An Old Chestnut from The Dark Continent: Hunting the Elusive Feather Leopard

After Dad retired, he was never fully satisfied with the mundane. He loved to be involved and engaged in something. For my father, even in his late seventies, he just could not get enough of work, and I actually believe that if Dad really did retire completely and had nothing to do, it would be akin to a death sentence.

Well, avoiding that, my father took a position with an outfit called Aquidneck Management Associates, Limited, located in Middletown, Rhode Island, just a short distance from their home in Newport. AMA, Ltd involved itself in government-related grants, as well as a variety of other matters, and Dad’s position within the organization was writing grants for military contracts. AMA had someone else working there, by the name of Frank Daly. Every year Mr. Daly would go off on vacation, only to return with tales of adventures in the wild. Dad and Frank Daly were in, what could be loosely described as, a friendly competition in the telling of tales department. AMA also produced a quarterly journal called The Insider, and in the fall of 1990 Dad wrote an article for that journal. What follows is Dad’s story told by none other than himself. So, without further ado, allow me to present something from Henry “Hemingway” Elliott:

Adventures From the Dark Continent

by Henry Elliott

Many years ago – many, many years ago – while employed by Pan American Airways, I was highly honored by being assigned to a delightful garden spot on the west coast of Africa: an unbelievably exotic place named Bolama, in what was then Portuguese Guinea, now Guinea-Bissau. Imagine, if you will, the joy of plucking luscious ripe mangoes and papayas from trees in your own backyard; the pleasure of being able to hire household help for much less than dollar a day; the invigorating pleasure of working in a temperature of 110 F and 100% humidity; the excitement of dodging the anopheles mosquito, only to be eventually defeated and brought down with a body purging case of malaria; and last, but not least, the thrill of dodging the tsetse fly, although one often wondered whether succumbing to a case of sleeping sickness would be such a bad thing.

But I digress, and must return to my tale of the “Great White Hunter.” A few months after arriving in Bolama, boredom began to set in. After all, even in the most exciting place one appreciates some variety. For this reason I eagerly accepted an invitation to accompany two Portuguese friends on a leopard hunt. I must admit to some trepidation at the time. When I told one of my prospective hunting partners that I would have to acquire a rifle, I was told that that would not be necessary – he would let me use a spare 12 gauge shotgun which he had. I expressed some concern regarding the limited range of the shotgun but was told not to worry – the shotgun had more than adequate range. This evoked considerable concern about how far from or, rather, how close to our prey one might expect to find oneself.

In any event, the approach of the great day brought with it another worrisome thought when I learned that our hunt would take place not during the day but during hours of darkness. I should have expected this, the leopard being a nocturnal animal, as most cats are, but I couldn’t help but think of the great number of the dreaded black mambas that were so prevalent in that area. Again I was told not to worry, but to be sure to wear knee boots. This didn’t provide too much consolation, however, as these snakes are known to hang from branches of trees, especially at night, presumably waiting for their prey to pass under them.

I then found that rather than riding through the hunting area in a jeep with searchlights thereon, as I had expected, we would be walking, each of us wearing what I can best describe as a miner’s cap with a lamp attached. I was, of course, carefully briefed as to the procedure to be followed. The three of us would spread out, about 100 yards apart, and would quietly and slowly walk forward, parallel to each other, waiting to pick up pairs of eyes in the beams of our lamps. My instructions on this were very explicit: if the eyes were round and rosy red, I was probably looking at a harmless gazelle and should look away, giving the animal a chance to escape; if the eyes were large, round and deep red, I was probably looking at a water buffalo and should stand stock still, quit breathing and start praying that the animal would move away without becoming excited; ah, but if the eyes were somewhat oval in shape and emerald green in color, I had probably found the prey being sought. In this event I was to slowly and quietly raise my gun, line up the fluorescent spots on my front sigh and rear gunsights with the green eyes, and let fire.

After almost an hour of slowly walking I finally found a pair of eyes in my beam and froze. Now the big question: what was it? The eyes were certainly not rosy red or dark red. Were they oval shape and green in color? Well, not quite. But, maybe! After a few seconds I decided that I was, indeed, looking a deadly leopard straight in the eyes at close range. Slowly and nervously, but I’m not sure how quietly, as my heart was pounding like a trip hammer, I raised my gun. Finally I thought I had my gunsights lined up with the eyes, although more than somewhat unsteadily, and squeezed the trigger.

With the deafening roar of the gun echoing through the jungle night the eyes disappeared and I waited in dread for the roar of the charging beast. But, no, except for one of my companions shouting to ask who shot what, utter quiet returned to the night. Slowly, I began to walk forward, beaming my lamp back and forth to spot the corpse of my prey. Then, after advancing a few more yards I began to notice feathers slowly drifting down through the night air. Yes, I found my prey: a large African Owl, which I had shot out of the lower branches of a mango tree!

After this, and for the remainder of my year and a half tour of duty in Africa, everything else as far as hunting was concerned was anticlimactic. I learned later, shortly before leaving Africa, my African friends jokingly referred to me as the Great White Hunter who had slain the feathered leopard.

On the day I left this lovely Eden on Earth the temperature was 122 F in the shade and the humidity, as usual, was almost 100%.