21 Jun 2011

Peter John Kingsley-Heath, December 4, 1926 – May 12, 2011

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Kingsley-Heath with lioness shot in Ethiopia for killing livestock.

John Kingsley-Heath was educated at Monkton Combe School and Trinity College, Cambridge. He was commissioned into the Welsh Guards at age 18. He was wounded during service in both France and Palestine during WWII. After the war, he joined the Colonial Administration in East Africa. His passionate interest in wildlife and travel led him to hunt extensively in nearly all the countries of the African Continent. He became an Honorary Game Warden and Park Warden in several countries and played a major part in opening Botswana to tourism. He accompanied many famous people on safari and was a director of Ker & Downey Safaris and Safari South. He was closely involved in securing some of the extraordinary photography in the films ‘Hatari’ and ‘Sammy Going South’. He was a licensed professional hunter for 45 years and a bush pilot for 30 with some 5,000 flying hours, and continued to lead safaris at the age of 80. He was Director of Field Operations of the East African Wildlife Heritage Fund and donated to that organization the proceeds of the sale of his rifles at Christie’s on April 24, 1996.


The Telegraph‘s obituary recalls Kingsley-Heath’s hand-to-hand encounter with a lion:

[I]n August 1961, when Kingsley-Heath was leading a private safari along the Kisigo river in Tanganyika[, f]rom inside a blind (a shelter for hunters), he turned to see a huge, maned lion crouching behind him not 15ft away. As it gathered itself to spring, Kingsley-Heath shot it, and the lion fled. He and his gunbearers gave chase and found the wounded creature lying on its side, breathing heavily.

It was down, but not out. When Kingsley-Heath’s client opened fire, the lion made a single bound of 22ft towards the two men. Kingsley-Heath dropped to the ground and smashed the barrel of his .470 rifle over the animal’s head, breaking the stock at the pistol grip; the lion staggered. As his gunbearers and client ran for cover Kingsley-Heath struggled on to his elbows to get clear.

“Too late,” he recalled, “the lion was upon me, I smelt his foul breath as, doubling my legs up to protect my stomach, I hit him in the mouth with my right fist as hard as I could. His mouth must have been partly open as my fist went straight in.”
With a single jerk of its head, the lion broke Kingsley-Heath’s right arm; as he punched it with his left fist, the lion bit clean through his left wrist, breaking the left arm and leaving the hand hanging by its sinews. Next it clamped his foot in its jaws, crushing the bones in it by twisting his ankle.

One of the gunbearers arrived, threw himself on the animal’s back and stabbed it repeatedly with a hunting knife. With Kingsley-Heath’s foot still locked in its mouth, the lion was finally shot dead. The client reappeared, and with his rifle blew the creature’s jaws apart so that Kingsley-Heath’s foot could be removed.

“I was bleeding heavily … shaking uncontrollably, felt cold, and was likely to lose consciousness,” he wrote later. “I knew that if I did so, I might die.” Instead, after an agonising and protracted medical evacuation, followed by surgery and a bout of malaria, he eventually recovered.

2 Feedbacks on "Peter John Kingsley-Heath, December 4, 1926 – May 12, 2011"

Chris JH England

John was an intriguing man who I and my parents, Kay & Cyril England, knew well when we lived in Maun and Nairobi.

My mother was instrumental in bringing John and his wife Sue together!

Jerry Jaleel

John Kingsley Heath was an extraordinary man, down to earth, very sincere and generous. He joined the Jim Corbett Foundation in 1998 and shared his personal experience with Corbett while he was employed by Safariland, of which Corbett was a director. Hunting the dangerous game in Africa by Kingsley Heath will remain a classic for years to come. we will miss him dearly. I will cherish all his handwritten letters to us.


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