Africa's Unluckiest Ranger

For Tommy Bosman it was a dream job, until the dangerous game showed up.

Outdoor Life Online Editor

Tommy Bosman was born in Rhodesia of Afrikaner stock. He spoke English slowly and with a heavy accent. Raised on a farm in the north of the country, he roamed the veldt from an early age with a gun but no shoes. His family only made do. There was little money, but there was faith in God.

Church on Sundays was a social occasion, and the family would put on their best clothes and go to listen to the preacher. For Tommy the worst part was squeezing his hard flat feet into the tight-fitting leather shoes he had to wear. Tommy enjoyed the outings but found that the preachers often spoke of subjects with which he was unfamiliar, and there were always girls there with whom he had nothing in common. When they looked at him he felt the urge to kick off his shoes and run into the bush.

By the time he was 16 he had had enough of school. The Rhodesian war had made farming very difficult and there wasn't enough for him to do at home. A job in the bush was all he desired. Dressed in his most presentable clothes-an outlandish suit with a thin purple tie-he warily made his way to the Department of National Parks and Wildlife in the big city of Salisbury. At its offices he met a lady at a desk with yellow hair piled high on her head. He had never seen a hairstyle like it and caught himself staring in wonder at how far it spiralled into the air. If she had not interrupted his thoughts, he might have looked at her head for hours. She told him to return at 4 o'clock.

At 4 p.m. he was taken to the Chief Warden, a tall, white-haired gentleman with a sharp, severe face. He was dressed in khaki shorts and a shirt with green epaulets. "I'm Barry Smith," he said. "Come in."

Smith put on his glasses and looked at Tommy. Before him was a rangy young man, dark from the sun, with clear blue eyes.

The room was quiet.

"You want to join Parks?"

"Yes, sir," Tommy replied quietly.

The warden sneered. "You're dressed like a ballet dancer."

Tommy was taken aback. He had no idea how a ballet dancer dressed.

"Excuse me, sir?" He floundered in front of the warden's stare.

"And where did you get that stupid purple tie from?"

Tommy's head snapped downward and he heard the chair creak. He looked at the offending tie and didn't want to look up again. He was extremely embarrassed and wanted to go home very badly. There was a long silence.

[pagebreak] "Relax, Tommy. Tell me what you've been up to the last sixteen years."

"I've been on the farm all my life, sir. Apart from school."

"So why do you want to join the department?" "I love the bush, sir. And there's no work for me at home."

"How much hunting have you done?"

"I've hunted all my life. I can track and I can shoot. I'm not too good with the books but in the bush I'm okay." He noticed the chief warden's eyes soften.

"All right, Tommy, I'm going to give you a chance. Get back here Monday with your kit. And for Pete's sake, leave the jacket and tie at home."

And so it was that Tommy, a bit shaken, began his career as a game ranger.

A Leap In the Dark
Once in the field he was at home again. Most of the senior rangers spoke English, and off duty they liked to drink and talk about women. Tommy didn't like to drink and he knew nothing of women, so he preferred to keep to himself. He read his Bible every day. The others were not religious but they let him be and he appreciated that.

Happy to be alone, Tommy enjoyed anti-poaching work with only mules and African scouts for company. But while on one of his patrols in the Zambezi Valley, a stroke of bad luck occurred. With three scouts, he was looking for tracks of poachers entering the country from neighboring Zambia.

The day was uneventful until he saw an eagle owl flush from a hollow inside a huge baobab tree. Tmy stopped to look. Thinking there might be a nest with chicks or eggs inside, he edged closer and peered into the opening. It was dark and he could see very little. Needing a better look, he removed his boots, handed his rifle to one of the scouts and leaped up and positioned himself on the edge of the hollow. Still he couldn't see anything. It was very quiet inside, so he let go of the tree and jumped into the dark cavity.

Fear gripped him the moment he landed on something warm, soft and furry.

Unfortunately for Tommy it also had sharp claws and powerful jaws.

[pagebreak] Like a coiled spring, the leopard unleashed itself upon him. Amid slashing blows from the ripping claws, Tommy heard the leopard's rasping scream echo through the hollow chamber and smelled the stinking breath of rotten meat full in his face. Shielding his face with his arms, he cowered into a ball at the base of the tree while the furious animal savaged him. He thought of God, but it felt like He was a long way away.

"Jairos!" he yelled to the scout. "The leopard is eating me!"

Jairos had no intention of joining the fray, but he fired off a shot. The leopard gave Tommy a parting belt and jumped out of the tree, leaving a bleeding, disheveled egg collector at the bottom.

After a time Tommy heard a subdued voice from the outside.

"What happened, Mister Tom?"

He pondered his damaged pride.

"What the hell do you think? The leopard has bitten me all over."

Jairos approached the tree with great caution, then reached in and pulled the ranger out. Out in the sunlight, Tommy looked at the lacerations, the blood, the dirt and the state of his clothes and wondered how he would explain this to the others.

With their wounded leader in tatters, the men trudged to the nearest road and called for a vehicle on their radio. Tommy was hospitalized in Karoi, where he recovered fully. One of his colleagues brought him Wilbur Smith's book The Leopard Hunts in Darkness, but he didn't laugh.

After Tommy was discharged he was posted to the Management Unit based in Wankie National Park. This arm of the department, staffed by a warden, five rangers and 20 scouts, had the task of controlling and culling problem animals. The warden was tough and respected. His pet, a hyena called Fisi, was part of the extended family.

Two of the rangers took great delight in extracting laughter at Tommy's expense. One was an irreverent New Zealander by the name of Perry Loach, the other the park's pilot, Dick Clouger, a joker who took very little seriously. Both were fond of Tommy but neither allowed the leopard incident to pass.

[pagebreak] Caught in a Stampede
At this time researchers produced alarming figures on elephant numbers in the park, and orders were given to the Management Unit to reduce the herd. The tactics for the cull were simple but dangerous. Clouger, in a Super Cub, would locate a herd and relay its position. When the hunters were ready the pilot would drive the herd toward them. It was a gruesome undertaking. No one enjoyed it, but it was considered vital to protect the habitat.

The success of this tactic depended on cool nerves and precise marksmanship. With only four riflemen on the ground dealing with a herd of 40 to 50 panic-stricken elephants, there was virtually no margin for error. The key was the point man, who would stand in the center of the proceedings while the herd ran toward him. He would have to wait until mere meters separated him from the lead animal. If he missed that first shot he was probably dead. The other three hunters on the flanks would then engage the animals.

Overall it was an extremely dangerous situation, with rampant elephants running everywhere.

It was on one of these outings that it all went wrong for Tommy. It was a particularly dry day and there was a massive cloud of dust when the shooting started. Pandemonium followed in the poor visibility and Tommy found himself on the same flank as Perry, shooting for all he was worth. He missed a target and started to follow the unfortunate beast, which was set to break out of the cordon. He took his eye off the rest of the herd and suddenly felt as though he had been hit in the back by a train. Tommy found himself hoisted high in the air, dangling head down, impaled on an elephant's tusk. Again he felt terribly embarrassed. Both Loach and Clouger would be watching but he was sure it would not be long before he was in the arms of the Lord.

Just then an unlikely angel of mercy roared low overhead. Dick Clouger in his Super Cub had seen the elephant break out and attack Tommy. He circled in front of the cow and dived at her, pulling up at the latest possible moment to avoid smashing into her head. Enraged by the aircraft, she swung her head skyward, sending Tommy flying off the tusk that had pierced his buttock and skewed through his thigh and groin. Tommy hit the ground and looked up to see the little aircraft making a tight turn to dive again at the elephant in an attempt to keep her at bay. Then there were two shots nearby and he saw Loach, who was romping toward him with a stupid look on his face.

[pagebreak] "Perry, I'm hurt," he explained.

"I know, Tommy. You've just had an elephant's tusk where it shouldn't be!"

Loach knelt to take a closer look. He noticed the bleeding in Tommy's groin was not excessive, and deduced the femoral artery was intact. He told Tommy to lie still. Then he saw something white and shining in the sand between Tommy's legs.

"Hey, Tommy, here's one of your balls." He plucked the testicle out of the sand and tried to brush it clean.

"Jeepers, Perry, is it okay?"

"I don't know, Tom. Do you want it?" He held it up for Tommy.

"Yes, please, Perry." A water bottle was produced and the testicle was rinsed and replaced neatly back in its pouch. A helicopter airlifted Tommy to the hospital.

Fortunately, the damage was mainly muscular. The doctor told him that in terms of having children some day, everything appeared to be in working order. Tommy thanked him for the information a little sheepishly.

Adding Insult to Injury
A week later, bandaged and tender, Tommy hobbled back to work. His first stop was to report to the warden. He dropped his kit in his room and then made his way gingerly across the camp. He walked like a cowboy who hasn't dismounted for days. His groin remained very sore.

As he approached the door he noticed Fisi, the warden's pet hyena, coming toward him excitedly. Tommy thought the animal was happy to see him home, but for reasons known only to the hyena-perhaps because of the scly dry day and there was a massive cloud of dust when the shooting started. Pandemonium followed in the poor visibility and Tommy found himself on the same flank as Perry, shooting for all he was worth. He missed a target and started to follow the unfortunate beast, which was set to break out of the cordon. He took his eye off the rest of the herd and suddenly felt as though he had been hit in the back by a train. Tommy found himself hoisted high in the air, dangling head down, impaled on an elephant's tusk. Again he felt terribly embarrassed. Both Loach and Clouger would be watching but he was sure it would not be long before he was in the arms of the Lord.

Just then an unlikely angel of mercy roared low overhead. Dick Clouger in his Super Cub had seen the elephant break out and attack Tommy. He circled in front of the cow and dived at her, pulling up at the latest possible moment to avoid smashing into her head. Enraged by the aircraft, she swung her head skyward, sending Tommy flying off the tusk that had pierced his buttock and skewed through his thigh and groin. Tommy hit the ground and looked up to see the little aircraft making a tight turn to dive again at the elephant in an attempt to keep her at bay. Then there were two shots nearby and he saw Loach, who was romping toward him with a stupid look on his face.

[pagebreak] "Perry, I'm hurt," he explained.

"I know, Tommy. You've just had an elephant's tusk where it shouldn't be!"

Loach knelt to take a closer look. He noticed the bleeding in Tommy's groin was not excessive, and deduced the femoral artery was intact. He told Tommy to lie still. Then he saw something white and shining in the sand between Tommy's legs.

"Hey, Tommy, here's one of your balls." He plucked the testicle out of the sand and tried to brush it clean.

"Jeepers, Perry, is it okay?"

"I don't know, Tom. Do you want it?" He held it up for Tommy.

"Yes, please, Perry." A water bottle was produced and the testicle was rinsed and replaced neatly back in its pouch. A helicopter airlifted Tommy to the hospital.

Fortunately, the damage was mainly muscular. The doctor told him that in terms of having children some day, everything appeared to be in working order. Tommy thanked him for the information a little sheepishly.

Adding Insult to Injury
A week later, bandaged and tender, Tommy hobbled back to work. His first stop was to report to the warden. He dropped his kit in his room and then made his way gingerly across the camp. He walked like a cowboy who hasn't dismounted for days. His groin remained very sore.

As he approached the door he noticed Fisi, the warden's pet hyena, coming toward him excitedly. Tommy thought the animal was happy to see him home, but for reasons known only to the hyena-perhaps because of the sc