Ever since man came on this earth he has hunted wild animals, either for food of self-protection-or, in more recent times, for sport. First his weapons were very simple, probably only heavy sticks or clubs, then crude spears, which in turn were followed by implements of stone bone, and later, by metal; then came bows and arrows, crossbows, and firearms, and these developed surprisingly as Man became more advanced and learned to use his hands and head.
With the improvement in firearms, killing solely for sport became a popular form of amusement in almost all countries. Within the last half century or so rifles have become more and more perfect, with the result that killing wild animals has become so easy and certain that now it can scarcely be called sport at all. Real sport, to give true pleasure, must be the overcoming of difficulties, and so we make our game as difficult as possible in order to get greater pleasure out of winning.
Some forty years ago, I began to realize that shooting wild animals no longer gave me pleasure : it was too much of a one-sided game in which the wretched creatures had little chance against the modern rifle. Beyond the difficulties of stalking, everything was too easy and lacking in excitement. Then, also, it seemed all wrong to kill a harmless animal just for fun. I even hated to see anything shot- and yet I wanted to hunt, wanted the joy of being out of doors and seeing the various birds and beasts in their natural wild state, in all their natural beauty. But merely seeing them was not quite enough. I wanted to bring home some proof of what I had seen. Making sketches, even though I happened to be an artist, was not very satisfactory- and certainly not very easy; thus it was that I turned to the camera. Here was a weapon that would shoot without hurting, certainly without killing, and yet give me the trophies of the chase.
All forms of life were game for this new weapon; fish, flesh and fowl, harmless birds and animals, and those that were dangerous, tame-the choice was unlimited. Unfortunately, forty years ago cameras were very crude instrument; lenses, plates and films were slow, and indeed nothing was suitable for photographing game, big or small. One had to be strong indeed to carry the heavy outfits, and have endless patience to fight the numerous difficulties with which one was confronted.
At first when I tried what was then the new sport I became almost discouraged; the cameras simply would not do the work. After endless trouble in stalking some animal, the camera would, often as not, go wrong just at the critical moment. What would I not have given to have had almost any of the handy, light, modern cameras that people accept today as a matter of course, that are so easy to manipulate and so certain in their action that even a child can use them! In what people foolishly call those good old days of long ago things were hard, and we had to work for our successes. In vain I went to the various makers of cameras and lenses and tried to induce them to make outfits suitable for the work I wanted to do. They said it would not pay them to make special cameras, as I was almost the only person who would use them.
Gradually, however, a few others took up the sport and, like myself, found in it a fascination far greater than in shooting. But it was a long time before suitable cameras came into existence, so I had to do the best I could under the conditions. At first I contended myself with photographing wild birds, mostly on or near their nests; I found it great fun, and the results very satisfactory. People were much interested in the pictures, and publishers were delighted to have something different from the old fashioned and often very bad drawing, so they accepted all I could take.
From birds I gradually took up animals as my subjects, and was , I think, one of the very first to succeed in getting really clear photographs of wild beasts. The photographs, of course, improved as cameras developed. Not only was the new apparatus handier, but far more reliable.
In my mind I had a great scheme-nothing less, in fact, that a trip to East Africa, to go safari (a word scarcely known in England in those days, thirty years ago). I would photograph all sorts of terrible wild beasts : lion, buffalo, elephant, rhino, and other, besides the many harmless sorts, such as antelope, zebra and giraffe. It was a great idea and I was filled with excitement at the thought of it. Before undertaking it, however, I felt it necessary to get still better cameras, and to practice continually so that I might be sure of getting good results. I had new reflex cameras made and remade, and special lenses, too, making improvements each time and I practiced on moose, deer, caribou and whatever other animals I could find in America, where I was living at the time.
I took pictures under all sorts of conditions, and at last felt that I knew enough to risk going on the big trip. And so, in 1908, I found myself in East Africa (now called Kenya). No one can have any idea how thrilled and excited I was when I actually saw many sorts of wild animals from the train as I made my way to Nairobi.
For some unknown and very foolish reason, I was especially anxious to take a photo of a rhinoceros charging. It would be great fun- at least so I thought! - but I had never seen one in its wild state and had no idea how large they could be ( they go upto two tons in weight!). If I got such a picture it would be something entirely new. In fact no clear photos of the big beasts had ever been made, so I had the field all to myself.
Within a few days of arriving in Nairobi, we started off on our first safari : myself, a friend named Clark, and some thirty porters and headed for a district where rhinos were said to be fairly plentiful. A few days later we made camp on the bank of a nearly dry river, and a very delightful camp it was. We could see for miles across the great yellow plains, with the highest mountain in Africa, Kilimanjaro, in the distance.
Animal life was fairly abundant, and we could see zebra and various antelope at almost any time, but they were very shy. I found it extremely difficult to get near enough to use the camera. I was, however, more anxious to tackle the rhino than the gentle antelope- they would be far more exciting!
The first day out we met our first rhino, two of them, and I had the fright of my life. The pair had got out scent before we spotted them, and, being bad- tempered beasts, they rushed towards where they thought we were. Now, it just happened that we were about fifty yards to one side of where they expected to find us - which was just as well for I must say I did not like their look. As they thundered past, we crouched low and let them go. It did not strike me as a good opportunity for rhino photography. Anyhow I was too much frightened to have been able to hold the camera steady!
A couple of days later the much awaited chance came when we saw a fine big rhino standing on a low hill. For some time we stood still, watching the monster, and shivering in our boots as we tried to get up our courage to tackle him. It meant asking for trouble, not waiting for it to come to us but deliberately going to meet it. While we watched the rhino, he lay down and went to sleep. This was our chance and we were fools enough to take it. Very slowly we crawled through the dry grass until we were within about thirty-five yards of him. The wind being in the right direction, the old beast slept on peacefully, with no idea that we were anywhere about. Clark and I stood up, he with his rifle ready in case of trouble, and I with my big, clumsy camera. Every nerve in my body was tingling, whether from fright or excitement, or both, I don't know. But I do know that my knees were shaking badly, and my mouth was very dry. For some seconds (they seemed like hours) we stood still, and nothing happened. I examined the camera over and over again to make sure that all was in order. Then at last I could stand it no longer, and I shouted at the old beast.
Nor did I have to repeat the shout, for he jumped up with remarkable speed, took one look at us, gave a horrible snort, and without more ado came at full tilt, straight for us. What I felt like no one will ever know. The great monster looked as big as house. To make sure that he would be in sharp focus, I had to keep my eyes on the ground-grass and keep changing the focus as he came nearer and nearer. When the charging mass of bad temper was fifteen yards away, I pressed the shutter release and took the first photograph of the kind ever make. Clark at that moment in sheer desperation, for the animal was very close and still coming at full speed, fired a shot- not to kill of course, but just to try to make him turn. The bullet grazed the shoulder, and by good luck made the old beast turn: he rushed past us scarcely five yards away. Need I say that we were very glad to see him disappear over the distant landscape. It had been a wonderful experience, but not one that I should like to repeat too often. We had been lucky, more lucky indeed that we deserved to be, for we had taken very long chances.
We had many more adventures with rhino, and I became so nervous at being charged, or nearly charged, so often, that I decided to give up rhino hunting for a while, and turn my attention to lion which were fairly numerous in the district. This meant flashlight, as the lion does not move about much except at night. Luck was all against me. Night after night I set the cameras with the greatest care, but in vain; the outfits which had been specially make for me and had worked so well at home refused to behave even reasonably well in Africa.
It was not until some months later when we were in another part of the country, and I had made a complete new outfit, that fortune smiled on my efforts. I learned to have great respect for the king of beast, who is certainly no fool. Try as hard as I could to set the bait and arrange our hiding-places, the great beast refused to come within range of my camera. As we lay in the blind, our hiding-place, we could hear them wandering about, sometimes not far away, but yet not within sight. In the night it was eerie work trying to penetrate the darkness with our inefficient eyes. Often we would mistake a skulking hyena for the lion we wanted, for these night-prowling animals are hard to distinguish- they all look more like ghosts then solid creatures.
Patience usually wins in the end, however, and after countless nights of waiting and watching and going without sleep, a fine lioness did condescend to come and prose for her portrait. I could scarcely believe my eyes when I saw the great cat only twelve yard away, standing still and looking straight into my eyes. It was a thrilling moment when my electric torch revealed the sight. Without wasting a moment, I pressed the flashlight connection and off went the light with a loud explosion and dazzling glare which blinded me for a few moments- and what moments those were! Who could tell what the lioness was doing or where she was? Was she coming for me or had she bolted? Fortunately she had gone, and equally fortunately the photograph turned out as well as I could have wished. It was, in fact the first successful photo of wild lion ever made.
Now, though hunting dangerous wild animals with a camera is the most intensely exciting form of sport that I know of, It must not be thought that hunting the more inoffensive ones- deer, zebra, antelope, giraffe, and others- is devoid of thrills. Actually one of the most exciting experience I have ever had was when, after months of trying during which I walked many hundreds of miles, I finally had the good luck to get a herd of giraffe to come within easy range of my camera ( I was using a movie camera at the time) and I was able to secure a splendid film of these graceful, shy creatures literally posing for me in all sorts of position. I even got them drinking- a rare sight, which few people have seen.
Hunting with a camera is, as I said before, one of the finest sports, and one of the greatest things in its favour is that it involves no killing or cruelty (or it should not, at any rate), and gives trophies that are far more beautiful than any obtained with the rifle. They are trophies, moreover, that one can show with pleasure and pride, for they have cost no lives.