Nqobile Tshili, Chronicle Reporter
FROM dining with the Queen of England when she visited Hwange National Park to having his hand almost chewed off by a charging lion, Mr Raphael Ndlovu, a professional hunter and tour guide has always lived on the edge.
Mr Ndlovu, from Dete, in Hwange, Matabeleland North, has over 30 years as a tour guide and professional hunter.
While most people might scurry for cover at the mention of the presence of lions, elephants, buffaloes within one’s vicinity, Mr Ndlovu has made it his business to go out searching for trouble.
He has hunted for animals such as lions which have left him with visible marks that remind him of near-death experiences he has encountered while dealing with the big cat. Mr Ndlovu is the go-to-person for local authorities such as Hwange and Tsholotsho Rural District Councils whenever there is a need to put down troublesome animals.
He said despite the danger associated with his profession, he is not planning to look the other way. Chronicle yesterday caught up with Mr Ndlovu who narrated his career which spans for more than three decades.
“Before I became a professional hunter I worked as tour guide for an organisation called Touch the Wild, which was only providing game safaris (photographic) tours. But a lot of our clients there also wanted hunting safaris. So, in 1995 I switched from photographic safaris to hunting tours,” said Mr Ndlovu.
He said the most prominent person he served while he was still a tour guide was Queen Elizabeth when she visited the country in 1991 when Zimbabwe hosted the Commonwealth Summit
“When I was still a tour guide, I managed to guide the Queen of England, I took her for a game drive at Hwange National Park and I had breakfast with her when I was still a guide in 1991. But we were not allowed to initiate conversations with her. We were only supposed to answer a question if she asked,” he recounted.
Mr Ndlovu said the Queen, however, took an interest in him after he took her for the first game drive where she went to see elephants. He said his boss promised him a 50 percent salary rise if he could manage to show the Queen elephants and he managed to do that and he got a salary hike.
“I was supposed to only take her to see the elephants and my boss was supposed to take her to see a giraffe and a lion the following day. But when the day came the Queen, who was in the company of her husband Prince Phillip, requested that I take her again for a game drive and I managed to show her where giraffes and lions were,” he said.
“This impressed her and later in the day she inquired about my whereabouts as I doubled as a bartender during that visit. So, the Queen who was having breakfast with her husband at a two-chair table, asked that I join them and we had a short conversation where she asked who I was and where I came from.”
Mr Ndlovu showed the Chronicle news crew a photograph that he took with Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip, among other employees at the lodge where he worked. He was the only black person in the frame.
Hwange National Park is the biggest game park in the country and is home to the big five lions, elephants, leopards, buffaloes, rhinoceros among other wild animals. Mr Ndlovu said he shifted to the dangerous professional – hunting – in 1995. As a professional hunter he accompanies trophy hunters who come to the country to hunt.
He said to operate, he was licensed through the Zimbabwe National Parks and Wildlife Management and no automatic weapons are used during a hunt.
“I like the job, it’s challenging and it’s risky as well. My clients come from across the globe but at the moment most of them come from Finland while others come from the United States of America, Germany and France among other countries,” he said. Mr Ndlovu said the profession becomes even deadly when hunting a wounded animal.
He said his closest to death experience was when he was called by Tsholotsho RDC to put down a lion which had attacked a villager and was also killing livestock.
Mr Ndlovu said the local authority gave him escorts who were expected to assist him track down the lion. He said they tracked and found the animal with one of the scouts pleading to make a big kill. The lion escaped with injuries. Mr Ndlovu said it is most dangerous to try to hunt a wounded animal as it will also be seeking vengeance.
“When we approached the lion for the second time, I told them that I could smell the scent of the lion. I moved two steps forward then the lion came from our left and the guys who were escorting me took off, leaving me with the beast. I managed to shoot one shot which later proved fatal because I hit the front leg and the shot went up to the chest but still it managed to charge towards me,” said Mr Ndlovu.
He said he was seconds from death as his hand was at one point in the jaws of the beast but miraculously it was not chewed off.
Mr Ndlovu said he still has the lion’s claws which have stood as a reminder of his near-death experience.
“But I don’t know how I managed to remove my hand from the lion’s mouth without being bitten. The lion started chewing the rifle. I was holding the rifle on the tip end of the butt of the rifle. Both the legs of the lion were broken, it tried to stand up, I’m 1,6 metres tall, so as I tried to balance it hit me with the broken leg,” said Mr Ndlovu.
“I fell to the ground and the lion came on me. I felt it claws sinking on my shoulder and but it just died before it could further attack me. That is how I survived and those guys then emerged from wherever they were hiding.”
He said he has shot at close range animals such as elephants, which was four metres away and charging towards him, and has also put down a buffalo which was seven metres away charging towards him during a trophy hunt with clients.
Mr Ndlovu said while professional hunting is a risky business it pays well hence his continued stay in the sector. “I have over 10 students under my tutorship who are under my guide. And my youngest son who is 25 years of age has also shown interest in the profession,” said Mr Ndlovu. [email protected]