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  • Writer's pictureKev Thomas Writes

Problem Animal Elephant Hunting – Marromeu, Mozambique, circa 1936

Above: During his 1936 crop-raiding elephant hunt Harry Flederman was provided with 60 porters by the Portuguese authorities.

Twenty-two years ago, I was invited to the home of a Mr. R Flederman who was interested in selling a set of registered elephant tusks which had belonged to his late father, Harry Flederman. It was one of those invites that come around by your knowing someone, who knows someone, who knows …so it was with a sense of intrigue that I arrived at his beautiful Cape Town home on the Atlantic seaboard.

However, when I saw the tusks he was wanting to sell, my intrigue turned to spellbound awe. They were magnificent specimens with matchless symmetry. One tusk was 8’ 4” (256,41cm) long, weighing 122lbs (55,33kg), and the other was 8’ 3” (253,85cm) long, weighing 118lbs(53,51kg). Their combined weight an impressive 240lbs (108.86kg). Unfortunately, I wasn’t in a position to find a buyer.

Of interest to me however, was his late father’s photocopied although undated story, a copy of which was kindly given to me to read. It was an intriguing narrative originally written by his father describing in detail his elephant hunting in Mozambique’s Marromeu region during 1936. Although the actual hunt only lasted a month, it took place at a time when that remote part of Mozambique wasn’t easily accessible due to the inhospitable terrain and lack of road infrastructure. An area which some months ago was under threat from radical Islamic fundamentalist fighting.

In our modern era of hunting, the type of elephant hunt conducted by Harry Flederman would be termed a PAC (Problem Animal Control) hunt, meaning the elephants in question were crop-raiders plundering tribal crops, although on modern era PAC hunts huge tuskers like those shot by Flederman are no longer found. He was invited by the Portuguese Authorities to assist with the 'hunting down and killing of six rogue elephants.' All of his expenses would be paid for, and the authorities would provide him with 60 tribal porters (bearers).

Harry Flederman doesn’t say anything about the trip to Beira, or how he got there from Cape Town. We must assume he travelled by ship. Once there though, he boarded the Trans-Zambezi Railway Train, with the Portuguese guard having been given specific instructions to put him off at Caia on the Zambezi River. Flederman refers to Caia as a ‘siding in the bush’, which he reached at 04hr00.

After disembarking at Caia, he was greeted by a corpulent African American, although Flederman doesn’t expand on the American’s presence in Mozambique. There were also a dozen Africans in loin cloths, who then carried his luggage and guns to a nearby trolley which ran on a small gauge railway line. This contraption was then pushed about a kilometre to the American’s house where his portly and smiling wife welcomed Flederman and led him to a hut, in which there was a tub of warm water for him to bath. After he’d bathed the portly wife then cooked him a meal comprising ‘six fried eggs, bacon & mielie (maize) bread’.

Eventually, at 10hr00 an antiquated looking steam engine with a six-foot stack and pulling a number of flat open trucks crowded with yelling Natives arrived. One truck was semi-enclosed and had a cast iron roof, underneath which, a deck-chair had been placed for Flederman to sit on. For some distance they paralleled the Zambezi River, before meandering through the hills and stopping periodically for the driver and fireman to collect wood for the furnace. In places, as they wound their way through the hills, the gradient was so steep and the train so slow, having been reduced to slightly more than a walking pace, Flederman was able to jump off, take a short cut through the bush and then jump on again.

Eventually, when the train arrived in Marromeu Flederman was given a tumultuous welcome by the Commandant and his wife. He describes this welcome as ‘what appeared to be the entire inhabitants of Marromeu’. Given the extreme heat, Harry Flederman decided to take another bath and change into fresh clothes, before being escorted to a large Banqueting Hall and being seated with the Commandant, his wife, and daughter. (no mention is made by Flederman as to whether he’d ever previously met the Commandant). However, he does mention how after entering the vast hall it was somewhat embarrassing because he felt as if every pair of eyes in the building were focused on him. It was obviously a good party, because following a sumptuous meal and drinking wine, the orchestra started up and Flederman ended up ‘dancing non-stop’. Seemingly with every girl in the hall. This went on until about 02hr00 when he light-heartedly asked the Commandant if he’d been invited to Marromeu to hunt and shoot elephant, or to be feted. When he finally got to bed, he slept like a log.

Above: Flederman and Gustav Guex having their morning shave. Note the way they use grain bags full of maize (corn) meal as seats. Maize meal is the tribal African staple, so plenty of it had to be carried on the safari. Also in the photo, Flederman holds his own shaving mirror while Gustav Guex in typical colonial style gets a camp ‘boy’ to hold his.

After breakfast the following morning, he was introduced to Gustav Guex (pronounced Gay), a Swiss National who had a contract to shoot buffalo for the Sena Sugar Estates. The buffalo meat was lightly salted and then sun-dried as biltong and used as ration meat for the sugar estates 2,000 workers. It had been agreed that Guex would accompany Flederman and they soon had the trackers and sixty porters lined up ready to depart. Guex and Harry Flederman led the way in a truck with hundreds of the populace cheering them on, until eventually, they arrived at Guex’s house, where they put up for the night, in the bush about 20km from their departure point.

Next morning, they departed on foot. The porters going off in a direction indicated and Guex and Flederman with their trackers moving away at a tangent to the porters. During the late afternoon, they picked up the tracks of the carriers and followed them into camp, where they’d already constructed reed sleeping huts for the two hunters and got the camp fires going. En-route into camp and about 2kms away Flederman shot a buffalo bull. Some of the porters were then dispatched to bring the meat into camp, where the hunters feasted on buffalo steaks and tongue, then relaxed at their campfire situated about a hundred metres from the porters’ camp.

They continued to hunt day after day in the direction where the crop raiding elephant had last been located, shooting game for the camp as and when needed, and covering distances of up to 30km a day. On the seventh day, after departing Marromeu, Guex twisted his ankle badly, and because it had swollen considerably, he was confined to remaining in camp for the next twelve days.

Above: Harry Flederman towers over the Swiss professional hunter Gustav Guex who during a 12-year period shot over 7,000 buffalo – until a few months after Harry Flederman’s 1936 elephant safari, when Guex was killed by a buffalo.

Not long after, Flederman with his two trackers, Camanguira and Cambadza came upon a kraal where the inhabitants had evidently never previously seen a white person, because upon Harry’s approach, they virtually all fled into the bush. Women and men alike. One of the hamlet males had lingered after the others had fled and Harry Flederman asked him where the elephants were. While this was going on, the other inhabitants who’d scattered into the bush began to re-appear, although somewhat hesitantly. Those of a braver aptitude even began to clasp at and feel Flederman’s shirt, causing him to turn around and chase them off.

Eventually the gathering of tribesmen settled down to discussing the elephant issue amongst themselves, before one of the tribesmen beckoned Flederman and his trackers across to the vicinity of a large tribal drum, or what Flederman described as a ‘tom-tom’. The tribesman then began to beat the drum in a rather monotonous fashion for about five minutes. Flederman describes the drumbeater ‘As if in a trance’. Given the geographical area this would not have been unusual, although the reasons for the trance like state were probably unknown to the intrepid elephant hunter from Cape Town.

Tribal people in that part of Mozambique are ancestor worshippers, similar to those in neighbouring Zimbabwe’s north-eastern regions. In simplistic terms spirit mediums or as they are known to the Shona speaking peoples as svikiro, communicate with the ancestral spirits beyond the human plane. These ancestral spirits are believed to be able to predict and see into the future, plus give direction and guidance.

Above: Harry Flederman relaxing in camp.

In this 21st Century modern era, visiting international sport hunters to some parts of north eastern Zimbabwe will have experienced similar. They’d have been taken to a local spirit medium before the start of a PAC elephant hunt. This is done in order to have the hunt blessed by a departed chief’s spirit. During the course of this ritual, the PH and client, plus their trackers will have removed their footwear (out of respect), in addition, during this ritualistic blessing, snuff is normally shared with the spirit medium.

Flederman notes how after about five minutes the sound of other drums could be heard from all directions. These in turn, seemingly attracted the attention of other drum beaters from still further afield, until the monotony of the drums eventually faded into the distance. After about half an hour, another particular drumbeat from extremely far away was relayed via successive drummers back to the individual who was still beating his drum in a trance like state. At this point, he ceased beating the drum and after emerging from his trance told Flederman about a far-off kraal where the elephants had been plundering crops the previous evening.

Above: These buffalo bulls shot by Harry Flederman for labour rations while Gustav Guex was laid up with a knee injury, would've done a trophy hunter proud in this day and age.

Moving off in search of the elusive elephant, the hunters then tracked them for days on end through what in the diary, is described as variegated, wild, and beautiful country. They hunted across plains and through parkland. Scattered about with palms, thick bush, forest, and dense jungle, which could only be penetrated by sticking to existing elephant and rhino trails. Time and again they arrived where crop-raiding elephant had been the previous night, only to find the plunderers had once more moved off, putting long distances between them and the devastated crops left in their wake. Flederman describes the destruction of crops at some kraals he visited as unbelievable. On one occasion the distraught occupants of a kraal pointed out the blood and gore, scattered across the ground where one of their numbers had been trampled to death, after vainly trying to chase off the crop-raiders.

Throughout the course of this lengthy pursuit of the elusive elephant, Flederman shot game for the pot. He also mentions he shot large numbers of buffalo, to help the injured and camp confined Gustav Guex, fulfil his contract. Although we aren’t given any descriptions of close encounters Flederman had with buffalo, he does write of having had ‘many hair-raising experiences’ while shooting buffalo on behalf of Guex.

Once, when moving back towards where he’d instructed his bearers to construct his overnight camp, Flederman was peeved to cut their spoor, still miles away from where they’d been instructed to go. Tracking them, he found all the bearers congregated in the bush fringing the bank of the Cinqua River. After asking the cook why they’d only covered about 12 miles since their previous camp, the cook and others pointed at the many large crocodiles sunning themselves on the opposite shore.

After chasing the crocs off with a number of shots, Flederman summoned one of his trackers, Camanguira, who was well over 6 feet tall, and then mounted the tracker’s shoulders, before holding his rifle at the ready, and ordering the unhappy tracker to wade the river, which was about 80m wide. After reluctantly entering the water, the tracker got to the halfway mark before wavering when the water reached his shoulders. Flederman immediately took the initiative by firing another shot into the water, and then prodding the tracker on. Once they’d reached the opposite bank, they instructed the bearers to follow, which they did, although not without a fair amount of spluttering and coughing.

It wasn’t too long after this incident, when the caravan was camped alongside what is described as a beautiful forest and a clear stream of water that Flederman changed the order of seniority amongst his trackers. And for good reason. Some miles before reaching the enchanting camp-site, they’d come across the spoor of a herd of buffalo, and after tracking them, Flederman managed to shoot five before the herd stampeded. During the course of the hunt, a bull had charged him from close quarters inside a thicket, and he’d only managed to anchor the inbound buffalo when it was a few paces to his front. When he turned around to look for Camanguira, who always carried his spare rifle, he saw the tracker fleeing in the opposite direction. His other tracker, Cambadza, a short and stocky man had remained at his side, spear raised and ready to throw throughout the buffalo charge.

Knowing full well the need for a tracker and rifle carrier of steady nerve, who had to have the utmost trust in Flederman’s skill with a rifle, he somewhat diplomatically informed Camanguira that given his exceptional eyesight, he wanted him to concentrate on spoor and tracking and let Cambadza become the bearer of the spare rifle.

Readers may wonder how in the remoteness of Mozambique during that era, Flederman was able to communicate with what were during those early colonial times referred to as ‘bush natives’. He himself explains in his diary that his camp cook had a ‘smattering’ of English and that he (Flederman), a smattering of Fanagalo, a Pidgin English dialect made up of English, Zulu, Swahili, Afrikaans and a few other African languages, and used on South Africa’s goldmines for ease of communication between differing tribal groupings. It’s more of a dialect of delegation because a normal conversation would be difficult to hold.

Eventually, and after hard hunting and numerous adventures, Flederman came up with the elusive elephant. One day after following fresh spoor until it was too dark to see, they slept alongside the tracks in a hastily made make-shift camp. Early the next morning, and while it was still dark, they were awakened by the sound of elephant trumpeting. Departing camp at 04hr30 they moved off on the tracks from the previous evening. Interestingly, at this point in his diary, where they are about to leave camp in pursuit of the elephant, Flederman mentions loading his rifle with ‘solid’ bullets, and although in the narrative notes I was given, I didn't see any reference to a particular calibre, a reader of my Blog who is familiar with Flederman's diaries has kindly let me know Flederman used a 9,3x62mm Mauser. In the days ahead, I will be posting a separate Blog on the 9.3x62mm Mauser.

The spoor took them through overgrown dense vegetation and elephant grass standing eight feet high, and on one occasion as they made their way through a swampy patch, they disturbed some hippo. Not long after a storm blew in, drenching them and making tracking difficult after much of the spoor had been washed away, although they tried to continue as fast as possible. Eventually, they entered mopane woodland where the trail was littered with stripped bark and masticated branches. A mental image all too familiar for anyone who has hunted elephant.

Pressing on, they then arrived on a river bank shrouded in dense riverine forest, the huge muddy elephantine footprints leading into the water clearly indicating where the crop raiders had made the crossing. With the river being too deep to cross on foot, the hunters found an old mokoro (dugout) and despite the fairly swift current, used it to make the river crossing.

Once across, the spoor indicated the elephant were moving quickly. Flederman described how downhearted they were at not being able to close with their quarry. After arriving at another tribal kraal, they were once more confronted by scenes of devastation in the surrounding crops. While they lingered there hot and tired, they again learnt via drum signal that the elephant were far away in a north-westerly direction. Returning to camp in the dark Flederman marvelled at how his exhausted trackers managed to even find the camp, where they eventually arrived somewhat dejected and famished, not having eaten anything since the early morning.

This pattern of the elephant speeding up daily after the hunters had tracked them for miles, seemed to go on day after day, and led to Flederman wondering how the elephant could sense they were being pursued, even when the wind had been in the hunters favour throughout much of their daily tracking exercises. Finally, their luck seemed to change when after days of frustrating disappointment and relentless pursuit, they came upon scattered mounds of elephant dung, still mucous covered, warm, and steaming in the chill early morning air.

Taking care to make maximum use of the fickle wind, they cautiously followed the well-defined elephant trail through the dense vegetation thickets, until they came to a tall tree which Flederman then climbed, and in his words,

‘I breathtakingly beheld the vision I had dreamed of; six huge pachyderms about three hundred yards away, feeding, and apparently unaware of our presence. We then carefully made our way upwind until we came to an ant heap. Tense with excitement I crawled up the mound and sighted them, only eighty to a hundred yards distant. The tall grass confronted me with the problem of how to get near enough for a killing shot. I whispered for Camanguira to remain there, whilst Cambadza and I crawled to within ten or twelve yards from where they were. I painstakingly stood up, my heart pounding with apprehension and frustration, as I could only see the top of their backs. I stood like a statue, undecided what to do, when one of the elephants, standing behind another, raised his massive head and displayed an enormous pair of tusks. I cautiously crept closer but no vulnerable target presented itself, so I had no alternative other than to contain my patience and work my way back to the anthill.

From there I observed another anthill closer to the elephants. I decided that this was an opportunity that I could not afford to miss, so made my way to the second anthill. The sky was overcast and the visibility poor as I carefully stood erect and contemplated the situation. From the angle at which I stood a brain shot was out of the question, so I raised my rifle and carefully aimed at the heart of the big fellow. He staggered, then recovered, and bolted with the rest of the herd. I ran as I’d never run before, leaving my trackers behind, and about half a mile away I came upon the elephant all facing me with raised trunks questing the air. I slowed down to still my heart and catch my breath, and from twenty yards, fired at the wounded one’s temple, and was thrilled to see him collapse. Pandemonium broke loose as two of them, trumpeting loudly, came searching for me in the long grass, with lowered trunks and widespread ears. They looked as large as houses and presented an awesome and terrifying spectacle, one on each side. I got the one on the right with a brain shot. The other turned and as he charged, I knocked him down almost at my feet. As he scrambled to get up, I put in two more shots. I shot two of the others who were hovering round the fallen monarch. The remaining elephant was nowhere in sight and I did not attempt to follow him, as my feelings of elation and triumph were fused with sorrow and sadness, at having shot these tremendous animals. As I stood gazing at the huge bodies, my trackers came running up, shouting and laughing at one another. They must have wondered why I was looking so despondent. I tried to comfort myself with the thought that these enormous beasts had been a menace to life and property, but then I asked myself? Was this the true reason why I had taken on the job of destroying them? I’m afraid and ashamed to admit the answer is NO! It was purely my love for adventure and challenge, and the excitement of the chase. One thing is certain though, I will never shoot another elephant’

Using what in this day and age would be termed antiquated photographic equipment, Flederman took a few photographs in the fading light and resolved to take many more on the following day. Arriving back in camp well after dark, he indulged in a hot bath, followed by a meal, then sat by his campfire enjoying his pipe and watching his trackers Cambadza and Camanguira, re-enacting the hunt for the rest of the camp staff and bearers, who were all extremely excited by the day’s happenings.

Eventually, mentally and physically exhausted, he sought out his bed and then spent a restless night tossing and turning. His mind still in turmoil. Now and again as his adrenalin charged mind drifted between sleep and wakefulness, he heard the sound of distant drums and other noises emanating from the African bush.

Above: A photo showing two of the bull elephants shot by Harry Flederman during his first and only encounter with them.

Much to his consternation, next morning when striking camp, Flederman discovered that his camera was missing. His diary observes that the state of his mind can better be imagined than described, after he’d instructed the entire camp to search every nook and cranny. He also delegated his trackers and twelve others to follow their spoor of the previous day and carefully search for the missing camera, while he and the rest of the safari moved off at a fast pace, to where he’d killed the elephant. When they arrived at the elephant carcasses, they found hyena, jackals and vultures had already been at work.

Still feeling terribly downcast at the loss of his camera, Flederman instructed the labour not to lay a hand on the elephants until the searchers had shown up, because he still believed there was an off chance his camera would be found, and in this, he wasn’t wrong. At precisely 12hr30 he experienced utter joy and relief, when tracker Cambadza, with a radiant smile on his face handed him his precious camera. Flederman then promised all of those involved in the finding of his camera would be well rewarded.

In a more positive frame of mind he then instructed a camp be pitched a few hundred yards away from the elephant carcasses, in a picturesque spot near a fast-flowing river. His Agfa camera, which had cost him £5, was fitted with a delayed action mechanism which allowed him to include himself in the picture, by setting and focusing on the subject and then getting Cambadza to aim the camera, and hold it steady until it triggered.

While these photographic recordings were taking place, the constant beating of drums from all directions was ongoing. Obviously broadcasting the news, and in next to no time hordes of tribe’s people, men, women, and children were converging on the scene. Some brought gift offerings of yams, wild spinach, paw-paws (papaya) and small plantain bananas. Flederman had his men clear all the grass and brush around the carcasses, and then invited the tribe’s people to help themselves, but on no account to touch the tusks on any of the elephant. At day’s end, when he departed for his own camp, he gave the cook an instruction to tell all of those not employed by him to depart the scene, and to return the next day. He also left Camanguira and some of his men camped at the carcasses to ward off scavengers, both human and animal during the night.

Above: An exceptional elephant with ivory weighing a total of 240lbs.

On the following day, Flederman enjoyed taking things easy for the first time in weeks. Most of his day was taken up with supervising the removal of the elephant tusks. He also observed countless vultures effortlessly patrolling the skies above all the human activity around the carcasses. As the day wore on, hundreds of tribal people continued arriving in their quest for protein by way of elephant meat. Their arrival signalled the start of a meat cutting frenzy or orgy which Flederman wrote ‘was too indescribable to relate’, as he stood spellbound, and gazed in wonder at the heaving humanity surrounding the bloody carcasses. Tribesmen were soon inside the elephant carcasses hacking and stabbing at the rib cavity with their spears. (As an aside the writer witnessed similar behaviour amongst the Shangaan tribesmen in pre-independent Zimbabwe [Rhodesia] during the late 1960s in what is now the Gonarezhou National Park).

During the ensuing days, and after the excitement of the elephant hunt, Flederman continued to hunt buffalo for the still injured and laid up Gustav Guex. His diary notes with typical understatement that he ‘met with many hair-raising experiences which would take too long to relate’.

Eventually, and having got over his despondency at killing the elephants, the time came for his departure from this remote and Eden like part of what was still Portuguese East Africa (Mozambique). With a heavy heart Flederman marched back to Marromeu, where he was once again feted and photographed being presented with the heaviest pair of tusks by the Commandant. After a few more days taken up with paying off camp staff and bearers, he boarded the train for Beira and eventually home in Cape Town.

Some months after returning to Cape Town, Harry Flederman was distressed to hear that his friend, the intrepid Swiss hunter Joseph Gustav Guex, had been killed by a buffalo. Probably a fitting death for the man who during a twelve-year period hunting for the Sena Sugar Estates had shot over 7,000 buffalo. An average of slightly over 48 buffalo per month, no mean feat considering it was all done on foot in a truly inhospitable environment for much of the year.

Above: Harry Flederman with the ivory from the crop raiding bull elephants he shot in 1936

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