Theunis Botha led his first guided hunting safari through South Africa’s grasslands in 1989. A college student at the time, he used the money he received to help put himself through school.
Over the following 28 years, Botha expanded his college side-gig into a full-fledged business, setting up private hunting ranches in Zimbabwe, Botswana, South Africa and elsewhere, and drawing clients from around the world. He won a reputation as a sought-after specialist in leopard and lion hunting, and pioneered a new method of using hounds to track big game, according to his hunting company’s website.
On Friday, after countless treks into the African wilderness, the 51-year-old embarked on his final hunt.
Botha was leading a group of hunters western Zimbabwe on Friday afternoon when they stumbled upon a breeding herd of elephants in Hwange National Park, the Telegraph reported.
Startled, three elephant cows charged the group. Botha opened fire, according to News24, but a fourth elephant rammed him from the side, lifting him with her trunk. One of his fellow hunters then fired a shot. The elephant collapsed on top of Botha, killing him, News24 reported.
Botha’s body was taken to Hwange Colliery Hospital. His wife, Carike Botha, is expected to go to Zimbabwe on Monday to identify his body and bring his remains to South Africa for burial, according to News24. In addition to his wife, Botha is survived by five children.
Friends and clients of Botha’s took to Facebook to express their condolences for the “world-class houndsman” over the weekend.
“A legend has fallen but will never be forgotten,” one user wrote. “It’s with a sad heart that we say goodbye to you.”
“I’m crying. RIP my brother,” said another.
Others were unsympathetic, many leaving hateful, obscenity-laden comments on photos of Botha and his wife because of the work he did.
Botha’s death comes just weeks after one of his friends was killed by crocodiles during a hunting expedition in Zimbabwe. Scott Van Zyl, 44, was with a local tracker and a pack of hunting dogs when he disappeared in mid-April. A week later, his remains were found in the carcass of a crocodile shot and killed by local authorities, the BBC reported.
Theunis Botha Big Game Safaris started as a small operation in the early 1980s run by Botha’s family, who settled near Kruger National Park in the sparsely populated northeastern region of South Africa, according to the company’s website. Botha rose to become a sergeant in the South African infantry and served in conflict with Angola, the website says, then enrolled at the University of Pretoria.
After earning a degree in psychology and anthropology in 1991, Botha turned full time to big game hunting, starting a hunting farm with his wife. Over the years, Botha honed a “Monteria hunts,” a European-style method of using dogs to chase game toward hunters, who lie in wait to fire on the animals. The method was traditionally used on deer and boar, but Botha reportedly turned it against bigger, fiercer creatures.
“Theunis Botha perfected Leopard and Lion hunting safaris with hounds in Africa,” his website reads. It advertises “a passionate and professional hunting outfitter operation focused on giving his clients a unique exiting African safari experience.”
A video on the website shows camouflaged hunters riding boats, trucks and small planes into the African wilderness, intense music pulsing in the background. The hunters can be seen using their rifles to fell elephants, leopards, crocodile and other animals. Photos on the page show them grinning and standing over their kills.
In one image, Botha can be seen holding two elephant tusks that appear several inches taller than he is. Another shows him wearing a green shirt, shorts and a baseball cap, and posing over a dead elephant.