The Golden Age of Safari in 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.

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

Recommended Articles

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

Sighting In the CZ .557 Carbine

Sighting In the CZ .557 Carbine

Kevin Steele sights in his CZ .557 carbine rifle that he plans to use on a Colorado elk hunt.

Hunting Coues Deer South of the Border

Hunting Coues Deer South of the Border

Former Delta Force Operator Kyle Lamb hikes the rugged desert mountains of northern Sonora in pursuit of the diminutive Coues species of whitetail.

Moon Phase Rut Tips

Moon Phase Rut Tips

John Dudley, technical writer and host of Nock On TV discusses why it's imporant to follow moon phases for the rut.

B&C Typical Mule Deer

B&C Typical Mule Deer

Doug Burris Jr's typical mule deer taken in 1969, could just be one record that will never be broken.

See More Popular Videos

Trending Articles

Learn how to grill the perfect medium-rare venison steak with these tips and tricks. Recipes

Venison Grilling Tips

Jenny Nguyen-Wheatley

Learn how to grill the perfect medium-rare venison steak with these tips and tricks.

Perfection takes practice, a little skill and the understanding that not all steaks are created equal. Recipes

How to Properly Grill Venison Steak

Hank Shaw

Perfection takes practice, a little skill and the understanding that not all steaks are...

Follow these basic steps to prepare your meat, then pair it with one of these delicious marinades. Recipes

8 Best Venison Marinades

Hank Shaw

Follow these basic steps to prepare your meat, then pair it with one of these delicious...

Mossberg's accurate Patriot Predator is the most affordable way to harness the power of the 6.5 PRC. Guns

Mossberg Patriot Predator 6.5 PRC: Rifle Review

Brad Fitzpatrick - June 26, 2020

Mossberg's accurate Patriot Predator is the most affordable way to harness the power of the...

See More Trending Articles

More Worldwide Big Game

Bad things can happen when mistakes are made during a hunting trip. Follow these tips to stay safe when pursuing dangerous game! Worldwide Big Game

Dealing with Dangerous Game

Craig Boddington

Bad things can happen when mistakes are made during a hunting trip. Follow these tips to stay...

 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 sets up for a Cape buffalo adventure in South Africa with a handgun. Worldwide Big Game

South Africa Handgun Hunt

PHTV Adventures - May 03, 2018

Craig Boddington sets up for a Cape buffalo adventure in South Africa with a handgun.

When a water buffalo charges, you'd better have a big bore. Worldwide Big Game

Bring Enough Gun: Stag Turned Water Buffalo Hunt

Mike Schoby

When a water buffalo charges, you'd better have a big bore.

See More Worldwide Big Game

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save.

Digital Now Included!

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE

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

Get Digital Access.

All Petersen's Hunting subscribers now have digital access to their magazine content. This means you have the option to read your magazine on most popular phones and tablets.

To get started, click the link below to visit mymagnow.com and learn how to access your digital magazine.

Get Digital Access

Not a Subscriber?
Subscribe Now