SI Vault
Virginia Kraft
March 10, 1958
In the green hills of Kenya, Sports Illustrated's hunting reporter finds a paradise rich in animals and adventure
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March 10, 1958

This Was My Africa

In the green hills of Kenya, Sports Illustrated's hunting reporter finds a paradise rich in animals and adventure

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A noon sun stood high in the sky and the sound of grasshoppers scraping their wings formed background music for a dozen birds. I climbed to the top of a fallen giant and looked down on my elephant, massive and still beneath me. This was Africa. And in this moment were fulfilled the dreams of a lifetime.

All of my dreams and the dozens of books and movies on which they were built had not prepared me for this moment. I was here at last, and I had actually shot an elephant. The feeling was one of awe and excitement, of triumph mixed with sadness, of reality and unreality. Underlying all of my first impressions of Africa was this sensation of unreality, of being at last in a place I'd hoped to be for as long as I could remember—and then being almost uncertain that I was actually here, that maybe this, too, was a dream.

From the moment we arrived in Nairobi, Kenya's capital and the safari capital of the world, we were caught up in the excitement of a city geared to visiting hunters, expatriated novelists and traveling movie crews. I stood with my husband, Bob Grimm, at the bar of the New Stanley Hotel and watched a procession of characters wander by from all the books and movies on Africa we had ever known. Men with great red beards and British accents argued wars of half a century ago with retired Indian officers; turbaned desert princes toasted bejeweled Hollywood starlets; a delicate old lady discussed the ballistics of her pearl-handled revolver with a latter-day Colonel Blimp who incongruously had killed three Mau Mau.

Outside, lights burned through the night as dinner-jacketed businessmen ended the day in the Mogambo and Equator clubs while Moslem merchants began theirs in a dozen little shops along the avenues. Signs flashed messages about Chevrolet, Lever Brothers, Daraprim for malaria, and latest Wall Street stock prices. Natives lounged on the city square ogling an endless stream of baggage moving in and out under the marquee of the New Stanley. Tanned hunters climbed from battered Land Rovers, dust-covered after a month in the bush. Others headed out of the city and toward their own adventure.

For to each hunter an African safari is what he makes it and what he wants it to be. It can be the roughest hunt imaginable, or the easiest, or anything in between. This is so because the land is vast and sparsely populated, and because it is rich and crowded with an unbelievable abundance of game.

For us, Africa was 10 times what we had hoped for, and our safari was the rainbow at the end of our dreams. In Kenya's green hills we found excitement, adventure and hunting as we never imagined it could be.

Of all experiences on safari, elephant hunting was the most unforgettable—not because an elephant is necessarily smarter or more difficult to hunt but because of its tremendous size. My first sight of an elephant was a moment of complete disbelief. There, before me, ambling casually among sparse trees which came only to its shoulder, was an animal which seemed twice as big as I had expected.

In the days that followed we saw many elephants as we searched for one which had tusks large enough to take for a trophy. In all that time I was never able to overcome my sense of awe at their size.

When finally we located a really good elephant, it was in the company of many others. This, our white hunter Owen McCallum told us, was an unusual sight since adult bulls seldom travel together. Old bulls, especially, prefer being alone or with no more than one companion. They look for quiet, Owen said, because like old men they often become crotchety with age.

But on this morning there were 11, and among them was a bull with tusks which appeared to sweep along the ground as it moved. We huddled together, Owen, Bob, myself and our two trackers, using the low, thorny bushes typical of Kenya's Northern Frontier country as cover, while we watched the herd move slowly before us. Each of us took turns studying the big bull through binoculars. It would be an excellent trophy but, in the company of so many elephants, a dangerous one to stalk.

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