Sports A Field

Tony Archer (1933-2020)

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Tony Archer was one of East Africa’s leading professional hunters during the “golden age” of safari hunting.

Photo above: Tony Archer, left, with his tracker Abakuna.

The 1950s, ‘60s, and ‘70s are considered by many to be the “golden age” of safari hunting in East Africa. Very few of the legendary professional hunters of that era are still with us, and this already short list has suffered a significant loss with the passing of Antony “Tony” Archer shortly after his 87th birthday in February 2020.

Tony’s life story easily justifies a book or two, but always averse to any form of self-promotion, Tony regrettably never penned a book about his own life.  Here are a few of the highlights. 

Tony was born in the Kenya Colony of the British Empire in 1933. While still a schoolboy, Tony could already track, stalk, and shoot. He was shooting antelope for the pot at age 8, shot his first buffalo and elephant at age 16, and had taken all of the Big Five other than leopard while still in his teens.

Upon completion of secondary school (high school), Tony entered military service in the Kenya Regiment and underwent training in Southern Rhodesia.  After completing his national service, he joined the Colonial Police Force and served with distinction during the Mau Mau Uprising of the early 1950s. Though he seemed well suited for it, he chose not to make police work a career, and returned to the full-time pursuit of his passion.  

Fluent in several native languages, a keen student of native bushcraft and hunting practices, and curious about all things wild, Tony became a recognized expert on wildlife and wild country. His knowledge was not limited to only the game animals typically sought by hunters but encompassed all aspects of the bush:  the vegetation, mammals, reptiles, and in particular the bird life of Africa.

Joining the prestigious firm of Ker and Downey Safaris, he became a fully licensed professional hunter in 1957. Soon he was one of the firm’s directors as well as an influential member of the East African Professional Hunters’ Association. 

During his 20-plus years with Ker & Downey Safaris, Tony guided many well-known hunters; among them the screen star William Holden, actor Robert Stack, U.S. Senator Lloyd Bentsen, Jack Heinz (the “Ketchup Heinz”), and Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands. Tony was also one of the two white hunters that guided Jay Mellon (of African Hunter fame) during his four months on safari in East Africa.  

No place was too far or too difficult. Tony hunted, or guided expeditions in Angola, Botswana, the Comoros, the Congo, Ethiopia, Djibouti, Kenya, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Nepal, Rhodesia, Rwanda, South Africa, Sudan, Tanganyika/Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, and Zanzibar. The breadth of his field experience was exceeded only by fellow professional hunter Tony Sanchez-Arino.

Tony conducted or was a key member of numerous expeditions: the British Museum’s expedition to Angola in 1957, the two Machris-Knudsen Expeditions to the forests of western Uganda for the Los Angeles County Museum, the expedition for the Carnegie Museum to southwest Uganda, and the Winnifred Carter Expedition in Botswana for the Royal Ontario Museum of Canada, among others.

By the mid-1960s, elephants and hippos had so overpopulated Uganda’s Murchison Falls National Park that the associated destruction of habitat would soon result in near total loss of their populations in addition to much of the other wildlife dependent on the habitat. Tony was a partner in the wildlife management and consulting firm Wildlife Services Ltd, and the company was contracted by the government of Uganda to reduce the elephant herd by some 2,000 animals, and the hippo population by approximately 4,000 animals. Ensuring that all the meat was utilized, Tony and a small team of fellow professional hunters conducted a very disciplined and methodical operation averaging eight of these massive animals per day over a two-year period, with none of the team members sustaining injury, and importantly conserving the park and its wildlife.  It was quite likely the most successful operation of its magnitude in African history. 

Tony was Vice-Chairman of the East African Professional Hunter’s Association during the tumultuous period in 1977 when Kenya banned hunting and he led the effort (unsuccessful) to have the ill-advised ban overturned. 

While on safari with Bob Kleburg and his daughter Helen in Botswana, Tony guided Helen to a monster lion. Significant effort was expended to bring a scale to camp, and the beast was cut up into manageable pieces over a waterproof ground sheet.  Including 64 pounds of meat in its stomach, the lion weighed an astounding 598 pounds!  It was quite likely the heaviest wild lion ever hunted.

Despite a lifetime of guiding clients to innumerable big-game trophies, and performing animal control work, it is testament to his knowledge of animal behavior, skill as a hunter, and professional discipline that neither Tony nor any of his clients were ever mauled, gored, or injured by their quarry. This is a record that few other hunters can claim.

In the book Inside Safari Hunting, Eric Rundgren, a legendary game control officer, and professional hunter of broad experience, wrote, “Tony possesses a greater natural gift for hunting than any man I know.”

I have tried to limit this discussion to events of interest to the hunting fraternity, but those who knew him well knew Tony also as an honorable, modest, and generous man. He was held in the highest esteem by peers, clients, and friends the world over.

Tony is survived by his wife Betty, son Nigel, and daughter Alexandra, all residing in Kenya.


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