In May this year, owners of the Elandsberg Nature Reserve, together with Richard Morton of Tembani Wildlife, veterinarian Dr Louis Greeff, master measurer Dean Robinson, and invited guests all played a part in making history when the kudu bull Mr Wow was measured one last time.
The Rooiberg area of Limpopo Province has always been well known for its huge kudu. The eight landowners of the 12 000 ha Elandsberg Nature Reserve have worked hard over the last 12 years to establish Elandsberg as a top, free-range hunting destination. Baily Edmonds, one of the owners living on the western side of the reserve, first noticed Mr Wow at an estimated age of 14 months, as his horns were different to those of the other young kudu on the reserve – they were sweeping backwards over his ears and started to point downwards.
At the time, Baily said to the veterinarian that, should they ever come across this young bull when doing game capture in the western part of the reserve, he should be darted and perhaps be incorporated into a breeding programme. As fate would have it, Baily saw Mr Wow again on several occasions over the next few months, but not when the veterinarian or game capture team was on hand. Then the bull “just disappeared”. Two years went by, and while capturing kudu bulls for Kwandwe, the veterinarian and helicopter pilot spotted Mr Wow from the air. The Elandsberg owners did not hesitate and the special bull was darted immediately. As they were totally unprepared for putting a kudu bull into a breeding camp, Mr Wow was moved to a 100 ha camp that was prepared for sable antelope. They calculated the bull to be between three and a half and four years old at that stage, and his horns measured an impressive 59″.
Don’t mess with Mr Wow any more
As news of this exceptional bull, and the ten Elandsberg females that were put into his camp, spread, offers to purchase him came in thick and fast, but Elandsberg had no intention of selling him. As Baily had a good relationship with Tembani, and since their main business was stud breeding, Elandsberg and Tembani drafted a business plan whereby Tembani bought a 50 per cent share in Mr Wow. This business plan included a bigger kudu breeding programme, acquiring other mid-60″ bulls, and allowing the offspring, including that of Mr Wow, to breed with one another. As the aim was to produce big bull calves, Mr Wow did not disappoint. “With this gene pool, 55″ to 56″ bulls will be hunted on Elandsberg in future, which will help pay the bills. This is the only way we can afford this place,” Baily said.
It was decided to measure Mr Wow one last time in May 2019, as Baily said they should “not mess with him any more”. The previous time he was measured in 2017, his horns grew 6″ over a period of one and a half years, since he was measured only the second time since his capture, and measured 70⅛“. With the help of photographs taken on a regular basis, it was determined that his horns were still growing. Hoping that Mr Wow had not worn down his magnificent horns, Elandsberg and Tembani wanted to measure him one last time at age nine years.
To date, the biggest southern kudu horns entered into Rowland Ward’s Records of Big Game were picked up along the Save River in Mozambique by Dr Carlo Caldesi in 1963, measuring an incredible 73⁷⁄8″. Forty-eight years later, Johann Rohrer shot a massive bull of 72⁵⁄8″ in Hochfeld, Namibia.
“Mooi … mooi, mooi, mooi … right”
With Richard Morton as helicopter pilot, Dr Louis Greeff seated behind him, and myself sitting next to him with the video camera, the search for Mr Wow began as Hanru Strydom and Louis Nienaber, heading the ground crew, drove to the centre of the camp. Despite a lot of chopper experience on board, it was not easy to spot Mr Wow from the air because of the dense bush below. After several minutes of flying, eyes scanning the terrain from both sides of the chopper, Richard radioed an anxious Hanru, reporting that only the herd of females was located. Dr Louis suggested flying down a small valley, and as we gained height while exiting the valley, banking right, we spotted Mr Wow in the north-western corner of the camp. As Richard positioned the chopper to the right side of the bull, enabling me to film from the left side of the chopper, I could immediately pinpoint him through my viewfinder by following the huge horns, the sun reflecting off them as he ran through the dense bush. As he tilted his head back to avoid the horns becoming entangled in overhanging branches while running, I could see right through the huge curls from behind – what an impressive sight!
Instructing Hanru to come closer from the middle road as the bull stood under a big tree, Dr Louis was able to successfully shoot a dart just as the bull took off again. Dr Louis, who had worked with Mr Wow on previous occasions, excitedly reaffirmed the bull’s magnificent features over the radio, “Kyk daai pype!” Richard guided the bull to an open area while informing Hanru of the ground position. As the chopper was hovering above the spot where the bull had gone down to help guide Hanru to it, Dr Louis expressed his satisfaction, “Mooi … mooi, mooi, mooi … right.”
Safely back on the ground, Dr Louis rushed to the kudu bull that had been placed on a carry mat by the ground crew. From there Dr Louis and five men, with the help of fellow owner Jaco Pienaar, who held up the head and massive horns, carried Mr Wow to an open piece of veld. Baily, Richard and another fellow owner, Martin Raath, had a last discussion with master measurer Dean Robinson, deciding to measure the bull with both a measuring tape and a trophy measuring cable. With Dr Louis in attendance, the horns were measured twice with the cable, as the cable was not long enough. A mark had to be made on the horn, and then again on the cable at the tip of the horn, and then the two measurements had to be added together. Left base: 10.875″, right base: 10.875″, right horn: 72.75″, left horn: 75.25″ – an unbelievable SCI score of 169.75″.
Back at the lodge, after a very special, once-in-a-lifetime photo opportunity with a live, world-record animal, Richard told GAME & HUNT that although it was a nerve-wracking day, he is very proud that the owners are able to preserve the exceptional Elandsberg kudu genetics and are able to sell some of the genetics to the market, thereby allowing other game breeders to “enjoy the fruits of Mr Wow”. For Dean Robinson, who has measured several hundred kudu trophies from all over Africa in the last 25 years, “nothing has come close to this bull”. He says it is special that Mr Wow has not come from a breeding programme, and that there are other bulls on the property with similar horn shapes, “therefore, those genetics are out there”.
For Dr Louis it was once again amazing to spot Mr Wow from the chopper that morning, the sun reflecting off his exceptional horns, and to see that he was in excellent condition. Measuring the horns is something he has never experienced before, “with the tape passing the 60″ mark, and there is still one curl to go”. He says that, for someone like him who has been working in the bush for many years, seeing the tape passing the 75″ mark simply gave him goose bumps. Dr Louis says that one just cannot explain to someone else what it is like to work with such a magnificent animal, and that it is an absolute privilege. He believes that for farming, especially game farming, one has to have passion and a plan, and that time must not chase you, as the story of Mr Wow has clearly taught everybody.