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The Great Hunters

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P.J. Pretorius CMG, DSO| South African Great Hunter

Major P. J. Pretorius, a descendant of the Voortrekker leader, Andries Pretorius, after whom South Africa’s administrative capital was named, was born in the Transvaal in 1876. At the age of 16 his father sent him to be a transport rider in the British South Africa Company. After taking part in the Matabele Wars, he worked on a mine to save money for his own-pioneering expeditions. He left Rhodesia in 1899 and crossed the Zambesi. For the next three years he wandered together with his African servants in the unexplored and game-filled territory known at that time as Zambesia. He writes “I was so lost to the ‘civilized’ world that I never heard of the Boer War until it was all over!”

Pretorius collected ivory and caught wild animals alive for zoos. At one time he traveled in central Africa and hunted with the pygmies.

His life was one of hardships, demanding resilience and independence. A brutal slave trade was still in existence and the tribesmen were suspicious of all intruders. Once Pretorius was almost killed when falsely accused of murdering a chief. The actual culprit was later sentenced to be roasted alive. After a trip to Europe, Pretorius returned to what was then Tanganyika and tried to farm in the Rufiji Delta.

His intimate knowledge of the area and his skills as a tracker were put to good use in World War I when he helped the Royal Navy find and destroy the German battle cruiser Konigsberg. Later he was one of General Smuts’s Scouts during the East African Campaign. He attained the rank of Major at this time and was awarded the C.M.G. and D.S.O.

Even in his mature years Pretorius could not bear to remain settled on his property at Nylstroom, Transvaal. He accepted an invitation to thin out the elephant in the Addo Bush near Port Elizabeth – a task which had been declared impossible by the accomplished elephant hunter, F.C.Selous. Later he made films of wild life.

Pretorius died in November 1945. Two years after his death, Jungle Man, a book compiled from his own notes, was published.

“Living dangerously is twice blessed,” he wrote. “It blesses the moment with elation; it blesses the after-day with warm memories. If a man has trodden unknown trails and landed on lost beaches, when age comes the domestic hearth is a camp-fire where old dramas are relived.”