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Elephant Hunting on the Uele

Tusk Collection of Maurice Calmeyn at Brussels International Exposition of 1910.

“ The wicked sportsman, of whom you read so much in books and newspapers, and who is really a good deal of a myth, is now at least regarded no longer as the sole cause of the disappearance of African fauna, the guilt having brought home at last to the chief-culprits the traders, pseudo-colonists, Boers, Askaris, armed natives and all the other pioneers of civilisation.
For many years a collector of natural history specimens, who went out quite unselfishly on behalf of German museums, and spent £ 5,000 in the colony, was regarded as a very undesirable and unwelcome visitor. Both in German and British East Africa the game was reserved for other kinds of sportsmen. When caravans reached the coast loaded of 500 elephant-tusks, these were “merchandise” ; but if a private traveller killed a few elephants, he was a slaughterer of wild animals ! ”
These are a few lines from the hunter and wildlife protectionist Carl Schillings’ book, ‘Mit Blitzlicht und Büchse'. Like many of his contemporaries, Maurice Calmeyn claimed that colonial administrations in Brussels and Africa could gain benefit from the experience of hunters with regard to wildlife management and conservation policies. At the same time these hunting regulations were intended to protect large mammals for European sport hunters.

Maurice Calmeyn's Au Congo Belge

Published in 1912, Au Congo Belge; chasses à l'éléphant, les indigènes, l'administration, describes primarily Maurice Calmeyn's travels and big game hunting in the Congo, as well as his observations during his stay.
At its heart, this book is about elephant hunting, giving an idea of the enormous obstacles, the disappointments, and dangers which daily confront the hunter. But also a book that can not be neglected for the author’s trenchant criticisms with regard to Belgium’s ‘civilising mission’, ‘rubber regime’, ivory trade and wildlife conservation in the Congo colony.
Maurice Calmeyn and his fox-terrier, Dark Patch at the 2nd camp in 1908.
“ From what I have witnessed during my two journeys, I conclude that the Free State has only thought of its immediate self-interest and not of the future of the colony, ... draining the country of all it had to offer and giving it nothing in return.”
“ It is regrettable that the sovereign of the Congo bribed the Belgian and foreign press, but even worse is that he has downgraded certain politicians and others to humble servants of the crown by means of rewards and pressures; these men show on every occasion that they have neither independence nor dignity.”
“ Will I be reproached for lack of loyalty to royalty ? I do not care !”
“ It is largely due to these men that the Belgian people come into possession of a colony with a substantial debt burden, that will not be resolved by general economic neglect, poor infrastructure, a colony whose natural resources, with the exception of its subsoil, are exhausted, and whose indigenous inhabitants, who have long been mistreated, have lost confidence in us, where the diseases of an evil administration, already a force of habit, will not be eradicated any time soon.”
“ We have yet a long struggle ahead to heal the wounds that Leopold II and his handymen have wrought.”

A Hunting Trip on the Uele

Maurice Calmeyn and Dark Patch in 1908, twelfth elephant.
The following notes of his experiences during a couple of short hunting trips to the Upper Nile Valley and the Uele and adjacent basins are taken from the journal of a belgian Sportsman, Maurice Calmeyn. Starting in January, 1907, M. Calmeyn first ascended the Nile to the Egyptian Sudan, whence he travelled to the Lado Enclave and the Uele and Stimbiri basins, returning by way of Boma in August. On the second trip he landed at Boma on April 9, 1908, and having again traversed the basins of the Uele and Stimbiri, as well as that of the Likati, returned early in December.
In both trips the Uele basin yielded nearly all the more interesting game. On the Likati our sportsman sought persistently for the okapi, but, unfortunately, in vain; and like his predecessors, came to the conclusion that for a European the quest is practically hopeless. He states, however, that the natives have no difficulty in capturing calves, and speculates on the practicability of bringing live specimen to Europe.
Camping near the Likati River, Patch, Calmeyn and daughter of Kokolibété chief.
Traveling in this comparatively little-known country is described as not being very difficult, while the number of elephants to be met with render the district attractive to the sportsman. Still, there is a certain risk of serious Illness from the combined effects of climate, fatigue and bad food, although M. Calmeyn himself experienced no serious ill-effects from the trips. Elephant shooting is the sport which appealed most strongly to this traveler, who experienced several exciting adventures, and at least one narrow escape. Throughout his hunting M. Calmeyn relied solely upon his own rifle, and armed none of the natives by whom he was accompanied. During the first trip his weapon a Mauser repeater of 11mm. calibre; but on the second expedition he took with him a pair of Winchesters 405, (the Model of 1895 Winchester was the first lever-action rifle with a box magazine) which he regards as the ideal rifle for penetrating power and force of impact. During his second trip the author of the narrative was accompanied by an English rough-haired fox terrier. Dark Patch, which only ten months old at the time of his master's arrival at Boma on the Uelle, took of his own accord to sport and proved invaluable at the work, fearing nothing and not hesitating to attack and hold even buffaloes. Dark Patch suffered but little from the heat, while his thick coat effectually protected him from the attacks of mosquitoes.
During the 1907 trip M. Calmeyn fired at thirteen elephants, of which nine were killed, two of them being females. One of the latter was fired at solely because it charged. These elephants were killed with an average of three balls each, and at a mean distance of about 36 meters. In 1908 eight out of thirteen elephants fired at were bagged, all being males, with tusks weighing on an average 19 kg. The average number of shots fired at each elephant was nearly two, and the mean distance about 11 meters. The distance is, however, too short to be safe, from 20 to 25 meters being a more desirable average to back off when an animal makes a charge. The season when the natives burn the grass is the one most favorable in the Uele district, when the elephants come out into the open glades of the forest both before and after the great heat of the day; but hunting is not forbidden to Europeans at this season.
Our sportsman's first introduction to elephants took place in February, 1907, in the Egyptian Sudan, when after a rapid march under native leadership, five or six of the monsters were sighted at a distance of about 200 meters. After vainly trying to get a satisfactory shot at them, the party sighted a herd of 50 elephants of all sizes, from among which a fine bull separated himself and eventually offered a shot at about 25 meters. Aiming between the eyes and the orifice of the ear, Calmeyn fired five shots in succession, after the last of which the huge beast came slowly but steadily out of the marsh in his direction, although without seeing him. Stopping at the spot from which it had first been fired at, the elephant, after a fifth and sixth bullet, finally succumbed. The short, thick tusks of the animal weighed respectively 23 and 21 kg.
The Dinka people with Calmeyn’s first elephant, 1907.
On February 26th, while en route from the Belgian station of Redjaf to Lado, M. Calmeyn and his companion, Ernest Orban, encountered a herd of about a dozen elephants, from among which a bull was brought down at the first shot. Immediately after a herd of about a score of elephants passed close to M. Calmeyn, who had taken shelter behind a tree, from among which a female was dropped, also at the first shot. Search was then made for both animals, which were found to be still alive, but seemingly unable to rise. The narrator decided to finish off the female, which was uttering loud cries and endeavouring to get up, when, to quote his own words, at the same instant “a strident roar is heard, and a female rather larger than the first appears some 80 meters off making its way rapidly down a slope. She looks a splendid beast, with head raised, trunk in the air, and the enormous ears standing out at right angles from the neck. We are in full view to windward of the animal, which comes at a furious rate straight towards the female beside which we are standing, by the path the herd had taken in its flight. Jacques and Karamalla (pisteur), two of the hunters, being unarmed, run twenty meters from the elephant's track. There's not a moment to lose; right in the brute's direction and ten paces from me stands a tree, which I reached at a bound. I carefully fire the first shot at its head from a distance of thirty meters; the elephant quickly steps to the left; immediately firing again at fifteen meters, I hit the animal on the temple, bringing it heavily to the ground stone dead.”
This experience has taught the hunter that by letting a wounded beast moan or scream, one is exposed to the dangerous of being charged, and how courage these animals can be. Even an elephant of very small size can show much courage. The bull had but one tusk, weighing 6 kg, while each of the tusks of the females were only half that weight. The narrator confesses that, in spite of the danger, he had but little cause to be proud of this episode, these being the only females he ever killed.
Passing on to April 24th, we find the narrator, then on the Upper Uele, photographing a magnificent bull elephant as it stands in a clearing, the hunting season not commencing till May 15th, although no notice of this had been taken while in Lado. Soon after the bull is joined by a cow, when the pair make a striking picture. Temptation eventually proves, however, too strong, and the bull is brought down at the third shot. Soon after a cracking sound is heard in the jungle, and the cow is seen charging in the direction of the party as if to avenge the death of her lord; and, despite his resolution not to fire again at a female, M. Calmeyn pulls the trigger, but misses his aim. The escape from the charge of his infuriated cow was a lucky one; and the narrator takes the opportunity of pointing out that a sportsman ought never to flee from a charging elephant by which he is seen, heard or winded.
Maurice Calmeyn's fifth elephant, Upper Uele, 26 februari 1907.
The narrator next proceeds to relate his experience on the Middle Uele, when, on May 28, a herd of elephants which could not otherwise be approached were headed back by his trackers and a couple of fine bulls bagged. His account of the death of these is as follows:
“So soon as I stop, a passable-looking elephant emerges from the thicket about twenty meters off; as my first shot from between two trees it sways slightly to the right, and falls at the second. At the same moment two others pass on my left, one following the other. I pick out the best, and have time to fire two shots at thirty and forty meters on ground covered with trees and creepers. I finish the first elephant with a couple of bullets, and then follow the trail of the second. I presently find blood, and a hundred yards from the spot where it was hit the elephant had stopped with its back towards me. I am barely fifty meters from the monster, which is the midst of a tangle of low and bushy vegetation; if it had either heard or winded me it would have made off before I could fire. I therefore endeavor to aim amid its thorny surroundings. The bullet strikes a foot below the arch of the back, and the monster falls.”
The author concludes his narrative by referring to May 23, 1908, when he was on the river Api, a tributary to the middle section of the Uele, where he had killed his sixth elephant and first buffalo.
The fresh tracks of buffaloes were encountered early in the morning, and by following these the herd was reached in about an hour. Five constituted the herd, of which the best bull offered a mark and was hit by the first bullet. Staggering forward, it started off in full flight, presenting no chance for a second shot, but was at length bagged, after a tiring chase, by a bullet which struck between the eyes, the position of the shot being shown by a stick in the photograph shown below.
Buffalo and Dark Patch, 1908.
The buffalo, a fully adult bull, is described as being reddish gray in color, and stood 1m42 at the shoulder, with a length of 2m25 from the tip of the muzzle to the root of the tail. The ears are heavily fringed with long hair, while the horns, which are widely sundered on the forehead, are very deep at the base, and curve towards and then inwards in a regular sweep. They measure 0m67 along the outer curve, with interval of 0m32 between their tips.
This buffalo (which head, together with that of a cow subsequently killed by Calmeyn, were of inspecting at Mr. Rowland Ward’s in piccadilly) not improbably indicates an undescribed race of Bos caffer, apparently allied to the Lake Chad race and more remotely to the dwarf red Congo buffaloes.

Maurice Calmeyn

Maurice Calmeyn (Brussel, 1863 - 1934), born into a wealthy Belgian family, was a trained agricultural engineer, Freemason and communist sympathizer.
Calmeyn’s social criticism became more radical and eventually leading towards communism. Just before his death, he contributed 20,000 francs to the production of ‘Misère au Borinage’, by Joris Ivens and Henri Storck. A film with a strongly socialist theme, covering the poor living conditions of the workers and coal miners of the Borinage region of Belgium. Calmeyn apparently died on his way to the premiere.