Brian Herne's White Hunters: The Golden Age of African Safaris is the story of seventy years of African adventure, danger, and romance.
East Africa affects our imagination like few other places: the sight of a charging rhino goes directly to the heart; the limitless landscape of bony highlands, desert, and mountain is, as Isak Dinesen wrote, of "unequalled nobility."
White Hunters re-creates the legendary big-game safaris led by Selous and Bell and the daring ventures of early hunters into unexplored territories, and brings to life such romantic figures as Cape-to-Cairo Grogan, who walked 4,000 miles for the love of a woman, and Dinesen's dashing lover, Denys Finch. Witnesses to the richest wildlife spectacle on the earth, these hunters were the first conservationists. Hard-drinking, infatuated with risk, and careless in love, they inspired Hemingway's stories and movies with Clark Gable and Gregory Peck.
A second-generation Kenyan who has professionally hunted big game for more than 30 years and is an honorary Uganda National Park warden, Herne did exhaustive archival research and conducted countless interviews to produce this encyclopedia of gore and glamour. From roughly 1890 to 1970, American and European aristocrats, movie stars and business tycoons converged on East Africa, hiring professional white hunters to lead them on lengthy, luxurious shooting expeditions. Theodore Roosevelt's 1909 safari lasted for months and employed 500 porters. The early generation of white hunters set the pace for a hard-drinking, bed-hopping lifestyle. Later, Bror Blixen, Isak Dinesen and Denys Finch-Hatton carried on just as flamboyantly as their screen counterparts in Out of Africa. In turn-of-the-century Nairobi, inebriated ladies rode their ponies up steps into bars. But the dangers were real, and Herne details various narrow escapes and deaths by mauling. Typically colorful is the story about the filming of King Solomon's Mines, during which a bull elephant rushed the cameras and was stopped by a bullet. The relieved crew and actors posed for pictures on the animal, which disappeared later that day, never to be found again. Heavier on anecdotes than on overview, Herne's book skips discreetly over all the cultural and political ironies of Europeans coming to Africa to shoot at its natural resources. It will, however, reward armchair hunters with a rich portrait of a magnificent landscape, its animal inhabitants and some of its most reckless human interlopers.