The Sky Came Tumbling Down

This book covers the last 15 years (1968 to 1983) of the author’s service in the Rhodesian (and later Zimbabwean) Department of National Parks and Wildlife Management. It chronicles his rise from the rank of senior game ranger (Binga) to the post of game warden-in-charge of the Gonarezhou National Park in 1968. In 1975 he was promoted to the executive rank of Provincial Game Warden and placed in charge of the Mashonaland South Province - based in Salisbury (now Harare). Finally, in 1981, he was transferred back to Main Camp - after an 18 year absence - as the Provincial Game Warden-in-charge of Hwange National Park. This achieved his life’s ambition. This accomplishment was short-lived, however, because his return to Hwange coincided with the Gukurahundi event - the ethnic cleansing of Matabeleland by Robert Mugabe’s North Korean-trained 5 Brigade. It resulted in the brutal slaughter of an estimated 20 000 to 30 000 Matabele civilians - some of whom were the families of Main Camp’s native staff.  He became inextricably involved in the consequences, therefore, and realising that his life, and the well-being of his family, was seriously at stake, he resigned and emigrated to South Africa.

In addition to several exciting big game hunting stories, a great deal of the book explains the reasons for the execution of the elephant population reduction exercises of 1971 and 1972 in the Gonarezhou National Park - when the author led the team that reduced the excessive elephant population from 5000 animals to 2500.  It also describes how the author, and his two co-hunting game ranger colleagues, removed on average 41.6 elephants per day, every day, for the duration of these exercises; and how the three hunters were killing between 30 and 50 elephants inside the incredible time frame of just 60 seconds. They used self-loading military 7.62 mm rifles, firing standard military ammunition. Every shot was a fatal brain-shot.

The book tells of the biological examination of each and every carcass; the recovery of the meat, the hide and the ivory; and the burying of the carcasses each and every day.  This is all graphically illustrated with photographs.

The author also removed 300 hippos from the Gonarezhou’s Lundi River in 1973; and in 1974 he captured and moved 30 hippos from the Sabi River delivering them to Mushandike National Park outside Fort Victoria (now Masvingo), to the Matopos National Park south of Bulawayo; and to Humani Ranch in what is now the Save Conservancy near the northern boundary of the Gonarezhou. These chapters are fully illustrated with photographs and the narrative is packed with many interesting and exciting anecdotes.

During the author’s seven years in Salisbury city he was involved in a variety of wildlife management programmes: including problem animal control measures; the development and use of poisons and traps; and the development of ultra-low volume mist sprays for the control of quelea finches - which annually devastated the country’s irrigated small-grain crops.

The book records how he became the department’s ‘Primary Coordinator for Falconry’; how he developed the avant-garde and progressive national policy for falconry; how he became a leading and expert falconer himself; and how he became the first person in Africa to breed peregrine falcons in captivity.

And finally, flowing from the falconry scene, it explains how the author and his new found falconry friends discovered that the Rhodesian environment was seriously contaminated with DDT.  This is a story of epic proportions. It tells how the author successfully managed to persuade the Rhodesian government to reduce its DDT usage by 70 percent. This was a signal achievement when the country was at war and finances were limited (DDT is a very cheap pesticide!). In terms of his contribution to Rhodesia’s wildlife and its environment – despite everything else that he had immersed himself in over the years - this single success ranks amongst his most significant accomplishments.

Having finally achieved his dream of becoming the ‘boss-man’ of Hwange National Park, the horrors of the Gukurahundi event and all that followed, was a dismal conclusion to the author’s brilliant career. The terrifying events that accompanied his disengagement, however, exemplifies the fact that the white man’s one-time passionate ‘hands-on’ contribution to Africa’s wildlife management affairs - as happened during the colonial era - will never occur again. The black man of Africa is now firmly ‘in control’ and the continent’s new masters are studiously keeping the white man ‘out’ from any position of authority over the continent’s wildlife.

The author, however, is very thankful that he was able to operate as a fully fledged game ranger and game warden in the field; as a constructive and productive executive officer when he achieved higher rank; as a big game hunter extraordinaire; and as a ‘hands-on’ national park field manager, during the last 25 years of the colonial era in central Africa. Those days are gone forever!

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The Sky Came Tumbling Down
Copyright © Ron Thomson, 2010, all rights reserved. :: Website design by Brenda Cadle