Questions and Answers with Robin Hurt
Tell us about your family, how they got to Africa:
My mother’s family was amongst the first settlers to arrive at Naivasha, in Kenya's Great Rift Valley, in 1901. My grandfather, Col. Donald Williams, was an army doctor; he met my grandmother, Ema Jane Aggett , during the Boer War in South Africa. The British government encouraged British soldiers who fought in the Boer War and their families to settle in Kenya under the "Soldier Settlement Scheme." My mother was born in Kenya. My father, Col. Roger Hurt, DSO, came out to Kenya in 1929 with the British army. He met and married my mother during the Second World War in Nairobi. He went on to become the commander of the 5th Battalion Kings African Rifles; he saw action in Ethiopia where he was awarded his DSO. He then went on to become the military administrator of Somaliland for two years after the war. On retiring from the army, he joined the Kenya Game Department , and ended up as one of the four senior game wardens with responsibility for the vast coastal district and its hinterland, which was home to Kenya's main elephant population at that time—some 200,000 animals.
When and where were you born?
I was born in April 1945 in London, England. My mother joined my father in England where his military duties took him just before the end of World War II. My mother told me that Hitler’s "Buzz Bombs" we're going off all over London as I was being born. Shortly after the end of the war, my father took up his military appointment in Somalia, so my first footsteps in Africa were there.
I am married to Pauline Ravn, who is also my business partner. We live in Namibia. I have five children by former wives—being away constantly on safari is not exactly the best basis for successful marriage!—and a stepson. I have two sons, Derek and Roger, who have followed in my footsteps and became successful professional hunters in their own right in Tanzania. My stepson, Daniel Mousley, is a licensed PH in Namibia. So, you could say we are keeping the hunting tradition in the family—a tradition started by my game warden father more than five decades ago. My three daughters are Tania, Sasha, and Hilary, and each has strong artistic talents. Tania lives in London and is a commercial artist; Sasha runs an antique business and gallery in Kenya; and Hilary is a highly talented professional photographer, based in Kenya.
How did you get into hunting and become a PH?
I grew up on our ranch called " Kibokoni,” meaning the place of the hippo, on the shores of Lake Naivasha in Kenya . From an early age I joined my father on safari, and that is where I learnt to hunt with his highly skilled game scouts and trackers. In those days a game warden’s duties consisted mostly of game control. I had ample opportunity to learn to hunt from these veterans, in particular Sergeant Ndaga (a Kamba tribesman ) and Ottoro (a Turkana from North Kenya). Both were masters of hunting and tracking, and by the time I left school at 17, I had hunted the Big Five several times over. I also spent many holidays on safari with Andrew Holmberg, an ace professional hunter. I shot my first elephant with Andrew when I was 15 years old . It was a 97 pounder! Earlier that same morning Andrew's American client had shot a bull with tusks of over 120 pounds a side! ( Kenya was famous for its big elephants in those days.) So, I grew up with hunting , and when I wasn't on safari, I was at home at Kibokoni hunting daily with my Masai boyhood friend, Tinea, who eventually became my first tracker/gunbearer. Our ranch had large numbers of wildlife, including buffaloes, leopards, lions, plains game, and the occasional wandering black rhino and elephant. My main interest was always wildlife, shooting, and hunting.
With whom did you apprentice? Do you want to mention anything about this?
My father had plans for me to join the British army and to go to the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, but hunting was in my blood and I wanted to pursue a hunting career instead. My first job on leaving school was on Mrs. Nancy Miller’s farm, Kongoni (hartebeest), also at Naivasha. My job was game control. My remit, sanctioned by the veteran Kenya game warden, Lynn Temple-Boreham, was to shoot problem hippo at night in the Lucerne fields where they were causing havoc. It was Mrs. Miller who encouraged me to follow my dream and not my father’s. I then met with Jack Block, chairman of Ker and Downey Safaris and became an apprentice hunter with that illustrious firm.
My father was initially disappointed, as our family has a long military tradition. But he soon realized that I was cut out for a life in the bush—in good measure his fault anyway, having spent most of my formative years on safari with him! Shortly before he died, he told me how happy he was to see me doing what I loved the most—hunting and the conservation of wildlife!
My apprenticeship with Ker and Downey Safaris in Kenya was under the famous professional hunter John Cook. There I learnt how to outfit a safari and how to hunt with clients, something I found to be quite different from hunting on your own! I had a lucky break in 1963, when I turned eighteen. Tanganyika Wildlife Development Corporation was looking for young hunters to help open up the Selous Game Reserve. I was interviewed by the famous Col. Bruce Kinloch, who was the managing director, and hired. After several months I qualified for my professional hunters license. I spent a lot of time in the Selous under Donald Rundgren, the son of the famous Eric Rundgren. Don was an ace hunter, and even though he was only twenty-five at that time, I learnt a lot from him. We all had to grow up quickly in those days!
What was the most important thing you learned during those early years and then later on as a professional?
That one never stops learning—whether it is about life itself, people, game, guns, anything at all. The person who thinks he or she knows it all is a dangerous person to be with in the bush! This applies to young and old alike. The most important lesson I learnt in my career is to have proper respect for the animal that is being hunted. I have found that the eventual kill is often an anticlimactic, whilst the actual hunt is the most important part of the chase. The animal gives everything—its life—and that’s not something to take lightly. A proper hunter has a deep love for his quarry, and he hunts in a fair and legal manner. I also believe that safari hunting is one of the best and most productive forms of wildlife conservation. I have learnt how to get on with and respect hunting clients, many of whom became close friends in later life. I learnt how dangerous safari hunting can be, not just from dangerous animals, but also from wild places and wild people! I also learnt how the careless handling of firearms is one of the gravest dangers to a hunter. I learnt to trust my trackers and gunbearers; they are the unsung heroes of the safari hunting industry. I owe them all so much. They were so much better than I in so many ways, particularly in the tracking of game.