Paul Grobler, Ivory Hunter
Paul "Kambada" (Leopard) Grobler is the African name given to Grobler by an old African nganga (witch doctor) Paul began his career in 1945, and had his last elephant hunt in 1990. In 1949 alone he sold almost 2000 tusks and handed into government another couple of hundred belonging to crop-destroying animals. Give or take a dozen or two, that year he shot roughly Bell's, Sutherland's and Nyschens lifetime totals of 1000 to 1200 head. Over the decades while accounting for thousands of elephants, he must have pursued more of the great beasts over more miles of African bush than any other hunter. For sheer weight of experience he is, and will remain, unsurpassed. And to have survived so many experiences bears witness to the skill of a master. Paul’s parents were married soon after the end of the Boer War, in 1905 in the village of Louis Trichard in northern Transvaal.
By the time Paul was born in 1922 in Southern Rhodesia, he was baby number nine. These early pioneering years are fascinatingly described by Harland – the trekking, the desperate poverty of Depression times, and the natural abundance of the African bush. By age nine, Paul took his dad’s 7.9 Mannlicher Schönauer and brain-shot dead his fi rst elephant. It was the first of many thousands of elephants he killed. By 16, Paul had a miner’s blasting certificate, but also hunted for the crew’s big cooking pot on expeditions that took him as far as Pygmy-country in the Belgian Congo. Then WWII intervened. By 1948, Paul was assisting the District Commissioners in animal control, starting out with his only rifle – a ‘sporterised’ ex-military .303, with round-nosed 215-grain bullets by Kynoch - the only calibre ‘for which ammunition could be found in reasonable quantities almost anywhere in southern Africa.’
Over the years, Paul knocked down groups of elephant in groups of 5 to 40. ”I shot my first 80 elephants with my .303 and used 88 rounds. After 300 or 400, even (my wife) Marie couldn’t be bothered to keep track.” Many were bagged under the worst of conditions in the jesse thickets of Zambezi country . Large-scale elephant culling in Wankie Park began in earnest in 1966 and from then on was handled by Paul. Wherever elephants were to be hunted, he was there with a .416 Rigby or .458 BSA. He knew their secret watering holes and how the wind changes as the sun heats up the air currents of the Zambezi Valley. Paid 15 pounds per dead elephant (turning the tusks over to the government), soon he was shooting elephants with every calibre available: .375 H&H, 9.3 mm (which, with soft-nose bullets, he especially liked for lion) .425, .465, .460 Weatherby, .470, and even a .600 that came complete with 45 cartridges, switching to soft-noses whenever solids were unobtainable. The cash from the elephant carcasses or ivory paid for the first family farm. For ASG readers, of course the best parts of the book are the dozens of elephant chases that marked Grobler’s life, revealed during his twoyear questioning by Harland. Once, with three angry cow elephants crashing towards him, the bolt of his rifle “slid forward with no resistance and something landed on his shoe. The slight metallic ‘clink’ was the magazine floor-plate opening. There was no cartridge for the bolt to pick up and feed to the chamber.
The three rounds were lying at his feet.” On his way home, he had the opening permanently welded closed! Another time, while being tossed in the air by a buffalo, as he cartwheeled above it, his finger pulled the trigger of his rifle. Miraculously, the bullet went through the buff ’s back between its shoulders, hitting the heart and saving his life. A full cast of original characters and colleagues animate the book, including from the 17 years, starting in 1972, that Paul outfitted safaris in Omay, Ume and Bumi near today’s Lake Kariba. At one point, he employed 600 people, had 60+ vehicles, 44-foot fishing boats, and three aircraft for his game processing, crocodile farming, and kapenta fishing and safari operations. The simple ivoryhunting days were over.
Grobler is considered a capable, calm, unhurried man and a natural leader in all he does. An astute businessman, a successful farmer, and a passionate hunter - it all worked together in creating a satisfying and successful life. ‘Never a Dull Day’ is the title of one chapter, which sums up best the Paul Grobler story. Studying the 1940 map of Southern Rhodesia in the book, one cannot avoid a squeeze of the heart, knowing what has happened since to the families, investments and harvests of generations of white Zimbabwe citizens. Since it is impossible to go back in time, a read of African Epic is the next best thing. Paul Grobler’s story ranges from tobacco, stock and crocodile farmer (producing and processing over 5,000 hides a year); ivory hunter, elephant culler, game cropper and meat and hide processor; pilot, commercial fisherman and safari operator; plus husband of a saint, father to a brood, and hardworking in-law to a vast web of Zambezi Valley relatives.
Richard Harland caught up with Paul Grobler when the latter was in his eighties, and he persuaded Grobler to tell his story for this book. Grobler, born in 1922, did not start hunting in Rhodesia till 1945, and he shot his last elephant in 1990. During this period, exactly forty-five years, he is reputed to have shot more elephants than any other human being. Whatever the number, that he was successful there can be no doubt, for he built up an entire farming empire on the proceeds of his ivory sales. He started hunting with a .303 and a £1 sterling “open hunting license” in his pocket. Such a license allowed unlimited game shooting (except for lion, leopard, and rhino) in the tsetse-fly zone by the Rhodesian authorities. Obviously, this situation could not last, but it is indicative of the conditions under which he hunted. But like all good and interesting stories, this title is more than just a book on elephant hunting: It is about a person who through his grit and single-minded determination managed to eke a living out of an extremely harsh land, and he made a good living. Pioneering days in colonial Africa were hard, and the people who stayed alive and succeeded were, indeed, a tough breed. Paul Grobler is such a man, and the story clearly shows it. Full of historical black and white pictures, the book is testimony to a type of human being who no longer exists in the modern world —a person and time hard to imagine for most of us in the twenty-first century.