Robert J. Montvoisin (1922-2008), Professional Hunter
by Robert Montvoisin


Along the Roads to Adventure by Robert J. Montvoisin. Among the cast of characters that played a part in the growth of big game hunting in Central (and East) Africa, French Professional Hunter Robert Montvoisin must surely be one of the stars. His involvement, over an amazing almost sixty years, forty of them as a professional hunter, in eight countries (Central African Republic, Chad, Congo, Cameroon, Zambia, Tanzania, Kenya and Morocco) surely rivals the careers of any professional hunter in Africa. His hunting dates back to the legendary times of Dominique Micheletti and George Bates (before they became partners) and continued past the closing of hunting in Kenya, when he went to Tanzania and Zambia. He hunted in Kenya with and for the noted Captain Laddy Wincza, in Zambia with the popular David Ommanney, and in Tanzania in the Selous Reserve. Robert Montvoisin lived, worked and hunted big game in Africa from the end of World War II until ten years ago. He was one of the first to hunt Africa's game fields in her golden era. As well, he was one of the last to experience the joys of hunting in the days when phenomenal game populations existed throughout the continent. Elephant, lion, leopard, buffalo, bongo and Lord Derby eland from the forest galleries to the savannas, desert and lake regions, he's seen them all. Robert has successfully taken a host of top ranking trophies for a worldwide clientele. His career as a professional hunter in Africa is recognized as one of the most successful in modern times.

Robert J. Montvoisin (1922-2008) was a man who, for 20 years before becoming a PH in 1962 at age 40, had coaxed dozens of overloaded, temperamental vehicles all over French Africa – Morocco, Mali, Cameroon and Ivory Coast – to do impossible things under conditions that the Teamsters Union could never imagine. Even after a long career as a PH, he still had a mechanic’s love for the beauty of a ‘virgin’ vehicle.

Like all foreign-born PHs, an early dream of Africa, “when anything was possible for someone whose mind embodied a spirit of adventure,” compelled Robert Montvoisin to get there at any cost – even if it meant enlisting in the cavalry in World War II, serving in the Moroccan Spahis. After the war, Montvoisin finally made it to sub-Saharan Africa, taking a job with a transport company in Congo-Brazzaville. He tells a great tale of the shenanigans involved in reaching Brazza via Algeria, Mali, Togo and Gabon in 1945. In his hotel along the Niger River in Gao, he heard his first lion’s roar.

For several years he directed ‘raft trains’ on the 1,200 km along the Congo, Sangha and Ubangui rivers between Brazzaville and Bangui, and started hunting buffalo and elephant on his own, using whatever rifle and ammunition he could lay his hands on. Already developing his taste for the brain shot, he writes that in 51 years of hunting, he took more than 600 elephants – over 70 percent with brain shots. “To me, only hunting the only hunting that involved tracking, passion and emotion mattered.”


French Professional Hunter Robert Montvoisin and American huntress Betty Lathrop, who endured a 30 day safari in south-eastern C.A.R. in order to collect outstanding bongo and elephant trophies.

And like many a wandering white in Africa in those days, Montvoisin was always on the move – managing a hotel in Leopoldville, Belgian Congo, working first as a forest ranger in Morocco in the anti-Atlas mountains near Agadir in the domain of a sheik right out of the Arabian Nights, and later as a driver hauling huge loads from the Tazenacht Mines in the south as far as Senegal. He does a good job of describing this brotherhood of Spaniards, Italians, Arabs, Sephardic Jews and ‘Pied-Noirs’ (Europeans born in Algeria) who worked together in a job that demanded “courage, endurance, tenacity and daring,” (which sounds like a good description of a PH’s job), crossing 125-metre wooden bridges with four- and five-ton loads in vehicles with ancient transmissions for 700-km journeys.

In 1962, divorce and grown children led him to sell his business and pack his bags to realize his dream of becoming a professional hunter. Destination: Chad – the ‘Dead Heart of Africa.’ Montvoisin’s description of complex Chadian politics in the years after Independence when the safari industry – based in Fort Archambault (today’s Sarh) was still in full swing, with hunts also out of Fort Lamy (today’s N’jamena) for desert species like addax, oryx and Barbary sheep – is hard to follow for those unfamiliar with the players. (Best first read The State of Africa – A History of 50 Years of Independence by Martin Meredith.)

Suffice it to say that tensions between the south and north (the opposite of Sudan, with southern Christians/animists here dominating the Islamic north), ignited by incursions from Libya, led to almost 50 years of civil war, flawed elections, and extremist rebel groups. The country’s teeming wildlife and thriving safari hunting were just two more victims. “Splendour and decay. Such was the fate of this country of chieftans for whom independence perhaps came too early.”

Although Europeans had remained in Chad after Independence in 1960 under the regime of its first president, Francois Tombalbaye – a French educated school teacher and Christian from the powerful Sara tribe, by the time Montvoisin arrived, conflict was increasing. Yet he persisted in his dream to hunt.


Robert J. Montvoisin (1922-2008), Professional Hunter.

Although he provides many good hunting stories about his safaris in East and Central Africa, Montvoisin’s Chad chapters are perhaps my favourites. Characters like Micheletti, but above all, Edouard Tiran, with whom he apprenticed, are delightful. Tiran is a well-known figure in French Africa (his adult sons, Marcel and Michel, are both long-time PHs.) Montvoisin describes him as “weighing 108 kilos with a prominent pot belly, and thighs twice the size of my own… an exceptional human being, full of kindness, eager to help others…joyous and fun-loving… this man was all heart.” His wife, Renee, was the daughter of another familiar figure, Etienne Canone, whose career as a PH and supplier of bush meat (and rhino horn), from the Aouk River to Brazzaville, Montvoisin recounts. “At the time, men like Canone and Tiran could count on no one but themselves in a country that was anything but safe. They had the guts to do what had to be done to survive, and the skill to do it.”

The same can be said of Montvoisin and PH Alain Lefol. He recounts their harrowing escape when they were caught, with their wives, in the middle of rebel fire in Chad. Tiran, who generously launched Montvoisin’s career, also owned the watering hole, Hotel des Chasses, where the many PHs and their clients came “for one last drink before heading into the bush.” “More than a church or post office or grocery store, the hotel was the heart of town.” It was also located next door to where hunting licences and trophy fees were paid. Tiran was the first PH to collect Lord Derby eland for zoos. In fact, he kept a full menagerie of tamed wild animals, including a lioness that roamed freely. The chapter on Tiran and Montvoisin capturing desert species for the Antwerp Zoo is informative and hilarious. Unfortunately, Tiran was killed by an elephant in south-east C.A.R.

George Bates, then also in Chad, handed Montvoisin his first American hunting client, whetting his appetite for this market that few French PHs had penetrated. He became friends with GAMECOIN’s Harry Tennison and the elegant booking agent, Ernest Prossnitz. He appreciated the positive outlook of his American hunters, like the elephant and bongo hunters, Chuck and Betty Lathrop, who started every day of a very hard C.A.R. forest hunt with a hearty: “Bob! Today’s the day we get ‘em!” Americans, he said, “Had a winning disposition and an iron will until the last day, which infected the hunting team, making them happy, optimistic and full of energy... They also understood that it took time to get good trophies and they always booked longer safaris.”

Montvoisin was now a PH – with all its fortunes – and more often misfortunes, especially once big game hunting became “intermingled with the politics of African governments.” He experienced the forced wanderings of many PHs, abandoning Kenya, where he worked for Captain Laddy Wincza, when hunting was closed there, without notice, in 1977. He left the C.A.R. when elephant was closed – again, without notice – in the early 1980s. He changed companies in Zambia and Tanzania as they went bust or partnerships imploded. “Professional hunting is something like sightseeing… and I saw quite a few.” Montvoisin, whose career was characterized by fortuitous chance encounters and an ability to ‘worm his way it in,’ was the rare French PH who carved out a career in English-speaking Africa.

“Everything is known. Everything is written,” wrote Robert Montvoisin, whose 60 year safari ended in May 2008 when he passed away at age 86. “Luckily the good memories remain, and they are worth all the fortunes in the world.”

One of the finest of Professional Hunters...


Monish