Monday, April 23, 2007

OBITUARY: Rice Time c.1920 – 2006 (September).

Rice Time, gone now from our midst, was a hunter’s hunter: honest, good humoured, courageous, imbued with a keen intelligence and unshakable tenacity and fortitude; a man of integrity. He hunted, not for ivory or trophies – legal or illegal, but rather to protect farmers and villagers from wildlife depredations, following on in our Game Department the tradition set by the Provincial Administration of 1935 with the establishment of a Game Control Department (later known as the Game Department) - responsible for protecting people rather than wild animals, expanding in 1942 into the Department of Wildlife and Tsetse Control, and later when Rice and I worked together in 1966/67, the Department of Game and Fisheries, and later still in 1988/89, the Department of Wildlife and National Parks.

Rice, a Tonga from the south bank of the Zambezi, had his start with Operation Noah during the flooding of the Zambezi at Kariba, a programme which rescued island-stranded wildlife on his ancestral lands and then released them on the mainland. Later, he moved to the Mazabuka farming block where he earned his spurs hunting down lion and leopard cattle killers, bushpig and baboons under the Vermin Control Officers, Johnny Uys and T.G. Murphy, earning the admiration of the Provincial Game Officer, Frank Ansell, and the gratitude of many farmers and villagers. Like most of the great fundis and game guards, he was without formal education.

In 1966, he was recruited by the Warden of Luangwa Command, Johnny Uys, to the Luangwa Game Cropping Unit at Kakumbi and assigned to me as my fundi. He spoke no English, and I no Chinyanja, so we prattled on in Chilapalapa – spoken then from Cape Town to Tanganyika. And like my great friend, Derek Macleod’s fundi, Nelson Chilangwa – well known for his assistance to Norman Carr in the rearing of a few lion and a trip to London to publicize Norman’s book ‘Return to the Wild, he proved to be a goldmine of bush lore and utterly fearless and dependable. Only the best fundis sufficed, for the work was arduous and highly dangerous as it involved killing complete elephant herds by day with dart guns, and to begin with, hippo on foot at night. In the first rainy season, we all went briefly our separate ways, deployed by the Warden, Johnny Uys, on game control work of one sort or another, although it was the Senior Ranger, Les Allen, who sent Rice off to deal with garden raiders with 29 rounds of ammunition. He returned at the end of the rains with 29 elephant tails.

As the cropping work involved a great deal of running – not always forward, through the bush after elephant with ten 20 cc syringes clutched in the hand, and the Game Department being loth to revert to the use of firearms, fearing the disturbance factor, I suggested to the then Chief Game Officer, Bill Bainbridge, that when MacLeod and I left, that Rice and Nelson should take over the cropping. This was agreed to. I then trained them in the use of the dart guns, in the handling of the drug – a rather unforgiving neuro-muscular blocking agent for which no antidote existed, but for some reason replacements were brought in, one being the highly experienced Rob Backus, but other candidates were uninspiring. Rice and Nelson merely carried on as before. When I saw Rice a year later, he recounted some of his experiences, laughing and shaking his head at the scrapes he had been lead into.

The cropping scheme closed in 1972, the thousand or so elephant shot a paltry dent in the
100, 000 whom it was feared would severely alter the floristic diversity of the Luangwa. The following year began the killing fields, in the case of the elephant, a repeat of the depredations a hundred years before by the hunters in the employ of the Tete based ivory traders.

In 1970, Rice assisted Johnny Uys – then Chief Game Warden, in conducting the Crown Prince Birendra of Nepal and his wife, Princess Aiswarya, on a hunt at Luwawata in the Luangwa, the Prince’s father, King Mahendra, hunting with Peter Hankin. This Eton and Harvard educated Prince was without luck for the safari was a disaster of massive proportions, and seven years after his coronation in 1974, his son killed both him and his wife and a number of family members.

In 1988/89, Rice - now retired, and I were re-united in the doomed task of saving the last few black rhino left in Zambia: the plan being to fence off a large patch of land on the Mushilashi river in the South Luangwa National Park, and there to translocate the last pockets of rhino left in the country since the onset of the killing fields in 1973. Rice soon set to work and after a few weeks in the bush alone, found fourteen rhino in and around the Chendeni Hills, not far from the headquarters of the Luangwa Integrated Rural Development Project. Other surviving rhino were noted for future rescue work. But those in power refused to allow the Chendeni rhino either to be moved or to be placed in a sanctuary; they were safe we were told. Inevitably, within a few years they were all dead.

I found other work for Rice: training guards in the Kasanka National Park and ending his career with Kapani lodge, becoming a great favourite on walking trails with the great, the good and the balmy. Rice, in a long and adventurous life, had two wives, 16 children, 30 grandchildren and 10 great-grand children, a remarkable achievement in itself. I hope they will carry the memory of his integrity with them.

No comments: