Mike Cameron, Professional Hunter & Wanderer
Mike Cameron, Professional Hunter & Wanderer
Mike Cameron, was born in 1939 in the northern Transvaal, is the grandson of Lt. Gen. Sir J. L. van Deventer, KCB (Knight Commander of the Order of Bath), KCMG (and Order of St. Michael and St. George), DTD (Deur Troue Diens, for Meritorious Services) the Commander in Chief of British Forces in the East Africa Campaign (1916-1918), who as a young gunner from the Transvaal Republic is attributed with firing the first shot at British troops in the Kraaipan conflict that soon escalated into the Anglo-Boer War. Sir van Deventer accompanied General J.C. Smuts to Tanganyika to fight the Germans in Africa in the Great War, and was the first South African to be knighted, Mike grew up in the Koedoesrant (Kudu's Hill) area of the northern Transvaal. That was an era when hunting was a necessity, an everyday part of life, and Mike devoted himself to it with a passion. As a professional hunter, Mike Cameron spent more than thirty years hunting in various countries such as Tanzania, Angola, Botswana, South Africa, C.A.R., and Zambia.
On one safari, his client and his colleague’s client both wounded a leopard, and Mike was left to follow both leopards alone into the tall grass. Then there was the time a client arrived for a full dangerous-game safari... only problem was that the man wore a squeaky brace on one leg! There are adventures with lion, elephant, sable, crocodile, and hippo. Then there were the clandestine years when Mike spent his time fighting in the bush wars in southern Africa. Throughout his long career, the urge to see what was beyond the next mountain or valley, as well as a good sense of humor and an instinctive understanding of the indigenous mentality, saw him through many difficulties.
Apart from the stories from his nearly 40 years as a PH in Zambia, CAR, Botswana, Angola (where he guided his brother on black rhino courtesy of Jonas Savimbi, leader of South African-backed UNITA), and now finally in South Africa, Mike early life story is a great read. The chapter, The Younger Years, includes tales from his time in the Northern Rhodesia Police (NRP) which, lucky for him, included the use of a long-wheel-base Land Rover, allowing him to spend his free time hunting in the Walamba Reserve, in addition to taking care of elephant-human conflict there. After the stoning of a Miss Lillian Burton in the Copper Belt in Zambia during the ever-increasing uprisings in the 1960s, Mike hands wielded a baton to restore order, a shotgun for bird shooting, a rifle for rogue elephants, and a powerful punch as an amateur boxer.
Interestingly, Mike was on the scene in 1961 at the site of the crash of the propeller aircraft containing the body of Dag Hammarskj the posthumus winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. In Mike version, developed while picking up the shoes and personal effects of the passengers along a mile of devastation,It seemed, from the looks of the accident site, that the pilot had come in too low on his approach to Ndola airport, and the plane had caught the tops of the miombo trees. It then had gone down and skidded through the brachystegia, the undercarriage had been ripped off, and one wing had caught a termite hill. The plane finally came to a standstill in the bush. All of the passengers, except for one, had already died of exposure when they were found.
Mike was also present as Harry Nkombula, leader of the ANC in Northern Rhodesia, and Kenneth Kaunda, leader of the United National Independence Party (UNIP) worked together to breakup the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland as part of their plan for self-rule. He describes the brute force used by both parties to recruit members for the upcoming elections, and the persecution by political thugs of the Lumpa Church, led by Alice Lenshina in Zambia with her simple but powerful message of love, compassion and tolerance that appealed to thousands and transcended cultural and tribal boundaries between the Bemba- and Njanja-speaking peoples. He continues .The slaughter of innocent people initiated by Kaunda has no equals in the annals of postcolonial rule except, perhaps, in Zimbabwe, where Mugabe settled a hundred years of Matabele abuse with his North Korean-trained 5th Brigade.
No wonder Mike was ready for his first job in the Bechuanaland Game Department where his realm of responsibility stretched from Nata to Pandamatenga, and in those days included much of Wankie National Park (that is now only in Zimbabwe). Disillusionment soon set in, and his chance meeting with East African PH Eric Rundgren there changed the course of his life. And the rest, as they say, is (hunting) history.
What separates Mikes book from many others is that he is utterly candid about a number of famous safari figures including Rundgren one of the first East African white hunters in the early 1960s to move to Bechuanaland (now Botswana), whose career, personality and friendship Mike describes in detail. Rundgren, who died under anesthesia in Australia after sustaining a leg injury that resulted in amputation, once paid Mike with a bank cheque written on toilet paper it was honoured by the Botswana bank. He tells great tales about PHs Andrew Holmberg, Big Bill Illingworth, and Harry Lee-Wingfield the group he calls the When we as in When we were hunting in East Africa. He also talks about Cotton Gordon, the American hunting guide and outfitter whose hugely successful late-life career in Africa he helped initiate, as well as those PHs he wishes he helped.
There also the story of The American Sportsman Series that put the safari company Zambia Safaris on the map (for better or worse) when baseball player Ted Williams, Dallas Cowboys quarterback Don Meredith, and actor Cliff Robertson (apparently a lousy shot) all came hunting. Mike also guided the eccentric Philip, the Duke of Orleans the so-called premier price and pretender to the throne of France who later died under mysterious circumstances, poisoned, reputedly by the French government. The ever-famous Jack O Connor and his son, Bradford, also hunted with Mike, and their lion and buffalo stories make good reading.
In the chapter Rifles: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, Mike is frank about his love of Mauser actions, especially the Combine it with the slim and trim lines that the Brits have perfected, and I am sold - especially on the pre-WWII masterpieces. I have never been punished when firing a well-made English rifle, he writes. He is less enthusiastic on any number of standard or customized American rifles that he has shot in an emergency going so far as to attribute some of his dental problems to them especially Weatherby, although he is a fan of standard Remington and Winchester ammunition. Now you know where my loyalties lie he states with his usual frankness. More great stories here: How, on a brutally cold night in Botswana, Mike traded his down jacket for his client .416 square bridge Rigby that had belonged to South African soldier, author and politician, Denys Reitz Bill Feldstein hunt with an 18-pound black-powder double rifle that fired a 1,000-grain lead bullet .There was so much smoke that you could hide a Russian T-72 tank in it the tiny lady from the Philippines who killed an 80-pounder elephant with a .30-06 with a single 220-grain Winchester solid bullet through the brain. Who says you have to use enough gun. concludes Mike.
Unfortunately, despite his understanding and affection for rural Africans and his own sense of humour even in the worst of circumstances (being blind-folded, beaten and jailed in Zambia over the instamatic camera of a female New Zealand hitchhiker picked up by another PH), Mike is not positive about the future of wildlife and hunting on that funny and sad continent where today, the life of a mangy cow ranks higher than that of a magnificent buffalo. The chapter, The End of Our Game, describes the end of his hunting in Zambia, as well as the loss of tens of thousands of elephants, and all of the approximately 2,500 black rhino from the Luangwa Valley after Kaunda let lose the people into the hunting areas. His beloved Sichifula Controlled Area, which borders the southern part of the Kafue National Park and that he always felt had the best balance of any hunting concession in Africa between the variety of species available and the trophy quality, is since mostly gone.
Today Mike can be found managing the hunting for Frontier Africa at the Van Heerden homestead that was established in the Northern Transvaal bushveld in 1861. Only two hours from Johannsburg and part of the Rietvley conservancy, Mike is happy to live among the natives and introduced antelope species, the zebra, giraffe and leopard that flourish there, although he still travels to Tanzania to hunt each September/October with friends and old clients.
"If Mike admits to having been a bit of a rogue in the bush, sometimes walking a fine line between one chap hunting area and his own, he has proven to be a gentleman by honouring his fine wife, Nellie, who has endured the hard life of a safari wife, and whose photo, I regret, does not appear in this book. Of the many people I have to thank for a colourful career a special tribute must go to my wife, Nellie, who was always there to encourage and assist me." He is not lying when he writes. "Without her, I would not have accomplished much."
My Wanderings Through Africa by Mike Cameron. The hunting experiences of Mike Cameron as a professional hunter in countries such as Tanzania, Angola, Botswana, South Africa, C.A.R., and Zambia. He spent 30 years in the game-fields of those countries. In South Africa, names like Coenraad de Buys, Karel Trichardt, Henry Heartly, Petrus Jacobs (110 lions, 750 elephants), Jan Viljoen, Major P. J. Pretorius, and, more recently, Nico van Rooyen, Bertie Guillaume, and Mike Cameron will often come up in discussions around the campfire. Mike was born in 1939 and grew up in the Koedoesrant (Kudu's Hill) area of the northern Transvaal. That was an era when hunting was a necessity, an everyday part of life, and Mike devoted himself to it with a passion. As a professional hunter, Mike Cameron spent more than thirty years hunting in various countries such as Tanzania, Angola, Botswana, South Africa, CAR, and Zambia. On one safari, his client and his colleague’s client both wounded a leopard, and Mike was left to follow both leopards alone into the tall grass. Then there was the time a client arrived for a full dangerous-game safari... only problem was that the man wore a squeaky brace on one leg! There are adventures with lion, elephant, sable, crocodile, and hippo. Then there were the clandestine years when Mike spent his time fighting in the bush wars in southern Africa. Throughout his long career, the urge to see what was beyond the next mountain or valley, as well as a good sense of humor and an instinctive understanding of the indigenous mentality, saw him through many difficulties. This is a book for readers whose imagination carries them into a world where reality means starry skies, the call of a jackal and the moan of a lion, the smell of gun oil, and smoke from a cooking fire rising into the African night.