mass and the buffalo smashed into them. First hit was Alistair. A horn ripped into his stomach before flinging him skyward whereupon he hit the ground but then tumbled off the crest and into the riverbed below. Next was Johan whose big frame crumpled quickly under the force of the attack. He was gored, stomped and butted to death.

Despite exposed intestines, massive bleeding and exquisite pain Alistair lay calm and conscious. One of the trackers raced back to camp to give camp-manager Mike Swift the news. He quickly put out an ‘all-stations’ call on the HF (High-Frequency) radio and was fortunate to be heard by bush-pilot Aiden Piercey who told them to prepare the strip; he was coming in immediately.

Meanwhile a makeshift stretcher was cobbled together and a road was hacked through to recover the stricken hunter. Less than two hours after being attacked Alistair was airborne and conscious but just before touch-down in Harare he went very quiet, closed his eyes and died.

The quick and the dead; two brave men tried and they died.

 

About the Author

Highly respected, Writer, Blogger, Wildlife Conservationist, Hunter and Father.......