The hunting world has lost a pioneer.
Thomas Mattanovich, “dean” of professional hunters in Ethiopia, passed after a long battle with Parkinson’s disease on 17 February. He was 82.
Thomas immigrated to Ethiopia with his parents and elder brother in 1950 at age 13 from what was then Yugoslavia.They settled in Wondo Genet, southern Ethiopia, then a very remote and wild place. Thomas adapted quickly, and while still a boy, he learned the first of three Ethiopian languages he would become fluent in.
As a teenager, after training and employing a team of local Anuak tribesmen to be boatmen and skinners, Thomas hunted crocodiles on the Baro River. The salted and dried skins were then exported to Italy via Ethiopian Airlines.
Receiving his Professional Hunter’s license in 1959, Thomas pioneered hunting in the Gambella region, which is home to the great migration of white-eared kob and Nile lechwe, the second largest migration of wildlife on the continent. He trained and employed a number of local people, and as they and their families settled around his original safari camp, it gradually grew to become a small village. Government maps of the Haile Selassie era identify the location officially as “Tom’s Camp,” perhaps the only place on the entire map of Ethiopia having a non-native name.
Thomas went on to hunt throughout the country, and was among the first to conduct safaris for the rare desert species of the Danakil and Ogaden regions of eastern Ethiopia, as well as the endemic species like mountain nyala and Menelik bushbuck in the Arussi and Chercher Mountains.
Thomas guided everyone from European royalty to a logger from Washington state, and many returned to Ethiopia to hunt with him multiple times. He guided 19 hunters that went on to win the Weatherby Award. His clients have put over 100 trophies in Rowland Ward’s Records of Big Game,and though he ceased active guiding in 2003, a dozen-plus of those entries still rank in the current Top Ten.
Thomas was a life member of the International Professional Hunter’s Association, and an active member of Game Conservation International, a precursor to today’s hunting and conservation organizations. He participated in and contributed his invaluable knowledge and experience with the diverse wildlife, habitat, and people of Ethiopia to the numerous conservation projects conducted during his life.
Thomas is buried in the Petros we Paulos Cemetery, in Gulele, Addis Ababa. He is survived by his wife, Samrawit, three children, and two grandchildren.