The Largest Animal that Walked Ever Felled by a Gun


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Jan 3, 2010
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Canada (British Columbia, Alberta), Mexico, Zimbabwe, South Africa (Limpopo, North Cape), USA
I'm sure a good few have read this already, but it's an interesting tale from 1956 from the largest confirmed land animal ever to be shot, a 24,000 lb bull elephant in Angola. Sounds a little bizarre in how many shots were fired, I imagine shot placement wasn't the best, but I believe the account credible. Does anyone know if the animal is still displayed in a museum anywhere?

The Biggest Elephant Ever Killed By Man
by Jose Fenykovi, Sports Illustrated, June 4th 1956


March 6, 1959 A male rogue African bush elephant, a gift from Josef J. Fenykovi, Hungarian-born engineer and big game hunter, and prepared by the museum’s taxidermy staff, is unveiled in the place of honor in the center rotunda of the National Museum of Natural History. At the time of its unveiling, it is the largest land mammal on display in a museum. Fenykovi tracked down and shot the elephant in the Cuando River region of southeastern Angola on November 13, 1955. On view in the Smithsonian, the largest elephant on record was an adult male African elephant hunted by Jose Fenykovi in Angola in 1955. World-record-setting elephant, taken from Records of Big Game (Rowland Ward, London, 10th Edition, 1935).

For most of the year, Jose Fenykovi is a prosperous Madrid businessman. But each fall Fenykovi and his wife abandon Europe and take off for their 1,000-acre ranch in Angola, the vast Portuguese colony on the Atlantic coast of Africa. There, for three or four months, Fenykovi hunts big game in the dense and trackless wilderness of that remote corner of the world. This is the story of his biggest trophy—the largest elephant ever shot.

It was while hunting in a remote area of Angola in 1954 that I got the shock of my big-game hunting life. Examining the muddy shore of a lake I saw an unbelievably big elephant track. Getting out a tape measure, I found it measured an even three feet in length—more than a foot larger than the world's record trophy.

As I stood up a little chill went through my body. I knew I was looking at the spoor of probably the biggest animal living on the surface of the earth.

What should I do? If I followed the beast long enough, undoubtedly I would in time find him and shoot him. But then what? I had only three helpers with me, and it would take us days to skin such a trophy. I had neither the mechanical equipment nor the human help for such a task.

With these considerations I calmed my hunter's ardor and went on my exploratory way. But I never forgot that great track. All last winter, spring and summer in Madrid I thought about it.

Last fall, I got back to Angola and began preparations for the biggest hunting expedition of my life. We loaded a two-ton "power wagon," a big truck with four-wheel drive capable of crossing almost any terrain, and with a brand new jeep, and sufficient supplies for myself and six men, we set off again to cross the Cuito River and look for my elephant. With me this time was Mario, my favorite aide-decamp, and Antonio, my Spanish driver, who is the factotum of our expedition, and who doubles as mechanic, cook and camp overseer.

Mario had not been with me in 1954, so he was unfamiliar with this part of Angola. But I guided our party to the place where I had seen the big tracks. I knew that the habit of solitary old males, whether they belong to the human or elephant race, are set and methodical. They eat, drink, sleep and travel in accordance with a strict plan and timetable.

It had been at the little lake that I saw the big track on November 9, 1954. In this year of 1955 we arrived at the same spot at 2 p.m. on November 12. Since the place had probably never before, or since, been visited by men, I was sure of finding the spoor of my old elephant first seen a year before.

Sure enough, there was the track again. It was not fresh, being covered with dust and leaves. I examined it carefully and concluded it was about two days old. My elephant had been there as late as November 10.

It was early in the afternoon when we saw the track. With me were Mario and my favorite native tracker, Kukuya. Mario got down and looked at the spoor. He agreed that in 40 years of the jungle he had never seen so big a footprint.

"Over these feet," he exclaimed, "there must be a real monster."

"Let us hide away here by the lake," I suggested. "Maybe he will come back to drink, and I could take some films before we start shooting."

We hid the jeep and ourselves in the dense vegetation near the lake and, keeping absolute silence, we sat in the shade. The heat was suffocating. Nothing moved around us except a few birds from the jungle that came down to drink.

But my elephant did not return. When the light was insufficient for color photography we gave up waiting and returned to camp.

At 5 a.m. the next day I was already in the jeep with Mario, Kukuya and Francisco. I wanted to be at the lake when my elephant came down for his morning drink. When we got there, a few ducks were swimming in the muddy water. Everything seemed the same as the day before. The first thing we saw was several recent tracks of elephants of medium size and also a new track of a rhinoceros. While Mario and I examined these, Kukuya and Francisco went a few steps ahead, following the edge of the water. They called to us excitedly.

"He drank at night! Here is the track of three feet long!"

There it was, really fresh, only a few hours old—the sure print of the biggest elephant on earth.

My decision was immediate. We would follow him until we found him.

It was 6:20 a.m. Kukuya and Francisco went about 50 paces ahead, tracking the spoor with quick step, while Mario and I followed in the jeep.

Our elephant was still several hours ahead of us, but he was going slowly, stopping here and there and entertaining himself with food. He seemed completely at ease.

We had been pursuing him for more than an hour when the path of our elephant joined another coming from the north. Carefully we examined the spoors and discovered the recent tracks of a second bull.

From there on they went together. The second animal, judging from his tracks, was of great size but smaller than our monster.

For two hours we followed the two old cronies. Sometimes their tracks would get mixed, but always visible was that enormous three-foot spoor. By 9 a.m. the jungle heat was intense.

Kukuya and Francisco rushed on ahead, but almost immediately they stopped. They had discovered fresh elephant sign. "Hot," cried out Mario. "They must be very near."

We left the jeep and all went ahead on foot. The wind was not very good, as it was variable and could carry our scent down the track. But apparently it had not for, as we silently rounded a bend in the path, the advance tracker held up his hand. I crept forward. There, not a hundred yards ahead of us, were the two elephants.

They were quite calm, lolling under some tall trees, slowly moving their huge ears in a fanlike motion. The smaller was an enormous beast, but my elephant was beyond my imagination. A real monster.

Mario very quietly lit a cigaret, to see by the smoke the direction of the wind. I tossed out a little talcum powder I always carry for the purpose. The wind was crossed, meaning that it came from our left toward our right, but did not carry our scent to the animals. This was a break; we could get closer without being scented.

Slowly we approached, soundlessly, using tree trunks for cover, ever testing the wind so it would not give us away. We were about 80 yards from them. The big one had his side turned to us, but the other was facing us with ears alert. He suspected something. We stopped and observed a few moments.

"I suggest you open fire," whispered Mario.

"I would like to come about 40 yards closer," I answered, whispering too.

"They are two, and in case they charge we won't have time to maneuver," added Mario. The wind started to change direction. We had to act immediately. About 15 yards forward there was a tree with the trunk slightly inclined, good to rest the arm on for shooting.

"Let us go to that tree," I suggested. "From there we will open fire, although I think it is still too far."

"If you want, I'll go forward," volunteered Mario. "I am younger and faster if it is necessary to run."

"Not at all," I answered, thinking that if Mario were in front of me I would not be able to shoot. Coming near the bent tree I told him: "I'll shoot the big one. You, Mario, make it sure. We both should have an eye on the second."

The two animals remained in the same position, one facing us, the other presenting his huge side.

Leaning my arm on the trunk I aimed at the chest of the largest. The bullet from the .416 Rigby raised a dust of dry mud from the skin of the animal, proof of a hit. At once I shot a second bullet in the same place, and I heard the discharge of my other .416, fired by Mario.

Fortunately for us, the two giants did not attack, but ran. Before he disappeared among the trees I put two bullets into the smaller one. I could see blood gushing from the trunk of my big elephant—a sure sign I had got him in the lungs.

Reloading as we ran, Mario and I, followed by Kukuya and Francisco, took off after our wounded quarry. Now there was no need to study the tracks, as an enormous trail of blood told us which way they went. We did not feel the heat or the burden of the heavy rifles we were running with, so great was the excitement.

In an open space in the jungle the two animals stopped for a moment, but they were too far away for a good shot. As we neared them, they sensed the danger and took off again.

After 30 minutes of hard running the heat and the exertion began to tell on my 65 years. Mario and Francisco were ahead of me. I whistled at them and told Mario and Kukuya to go for the jeep. I knew it might be a long chase. I had no idea where the jeep was, but trusted in their jungle training to find it. Francisco and I sat down to rest until the jeep arrived. While we waited, I amused myself by teaching Francisco how to use the .375 rifle which he carried for me as a reserve weapon but which he had never fired. He was delighted to be able to try it.

It took Mario and Kukuya two hours to find the jeep and return to us. We sat down for a while longer, ate some canned food and took a few sips of our much reduced supply of water.

Half an hour later we were on the trail again, this time with the jeep. After about two and a half miles through fairly open country, the tracks of the two elephants entered a patch of thickly wooded jungle.

We left the jeep at the entrance to the thicket. Francisco and Kukuya entered the wood noiselessly. Mario and I followed with equal caution. The smoke from Mario's cigaret, and my talcum powder, showed a variable wind, not a comforting sign when we were going into blindingly thick bush after two pain-maddened elephants,either one of which could kill us all easily.

We crept forward, one careful step after another, for what seemed an age. The jungle was absolutely quiet. Suddenly Francisco held up his hand and signaled that he saw something. I strained my eyes. Yes, about 20 yards ahead we could see something moving slowly among the thick mass of branches and leaves. We could not make out what part of which of the two enormous animals it was, but I slowly raised my .416 rifle to take aim at the moving mass of gray hide.

I fired two bullets from the .416. Almost simultaneously the other big rifle went off at my side. That was Mario. Then we heard a shot from the .375. It was Francisco, who only an hour before learned to use the rifle and was now getting off his first shot—into the body of the biggest elephant ever shot by man.

Before the echo of our shots died away, pandemonium started in the jungle. The crash and cracking of broken trees and branches sounded like an artillery battle. We did not stop to listen, but turned and ran as hard as we could for open country. Deep in a jungle was no place to be with two injured elephants you could not see and with a variable wind that could give our position away at any moment.

When we got 50 yards outside the thicket, we turned and waited for the chase. The wind by now was at our backs, carrying our scent straight to the great beasts. But the attack did not come. Inside the jungle the crash and tear of trees continued. We started to run around the thicket, which was fortunately small—about a mile and a half in circumference—keeping a good 50 or 60 yards from the edge of the forest.

This way we reached the place where we had left our jeep. I saw, to my astonishment, not 10 feet from the jeep the bloody tracks of the big elephant. He had passed the jeep only a few seconds before.

A little way from the jeep we found the tracks of the smaller beast who had taken off in the opposite direction from his larger companion. Fortunately for us, the two monsters had separated and now the job was not quite so dangerous. We had only one elephant at a time to worry about and he (the big one) had six .416 bullets and one from the .375 in his vitals.

We followed his trail through low bushes for a good three miles. Two or three times we got close enough to see him, but not in time for another shot. Finally the bloody trail entered another wooded thicket. Now we could not miss it even if we were blind.

It was 4:30 p.m. Mario and I stopped with the jeep at the edge of the jungle. Francisco and Kukuya lunged into the thicket like a couple of bloodhounds on the scent. They had orders to locate the beast and call us. Mario and I both thought that with seven heavy-caliber bullets in him, losing blood and winded from a hard six-mile run in terrific heat, our elephant could not last much longer.

We waited for 20 minutes, and there was no word from Francisco and Kukuya. Mario asked me if he could go in to look for them. I hesitated. I thought we should both go. I like to finish off my trophies myself. But I was at the end of my endurance, after having been on the go since 5 a.m. Mario, who is 20 years younger than I am, argued that if we did not finish him off quickly it would soon be too dark to follow him, and then we might lose him altogether.

I told Mario to go ahead. He disappeared like a cat into the jungle. Taking up a stand by the jeep facing the trees, I prepared to defend myself if the elephant should charge.

I waited a little over half an hour, growing ever more impatient but knowing it would be folly for me to go into the jungle alone. This was probably the hardest part of the whole thing—the waiting. All of a sudden I heard a shot from the .416, followed by another, and then two more: altogether four shots in rapid-fire succession. Afterward there was complete silence.

It did not surprise me that Mario had used four shots to finish off the beast. A fallen elephant can be one of the most dangerous animals in the world. There are many cases recorded in the history of big-game hunting when an elephant, knocked down and apparently dead, has suddenly got to his feet, or even without rising has killed the unwary hunter with a convulsive sweep of his trunk.

I awaited the arrival of one of the trackers with news. Instead, after about five minutes, I heard two more shots from the .416 and three from the smaller rifle. That surprised me, and I began to worry over having let Mario go in alone. I could hardly believe that the elephant, with six bullets of 400 grains each from the .416 and one 300-grain bullet from the .375 in him, had needed six more from the big gun and three from the smaller one to finish him off.

Finally, Kukuya burst out of the jungle running and, as he got within earshot, he gave voice to the brief but electrifying announcement:


There the enormous elephant lay on his side, amidst the carnage of blood, broken trees and trampled brush that had marked his last struggles. When I let my eyes roam over his vast expanse I could hardly believe that any animal could be so big, and T understood why it had taken so many heavy-caliber bullets to finish him off. And when I got out my tape measure and stretched it to cover his huge dimensions, I knew that I had not been wrong: this was the biggest land animal ever brought down with a gun. But before giving the measurements, I must confess the shock we got when I put the tape across my elephant's foot and found that it measured, instead of the three feet of the spoor we had been following all day, only a little over two feet. The measurement was still a world record, but it was a foot short of the track size I had first noted a year before beside the lake. When we began to examine the body, we soon understood why: Besides the 16 bullets from our own rifles, we found a strange slug embedded in the left front leg. It was not a modern bullet, but a piece of iron shot, the kind used in old muzzle-loading flintlock rifles. It had crippled him in the left front leg, so that the step he took with that foot was shorter than normal. As the animal ran, the left hind foot partially superimposed its print over the front one—making it look much bigger than it actually was.

That was the only measurement that failed to live up to expectations. Here are the dimensions, the accuracy of which are supported by an affidavit sworn to before the president of the Angola Game Commission and legalized by the U.S. consul in Luanda, the capital; where available, I have listed in parentheses the comparable measurements of Lawrence G. Thaw's world-record-setting elephant, taken from Records of Big Game (Rowland Ward, London, 10th Edition, 1935):

Height From ground to withers, 13 feet 2 inches. (Thaw's elephant: 12 feet 2 inches.)

Length From trunk tip to tail tip in straight line, 27 feet 6 inches; whole skin from trunk tip to tail tip, 33 feet 2 inches.

Length of feet Front, 2 feet; rear, 2 feet 1 inches. (Thaw's elephant: one foot 9 inches, which foot not specified.)

Circumference of feet Front, 5 feet 7 inches; rear 5 feet 2 inches.

Circumference of body At widest point, 19 feet 8 inches.

The herculean task of skinning the beast and loading the skin, the skull with tusks and the bones with front and rear legs, onto the power wagon for the long trip back to civilization was accomplished with difficulty and sweat, but with plenty of enthusiasm. The skin alone weighed over two tons.

All of these parts are now in my Madrid factory, which is fortunately large. My home is already crowded with trophies of all kinds—lion skins, elephant tusks and feet—but anyway, I do not think this elephant belongs in a private collection. I have decided to let a big museum have him. There, reconstructed by their experts, he can stand in all the size and majesty he enjoyed in life—the biggest elephant ever shot by man.
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