Ian Manning, Professional Hunter


Ian Manning, Professional Hunter

Ian Manning grew up in Africa and was a game cropping ranger, a professional (then known as white) hunter and later a wildlife biologist. He is a bit of a combination of professional hunter and a man who enjoys hunting for himself for the sheer adventure. The good country through which he hunted, the countries from which the stories in this book emerge include Zambia, Zimbabwe, Congo, Botswana and South Africa.

Manning’s wandering ways date back to his great grandfather, a Scottish black sheep who farmed on the Basutoland (Lesotho) border. His youth took place in the treeless, “tinder-dry grass” of the Orange Free State’s veld until his mother moved, after World War II, to the sleepy dorp of Bloemfontein, where household garbage was hauled away in carts pulled by Clydesdale or Percheron horses. Like many a hunter, he honed his aim with clay-ball wars against equally slingshot-skilled Afrikaner and village children. He graduated to a bird-busting BSA number 2 pellet gun, and killed his first antelope with an army issue Lee Enfield .303.

Many famous White Hunters were still alive when Manning was a boy, and he wrote to Harold Hill, Pat Ayre, Lado Enclave, elephant hunter Major Robert Foran and C.J.P. Ionides, who answered. Books like J.E. Hughes’s, Eighteen Years on Lake Bangweulu inspired his first hitchhiking adventure to Northern Rhodesia to see the swamps and Livingstone’s grave for himself, but violent change was in the air and “I felt we were in the wrong place at the wrong time.”


Ian Manning, Professional Hunter

After a bit of agricultural college, army, and working as an assistant tobacco planter in Northern Rhodesia’s Mkushi Block close to the secessionist war in Katanga, he realized the “slow and sedentary life of the farmer” was not for him, and headed to Bechuanaland in 1964. His description of pre-tourism Maun and its incipient safari industry makes good reading. Riley’s Hotel really was the only game in town, Willie Englebrecht had recently arrived from Tanganyika, and Safari South was a local operation run by Lionel Palmer and Bert Siebert. While working at Shakawe on the Angola border, Bechuanaland gained independence and became Botswana.

Manning’s hunting career really only began in Southern Rhodesia’s Gwaai Forest Reserve, where he developed his lungs and legs as an eland cropper for Peter Johnstone and Alan Savory, who’d transformed culling or game harvesting into a viable business. “Eland hunting calls for great staying power, followed by a burst of speed,” writes Manning who was paid $2.25 for a cow and $3.75 for a bull. Carrying his 9.3 x 57 rifles loaded with solids, he learned spooring with Matabele trackers.

Manning is good, very good, in his book at describing animals beyond the measurements of their horns, comparing the sweet aroma of buffalo to the sour scent of elephant. He paints word pictures of Livingstone’s eland, of “the russet and slate tints of the cows and calves, the grey of the subdominant bulls, the charcoal alpha bull with his black forepeak and heavy whorled horns, heavy of dewlap, imperious, animating the landscape” and “the fragile steinbok that came on porcelain legs… eyes shadowed by ears plucked from a kudu.” Unimaginable today, even sable were culled: “Many of the African antelope retain their beauty in death, but the sable is like a marlin, no sooner do you land it then the majestic color and bearing seeps from its body. A once proud and beautiful animal becomes a donkey with horns.”


Ian Manning, Professional Hunter

The rough road to future Zimbabwe, with its boycotts and embargos, pushed him to Zambia in 1966, his on-again, off-again home until forced exile to South Africa in 2008. In the Luangwa Valley he worked with that young American from Colorado, Rolf Rohwer, who trained him in darting elephant. At this time, “All over Africa it seemed people set out with paint brushes and paint, eggs filled with paint, plastic ear discs, ear tags, radio collars and so on, and slapped, painted and fixed them on parts of the elephant’s anatomy. Rarely were these animals ever followed, but the tagging was fun.”

Rolf taught him the anatomy behind brain-shooting elephant, dissecting the skull to demonstrate the position of the brain. Imagine a rod pushed through the ear holes; that’s the line to aim for, not two inches above the eyes. Manning also never forgot F.C. Selous’s advice to note the position of every elephant around you before firing a shot. If the six-year (1965–71) cropping program hardly made a dent in the habitat-damaging population of some 100,000 elephants, all too soon poaching would, taking the valley’s black rhino population with it.

Manning was called upon to track down cattle-killing lions in the Chisamba farming block west of the Luano Valley with its “dripping miombo forest and flooded dambos.” In the tension of the final approach, “I listened for the sound of a tail flicking against the earth, or for the pungent, never-to-be-forgotten odor. If luck was with us, we might even hear a lion snore.”

“The Luangwa Valley was a happy place then,” its river “a watery path paved with hippo and croc.” When the plug was pulled by ‘experts,’ whom Manning facetiously defines as “anyone coming from outside Africa,” he turned PH, working for Norman Carr when hunting licences allowed one elephant, lion, leopard, three buffalo, eland, kudu, four impala, two puku, two waterbuck, zebra and wildebeest to which one could add black rhino and an additional elephant. In his first season in 1969, his ivory averaged 74 lbs; his biggest ivory weighed 92 lbs. The record for the Valley was a single tusker carrying 136 lbs.


With a Gun in Good Country by Ian Manning.Insight into the life of a professional big game hunter in Zambia, Botswana, Congo and South Africa. The game and hunting legends plus the magic and memorable adventures, a few misspent years, and more in this dazzling series of stories about an almost unique period of time in Zambia and Africa's great gamelands.

Those of us who live the safari life relate to Manning’s savoring the hard work, but peace, before the clients arrive: “There can be no better feeling, no finer experience than to set out into the blue to discover a beautiful place on a pristine river where wildlife abounds, and there to construct a camp from the raw materials at hand.” There are simple pleasures in stacking supplies and working alongside the good people from tiny villages to repair hunting trails and river passages in that wonderful era before satellite phones and e-mail invaded the bush. How many of us have babied the blue flame of a paraffin fridge, “tending it as if it were a sick child” to assure ice cubes for the client?

In Zambia, one is either a ‘Luangwa Man,’ like Carr, or a ‘Kafue Man,’ enchanted by “exotic oxbow lagoons ringed with fever trees set against the blue lift of the Muchingas.” But Kafue is also a “hard taskmistress, withholding her favors, presenting a rather bleak and unsmiling face.” Manning’s professional-hunting tales are good, often amusing reads, but do not dominate either the book – or his life. They are enriched by his placing them within an historical, geo- and ethnographical context, for example, the political unrest that resulted in the 1950s from black prophetess Alice Lenshina and her Lumpa Church. He reflects how necessary but restrictive game laws caused the loss of power of local chiefs and ancestral customs, turning the naked, spear-hunting Mashukulumbwe into “rather lackluster cattle-keeping peasants.”

Manning became disillusioned when “the safari game became in thrall of the tape measure” rather than having its heart in the experience of the hunt itself, although he acknowledges that trophy measurements maintain standards and keep PHs from becoming lazy. He captures perfectly the tension when the trophies do not fall fast enough, of “stony silences and meal times having much in common with funerals of mass murderers… with no paddle large enough to extricate oneself.”

President Kenneth Kaunda proved disastrous for both whites and wildlife, although Manning was one of the last white African experts to be purged as the country fell under the spell of Big Man socialism and the nationalization of private industry. He compares Zambia’s eroding conditions to the State House gardens that took 10 years to fall into ruin, “inherited yet untended.”

Although there was much laughter and pranks among pals, “There is much suffering hidden behind those russet sunsets.” Friends and colleagues were killed by lion and elephant, in war in Biafra, and in simple road accidents.

Manning believes the future of wildlife lies with the hunter-conservationist working in collaboration with rural Africans, rather than with NGO preservationists from abroad, and the development of the private wildlife estate.


Monish