by Peter Stark
Stark grew up in South West African and lived in Namibia most of his life. He was an accomplished horseman, received strict German training in dressage, and a skilled builder as well. But his true passion was hunting. At a very young age -seven or eight years old- his mother bought him a horse and basically allowed him to wander around the bush by himself with his rifle. He became fascinated with lions and adept at hunting them. Not just to remove lions that were killing people or livestock, but often he went hunting just to see if he could get one. The way he talks about hunting and catching live game (usually young animals) to sell to wildlife dealers, you read between the lines and realize he was a poacher. A renowned one, in fact. He knew the bush very well and was on close terms with the bushmen, able to speak the language of a local tribe, spend days out in the bush and survive off game and plants like they did. He learned from them. Later his skills at hunting and his understanding of the native people served well, when he became a game warden, turning about to protect wildlife in the game reserve, and hunt down the poachers.
So his book is all a retelling of hair-raising incidents, many close calls with lions, elephants and other dangerous animals. I was astonished at how many risky encounters he came out of alive. The man was no doubt very bold and knowledgeable, he led a wild kind of life and obviously loved what he did. He talks about the people he met, adventures they had, run-ins with poachers, frustrations with tourists, love of various dogs he kept over the years, and fine horses. But he also has no qualms mentioning his fierce temper, his need to take revenge on people -and animals- who had shamed or wronged him. He would often track down a lion just to \”teach it a lesson\” and once harassed a pair of lions until they fled into a tree, whereupon he drove under the tree and pulled the lion\’s tail. It defecated on him. I thought he well deserved it. I can\’t say I admire the man very much, his attitude towards animals put me off. He definitely respected the power and intelligence of the lions, but only a few times seemed to actually feel regret at killing them.
The writing is very straightforward, a bit dry- but it\’s an incredible book when you sit down and take in that his stories are all true accounts. I was really interested in the part that describes how he trained bushmen on horses to herd elephants out of farmland when they strayed from the Reserve- very dangerous work that sounded. I felt sad for his wife and children- they are barely mentioned at all, were it not for a few photos of his family in the center pages, I would not have realized he\’d been married at all. I\’m not surprised that at the end of the book he mentioned that he had ignored his family, being all the time in the bush, and his marriage failed. I wonder what kind of tale his wife would have to tell, of raising four children basically on her own.
It\’s a bit amusing, how I came by this title. My husband recently took a trip to Namibia, where he found this book in a shop. He bought the copy in Afrikaans (mine is translated into English by Jan Schaafsma) because he wanted to read it in the original. Back home he was often relating to me surprising stories from the pages, and I was a bit annoyed because it seemed like just the type of book I\’d enjoy myself! So he surprised me, purchased a copy online so I could read it too. Very kind.
Rating: 2/5 223 pages, 2008