Harry Selby (hunter)

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Harry Selby is a South African white hunter who made a name for himself in Kenya and then in Bechuanaland. Selby honed his hunting skills early in life while working for the Safariland safari company and under the tutelage of legendary hunter Philip Percival. During his time with Ker and Downey Safaris Ltd., he also met and befriended Robert Ruark, whose subsequent writings about Selby made Selby famous around the world.

Early life[edit]

Born in South Africa, Harry was very young when his family moved to Kenya.[1] Harry’s parents had acquired 40,000 acres of prime ranch land – with a view of Mount Kenya - where they grazed cattle. The land was also home to big game, and as a child Harry was surrounded by herds of zebra, eland and impala. From time to time groups of buffalo and elephant passed through the property, and occasionally lions or leopard. The presence of the big cats would spark a hunt in order to protect the livestock, and at the age of just eight years old Harry was entrusted with his own single-shot .22 rifle.

Harry's early pursuits kept the family's larder stocked with guinea fowl, francolin and gazelle and it was during these times that Harry perfected his gun handling skills. He became familiar with dangerous game while hunting smaller game on the slopes of Mount Kenya. Harry hunted with experienced local trackers; expert hunters in their own right who would pursue even the largest game with bow and arrow.[2]

Hunting career[edit]

Harry’s career as a hunter emerged from a job as a field mechanic for Philip Percival, a veteran East African white hunter. However, it was not long before Percival realized that Harry’s personable nature and considerable big game experience would be invaluable on safari. Percival took Selby on as his apprentice,[1][3] and by the time Harry turned 22 he was already well on his way to becoming one of Africa’s most respected professional hunters.

Robert Ruark[edit]

In 1949, when Harry was just 24, he joined Ker & Downey Safaris. Two years later he was teamed with a guest who was to change his life. Robert Ruark was an American newspaper columnist who flew to Africa to fulfil a lifelong dream to go on safari. He was so enthralled that he wrote a book called Horn of the Hunter which became one of the most widely read books ever written about safari life. It also put Harry's name in the history books, and created a demand to hunt with Harry so great that he was fully booked up to four years in advance.

In 1955 Ruark wrote a subsequent book called Something of Value, a fictional novel influenced by Harry's colonial Kenyan childhood and his Professional Hunter exploits. The attention placed great pressure on Harry, who later commented that creating his reputation was easy – maintaining it for 40 years was the hard part.

Moving to Bechuanaland[edit]

By 1962 the future of hunting in Kenya was looking uncertain. Harry had been offered a directorship in what became Ker, Downey & Selby Safaris,[4] and agreed to open a new venture in Bechuanaland. Harry had recognised the area’s tremendous potential and in 1963 he, his wife and two children moved to Maun to begin a new chapter in their lives.

The company leased a vast 12,000 km² concession on the northwest edge of Botswana, near Chobe National Park. The principal landmark of the area is the River Khwai, and Harry could not resist building a bridge over it just a couple of years later.[5] In 1970, fuelled by the burgeoning interest in East African photo safaris, Harry built Belmond Khwai River Lodge, the first photographic lodge in Botswana to cater to overseas photo safari tourism.

By 1994 Harry had marked his half century in the business, an unprecedented accomplishment. However, in 1997, after completing his 53rd safari season, he throttled back from the demands of full-season hunting, and finally retired from professional hunting in 2000 at the age of 75.


  1. ^ a b Wieland, Terry (2000). A View from a Tall Hill: Robert Ruark in Africa. Camden, ME: Countrysport Press. p. 101. 
  2. ^ "Gail Wentink's World - Harry Selby". Gabrimaun.tripod.com. Retrieved 2012-06-27. 
  3. ^ Herne, Brian (1999). White Hunters: The Golden Age of African Safaris. New York: Henry Holt and Company, LLC. p. 181. 
  4. ^ Minetree, Harry (1976-07-26). "The Breed Is Vanishing, but Harry Selby Holds Out as Africa's Great White Hunter". People.com. Retrieved 2012-06-27. 
  5. ^ "Old Lion In A New Land". CNN. 12 February 1968.