Obituary: Norman Carr

Norman Carr shot his 50th elephant on his 20th birthday when he was a government elephant control officer in Northern Rhodesia. It was a dangerous but necessary job, for the local tribes depended on what they grew and, if marauding elephants destroyed the crops, the villagers faced hunger and real hardship. Carr was one of four such officers in the country. Of the other three, one died of drink, one after being mauled by a lion and the tombstone of the third reads "Killed by his 350th elephant".

Like the children of many British parents working in the colonies, Carr was sent to England to be educated when he was just six years old. He didn't see his beloved Africa or his parents again until he was 17, when he worked briefly in his father's tobacco business in Blantyre, Nyasaland, before taking the first opportunity offered to get out into the bush. He was appointed to the Game and Tsetse Department of Northern Rhodesia in 1935, as an elephant control officer.

A formidable hunter, Carr was slight of stature, but he was tough and intrepid. "You don't really know a country until you've walked it," he declared as he set out to cover Rhodesia on foot, walking alone for months with just a few tea-bags and some quinine in his knapsack. He lived off the land as he went, gathering the knowledge which would later enable him to set up National Parks for the Rhodesian government and personally train the rangers and wardens.

After serving as an officer with the King's African Rifles in North Africa during the Second World War, Carr returned to Rhodesia with a new idea - perhaps it would be possible for villagers to make money out of protecting, rather than killing, elephants and other animals. He realised that, to make such a scheme work, the people on the land would have to benefit directly. He spoke to Paramount Chief Nsefu in the Northern Province, who was mystified as to why people would want to pay to watch animals but was willing to try the experiment. In 1950, having built six simple rondevaals (mud huts) for overnight shelter, Carr brought the first visitors from Chipeta, a town 100 miles away. They shot with cameras instead of rifles and during the first year paid the chief and his council the then substantial sum of pounds 100 for the privilege. Eco-tourism in Africa was born.

The first National Park Carr established was Kafue, where he became warden. Matching the example being set by Joy and George Adamson, he rehabilitated back into the wild lion cubs whose mother had been shot. Although the cubs learnt to kill and live off their hunting, the experiment was perhaps not altogether successful, as one birdwatcher reported. He had driven into a remote area of the park and sat looking through his binoculars when a great lion appeared and pinned him down by sitting on his lap.

When Northern Rhodesia became the independent Republic of Zambia in 1964, Carr had no difficulty in deciding to stay on: he remembered with distress his early banishment to a country with very little sunshine or space. Not that Zambia was without its frustration. "Bureaucracy thrives and there is no word for maintenance in any of the local languages. But if I get fed up," he said, "I just remember Regent Street with all its noise and pollution. That calms me down."

Carr wrote several books, all illustrating his love and knowledge of Zambia. The first three, Return to the Wild (1962), The White Impala (1969) and Valley of the Elephants (1972) were published in the UK and the last, Kakuli was published last year in Zimbabwe. Kakuli is the affectionate name by which the locals called him - it means "Old Buffalo".

His success in setting up the National Parks was in part due to the good relationship Carr developed with the Rhodesian and later the Zambian government. He had befriended Kenneth Kaunda and introduced him to the richness of the country's wildlife before he became president in 1964. Kaunda had a small lodge in the Luangwa Valley and continued to visit Carr regularly. Prince Andrew, the Duke of Edinburgh and Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands were also visitors.

The Luangwa Valley National Park, which Carr established and worked in from 1960, is rich in game and it was there, after he retired from the Game Department, that he chose to live and set up Kapani, his own tourist camp just outside the park gates, situated by an oxbow lagoon. During the day the birdlife on the water is a never-ending fascination. At night, elephants, lions and giraffes often visit the camp and the dawn chorus is always aided by the raucous honking of hippos. He also had a small camp deep in the bush for serious walkers. There the huts were so flimsy that when you lay in bed you could hear the lions breathing as they padded around exploring the human smells.

At the camp one Christmas morning, Carr took out a family on foot while the cook prepared dinner. They stumbled on a lioness with cubs and had to beat a hasty retreat up a tree while she paced angrily below. They were trapped for hours until a rescue party found them. He received a card every year thereafter from the family "in remembrance of the most exciting Christmas we have ever spent".

Going out on safari with Norman Carr was always an exciting adventure. His vast knowledge and experience meant he could sense in advance what was going on so he might take you in the evening to where 50 elephant were fording the river to seek better feeding ground; the babies completely submerged held their trunks aloft like snorkels. But the Luangwa Valley is still a wild land with ever-present dangers and Carr never underestimated them nor was he too proud to beat a retreat.

Alarm at the devastation caused in Africa by poachers prompted Carr to set up the Rhino Trust in 1970 which later passed into the care of the Worldwide Fund for Nature. After he was appointed MBE for his life's work, Carr suggested the conservation award should really have gone to the tsetse fly. In areas from which the fly had been banished, cattle are brought in to graze and people take over. Where the tsetse fly continues to flourish so does wildlife.

Carr was determined that tourism should not corrupt the local villagers and although he gladly took visitors right into the poorest areas, he would never allow tipping. However he encouraged donations for the local school which he sponsored, paying for uniforms, books and sports equipment. Twice a month he took parties of school children into the park to show them their heritage and teach them the names of the animals so they no longer callled them all "inama" which means "meat". It is to this Kapani School Fund that donations in memory of Norman Carr are being directed.

Norman Joseph Carr, conservationist: born Chinde, Portuguese East Africa 19 July 1912; married 1940 Barbara Lennon (one son, two daughters); died Johannesburg 1 April 1997.

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