The Golden Age of Safari in Africa

The Golden Age of Safari in Africa
Through the 1960s virtually all safaris were mobile, free-wheeling affairs, but most required just one or two trucks. This is the safari train for Howard Hawks's 1962 movie Hatari, starring John Wayne and filmed on location in East Africa.

Africa has changed since the time of Roosevelt, but it is still a place of adventure.

or two trucks. This is the safari train for Howard Hawks's 1962 movie Hatari, starring John Wayne and filmed on location in East Africa.

The epic 1909 journey of Theodore and Kermit Roosevelt is often considered the beginning of the great days of African hunting and the first use of the word "safari" as we think of it. By then, most of Africa had been explored and mapped and almost all of her major species identified to Western science. The Roosevelt party was not the first to go "out to Africa" on essentially an extended hunting vacation, but the fanfare that surrounded the Roosevelt safari — and African Game Trails, T.R.'s subsequent book — really did launch the safari industry. Philip Percival, one of the young guides, turned full-time professional after the Roosevelt safari and, in time, became known as "the dean of professional hunters."



The Roosevelt safari may have been the beginning of a golden age of African hunting, but exactly when this special period ended is less clear. The date often suggested is the closure of Kenya in 1977. Without question, this was a major blow to the safari industry, but it wasn't the only nail in the coffin. We tend to forget that Tanzania closed hunting first, in 1973 (to reopen in 1981). In the 1970s, political unrest drove hunters out of Angola, Mozambique, and Chad, and then Sudan in 1983.


Those were dark days, and predictions were dire. Fortunately, African wildlife and hunting are more resilient than we had thought. Of the countries mentioned, only Angola, Kenya, and Sudan remain closed. What really happened is that the safari industry moved south, and southern countries developed their wildlife. The inexpensive "plains game safari" hardly existed in the 1970s. Today, Namibia and South Africa host more than 50 percent of the continent's 20,000-plus annual hunting safaris. However, they are just two of the more than twenty sovereign African nations that offer hunting opportunities for visitors. Some come and go. Gabon has reopened for the 2018 season, but many of Africa's hunting countries have been open continuously for decades, with hunting placing value on wildlife and creating incentive for conservation.

The Rise and Fall of Wildlife


Most African countries have indigenous rarities, localized subspecies not found elsewhere. There are antelope in places such as Angola and Sudan that haven't been hunted for a generation, but remnant populations are still there, awaiting rediscovery and husbandry. Certainly, some important African species, including elephant, lion, and black rhino, have been seriously reduced since the 1970s, but it's important that we never forget Kenya's elephants and rhinos were nearly wiped out by poaching gangs after sport-hunting was closed. The greatest loss to African wildlife in the last half-century has been the extermination of desert antelope on the fringes of the Sahara. In 1975, addax, dama gazelle, and scimitar oryx were once plentiful (and huntable), but they were eradicated by warring factions and are now considered extinct in the wild.

Collectively, continent-wide, there is much more hunting opportunity in today's Africa than existed in Kenya's final season. In Namibia and South Africa wildlife has increased at least twentyfold since 1970, largely due to efforts on private land and because the safari industry has placed value on wildlife. I'm not a gloom-and-doom guy, and it's not unthinkable that the golden age of African hunting is happening right now.


The Last of the "Great White Hunters"

But if safari began with Roosevelt, then perhaps it ended on January 20, 2018, with the passing of John Henry "Harry" Selby (1925 — 2018). After the Roosevelt safari, Percival guided many royals and tycoons, but he launched into worldwide fame as Ernest Hemingway's professional hunter on the 1933 safari that gave us Green Hills of Africa. In 1945, at the end of World War II, a young Harry Selby apprenticed under Percival. He was thus the last living link to the Roosevelt safari. Although just one of many young PHs mentored by Percival, Selby acquired worldwide renown as Robert Ruark's professional hunter in Ruark's 1953 bestseller Horn of the Hunter.

Philip Percival and Ernest Hemingway, Tanganyika, 1933. Turned professional after the 1909 Roosevelt safari, Percival was already one of the best-known hunters, but Hemingway's Green Hills of Africa propelled him into legendary status.

Never fully comfortable with fame, Selby consistently maintained that he was just one of many competent hunters, but he enjoyed a remarkable career. He pioneered the opening of then Bechuanaland, now Botswana, in 1962, eventually moving to Maun in northeast Botswana. Most unusually, Selby conducted safaris for more than 50 consecutive hunting seasons. Neither he nor any of his clients were ever injured by dangerous animals or by accident. Humble and self-effacing — but full of great stories — Selby was the real deal as well as a truly nice guy. Although he had been retired for several years, my Africa will not be the same without him.

Africa Today

It is true that African hunting has changed as I've witnessed through the years. We think of golden age safaris as a time when Africa was a limitless wilderness, where safaris could pick up in Nairobi and wander across Kenya, perhaps drop down into Tanganyika or up through Uganda and all the way to Sudan. Safaris were much longer then. The Roosevelts' nine-month odyssey was unique, but even in my time a 21-day safari was minimal; today's common 10-day safari was unheard of. Permanent camps were unusual, lodges unknown, and at least two or three of the Big Five were commonly on license.

Recommended for You

We put the best boots for late-season hunting to the test. Here are the results. Clothing

Field Tested: Cold-Weather Boots

Kali Parmley - April 22, 2019

We put the best boots for late-season hunting to the test. Here are the results.

Every hunter needs a rimfire workhorse for varmints and predators. Guns

Best Rimfire Rifles for 2019

Keith Wood - April 23, 2019

Every hunter needs a rimfire workhorse for varmints and predators.

A record crowd of more than 67,000 people fell upon the halls of the Sands Expo & Convention SHOT Show

HUNTING's Booth Babes of SHOT Show 2014

David Draper - January 21, 2014

A record crowd of more than 67,000 people fell upon the halls of the Sands Expo & Convention

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

2018 Petersen

2018 Petersen's Hunting Episode 12: High Plains Elk

David Draper teams up with Fred Eichler to hunt elk on the high plains of southern Colorado.

2018 Petersen

2018 Petersen's Hunting Episode 16: Cedar Break Bucks

Kevin Steele treks to the cedar breaks and coulees of north-central Nebraska for a shot at a big prairie whitetail.

2018 Petersen

2018 Petersen's Hunting Episode 10: Snowbound Chamois

Host Brittany Boddington gets more than she bargained for on what turned out to be a grueling, snowbound and extremely physical hunt for chamois in Romania's Carpathian mountains.

See more Popular Videos

Trending Stories

Many of the states in our glorious nation provide great hunting, but only a few have the whitetail North America

Top 10 Trophy Whitetail States

Joseph von Benedikt - December 18, 2017

Many of the states in our glorious nation provide great hunting, but only a few have the...

We evaluate the four factors in determining whether a cartridge is viable for long-range hunting: trajectory, wind drift, impact velocity, and accuracy. Ammo

Is the .308 a Viable Long Range Cartridge?

Keith Wood

We evaluate the four factors in determining whether a cartridge is viable for long-range...

These rounds have proven themselves most worthy in the field. Ammo

America's Top 10 Big Game Cartridges

Joseph von Benedikt

These rounds have proven themselves most worthy in the field.

See More Stories

More Worldwide Big Game

 Massaro with a Mozambican Cape buffalo, cleanly taken with a Heym 89B in .450/400 3 Worldwide Big Game

Big Bore Hunting Cartridges for the Biggest Wild Game

Phil Massaro - August 28, 2018

Massaro with a Mozambican Cape buffalo, cleanly taken with a Heym 89B in .450/400 3" Nitro

Craig Boddington describes what he likes when it comes to choosing the right Nile buffalo to take. Worldwide Big Game

Choosing a Buffalo to Hunt

PHTV Adventures - August 07, 2017

Craig Boddington describes what he likes when it comes to choosing the right Nile buffalo to...

BAM! BAM! BAM! Three hard knocks on the roof of the Land Cruiser sounded above us. Piet, our Worldwide Big Game

Understanding Namibia

Kali Parmley - January 05, 2018

BAM! BAM! BAM! Three hard knocks on the roof of the Land Cruiser sounded above us. Piet, our

See More Worldwide Big Game

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save.

Temporary Price Reduction.

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

×