Buffalo kills wildlife artist who feared man more than animals

Click to follow
The Independent Online

One of Britain's most renowned wildlife artists, who was fearless about getting close to the animals he painted, has been gored to death by a buffalo in Kenya, his family have said.

Simon Combes, 64, was attacked in front of his wife and a friend as they walked through a nature reserve in Kenya's Great Rift Valley, where he had completed some of his finest works.

Witnesses said the three had just walked to a hilltop on open land known as Delemere's Nose on Sunday and were admiring the view when the one-ton buffalo knocked Mr Combes over, stamping and goring him.

His wife, Kat, and friend Mary Wykstra, a cheetah specialist, threw stones and bottles at the creature to scare it off, but to no avail. Mr Combes died before a helicopter could airlift him to hospital.

Mr Combes, who was born in Dorset, spent his childhood on an 800-acre farm in the Great Rift Valley and was in active service in the country's guerrilla war with Somalia. During the war he formed and led Kenya's airborne division, before returning to Britain to raise his children.

He was named artist of the year at the 1994 Pacific Rim Wildlife Art Show and won the Society of Animal Artists' award of Excellence in 1990.

His daughter Cindy, 35, who remained with her mother in Bushley, near Tewkesbury, Gloucestershire, when her father returned to Kenya seven years ago, said: "It has come as such an awful shock to us all.

"From what we've been told, the buffalo just came out of nowhere."

First aid arrived within an hour from a nearby village but the group then faced another long wait for an air ambulance, she said. "It was too dark for the helicopter to land near the summit of the hill where my father was lying. They decided they would land at the bottom and try to transfer him down and that's when the full extent of his injuries became clear."

Mr Combes was entirely self-taught, before honing his talents in later life under the tutelage of the legendary wildlife artist David Shepherd.

He staged a sell-out exhibition at Nairobi's New Stanley Art Gallery in 1969 and within five years had left the force and set himself up as a full-time artist.

From his home in Gloucestershire, he published two best selling books, African Experience (which has sold more than 30,000 copies) and Great Cats and made television appearances. Speaking in 1996, he said he had no fear of dangerous animals.

He said he had been chased by elephants, put up a tree by a rhino and bitten by a Bengal tiger, but it was mankind that he feared the most.

An awareness of the dangers of his profession was implicit in the names of some of his finest works, which included The Angry One, Tension at Dawn and a celebrated depiction of a buffalo, entitled Menace.