-- College of African
Wildlife Management administrator Frank Poppleton at 10, 000
feet on Mount Kilimanjaro, Tanzania. PHOTO
COURTESY OF TOM GILBERT
July 1922—16th June, 2011
know of very few men who savoured life and communed
with nature as Frank did," writes wildlife artist Mohamed
September of 1967, Murka in Tsavo West National Park was a lonely and
There was an abandoned
mica mine and a few dilapidated houses for workers which had long been
The place was overgrown
with grass and bushes.
We were there from (CAWM)
the College of African Wildlife Management for further field training,
and the study of animal behaviour.
Murka in those days
provided ideal conditions.
On this particular day
four of us, all game wardens from various African countries were
undergoing survival training.
Also included was the
study in animal behaviour patterns and managing crises situations.
Frank Poppleton was
leading us towards a bull elephant which was browsing and flapping its
ears from time to time.
All of us were unarmed
and were being exposed to conditions and events critical to our
Frank Poppleton took us
uncomfortably too close to the elephant although we were down-wind
from the pachyderm and it could not smell us.
Frank then motioned to
us to squat in the grass which was about knee high.
We observed the
elephant for a while, and then Frank stood up and moved even closer.
elephant sensed our presence.
It trumpeted loudly
Frank threw a white
piece of cloth at the elephant.
This action diverted
the elephant’s attention as we all ran trying to keep a safe
distance from the now angry and enraged animal.
This was my first
exposure to Frank Poppleton’s profound understanding of animal
behaviour patterns and how to come out of a crisis situation alive and
Frank Poppleton was born
on July 30th 1922 in Ruiru to the north-east of Nairobi.
-- Prince of Wales School
Rugby XV: Frank is [standing] back row centre.
He studied at the Prince
of Wales School, and at age seventeen he was active in rugby, boxing,
cricket and hockey.
For his sporting
activities he was awarded four school colours. He was an alumnus of
‘The Old Cambrians’.
His mother, ‘Poppy’
was the matron at the Prince of Wales School long after Frank had
At the start of the
Second World War Frank joined the Kenya Regiment, went through the
Abyssinian campaign with the Recce Regiment and the Kenya Armoured
On cessation of
hostilities, he accepted a regular commission and was posted to the
Frank resigned his
commission after 15 years’ service and joined the Uganda National
Parks as a warden, served with the parks for ten years and then
accepted a post at the College of African Wildlife Management in
Moshi, Tanzania under FAO/ UNDP.
He served for 20 years
with FAO in Tanzania, Nepal and Uganda, in conservation and wildlife
It was at the College of
African Wildlife Management that I got to know Frank both as a mentor
My sponsorship to the
College was through yet another long departed friend, Captain Denis
Zaphiro who was also a friend to writer Ernest Hemingway and Prince
In 1954 Ernest
Hemingway and his wife Mary were on a flight over Murchison
Falls in a light aircraft piloted by Roy Marsh.
When the pilot
dipped his aircraft wing so that Mary could get a better
photograph of the falls, the aircraft came too low and the
tail rudder hit a telegraph wire and broke.
survived with Hemingway sustaining head injuries trying to
break a window open, the plane had crashed in a densely wooded
area and could not be located by rescue teams or other
It was Frank
Poppleton as Chief Park Warden who mounted a patrol and
eventually located the wreck and got the Hemingways and Roy
Marsh out while providing adequate assistance for their
evacuation to Nairobi.
Despite the presence of
leviathan crocodiles along the Nile River, Frank was undeterred and
swam there daily.
On one occasion he and
his family were charged by a Cape buffalo, all were unharmed, except
for Mrs. Poppleton who attempted to climb a tree which was full of
Frank with his wry sense
of humour said to me years later that she was the only ‘casualty’!
Frank Poppleton joined
the staff of the College of African Wildlife Management (CAWM)
through a UNDP funded programme in 1964.
The College is some 16
miles north of the town of Moshi in Tanzania and located on the
slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro.
It was known as
"the college of its own kind" due to the courses it
provided and the rigorous training it offered.
Frank was the college
administrator as well as instructor in the use of firearms, animal
control especially rogue elephants and buffalo.
He played a prominent
role teaching students the techniques of capturing wild animals for
He taught ballistics and
was active in various sports including soccer, tennis and squash.
Each year The College
undertook a cull of rogue animals in the Kilombero Valley, and the
Selous Game Reserve.
Elephant, buffalo and
hippos incurred considerable damage to crops, especially rice and
To be selected as a
student leader under the tutelage of Frank Poppleton or the principal,
Tony Mence required exceptional qualities of valour and the ability to
deal with dangerous animals in any situation.
Ethiopian Game Warden
Hagos Yohannes recounts an incident where the students had shot a
hippo and could not secure the animal and its meat products as the
entire school of hippos was ‘hee-hawing’ and snorting no further
than twenty yards from the dead animal.
Frank took a rope and
swam towards the dead hippo tied its leg and then using a 4 X 4
Unimog pulled the hippo out of the water.
On yet another occasion
when the students had shot a rogue elephant, out of nowhere another
elephant came charging.
Frank ordered the
students to shoot, but the students were stricken with fear and in
that instant, Frank whipped up his .375 rifle and dropped the elephant
with a frontal brain shot.
I know of very few men
who savoured life and communed with nature as Frank did.
He together with Tom
Gilbert of the U.S. National Parks’ Service along with the staff
of the college was instrumental in the setting up of Kilimanjaro
In 1968 news came to the
College that two mountaineers who had set out to climb Mawenzi,
Kilimanjaro’s lower peak, but one that requires technical skills
were missing after a lapse of two weeks.
Frank, with instructor
Dave King and students including Hagos Yohannes set out to find out
what had happened.
At 14,000 feet nearer
the base of the jagged peak, they found the body of one climber.
entangled with his own rope the other climber was dangling much
higher and swaying under gusty winds.
Conditions were so
precarious that no one could get any higher to retrieve the body.
Frank had brought
along a .30-06 rifle with a telescope.
He aimed at the rope.
The first shot grazed
the rope as it swung to and fro, the second went off the mark as
high winds and a storm was building up late in the afternoon.
With the remaining
bullet, Frank took careful aim and fired, the rope broke and the
This was the only way
to recover the second corpse.
Frank and his family
were regular visitors to Twiga Lodge in the 1960’s and early 1970’s.
-- High in the Himalayas:
Mount Everest view from Sagarmatha National Park.
When I met them, Frank
told me that he was moving on to Nepal to manage and train rangers for
the Royal Chitwan National Park. He was taking over from John Blower.
Frank was also the FAO/
UN project manager for the team advising the Nepalese Government on
how to manage Sagarmatha ( Mount Everest ) National Park, considered
the highest national park at 9,700 feet.
Frank retired from UN in
After retirement he was
appointed advisor to the Conservation Department in Ethiopia.
He emigrated to Canada
in 1980 with his wife and two sons.
Many wardens in Africa
owe a debt of gratitude to Captain Frank Poppleton for the training
they got at CAWM.
Joseph Kioko became
the director of KWS and David Babu became the director of Serengeti
There are many more
whose names I can no longer recall.
They came from
Cameroon, Zambia, Malawi, Sudan, Uganda, Tanzania, Zimbabwe,
Ethiopia and Botswana.
It was that rare
discipline instilled in them by Frank and by that rare breed of men at
the College including Tom Gilbert, Tony Mence, Hugh Lamprey, Gil
Child, Hans Reinwald, Anno Hecker, Brian Stronach, Pat Hemingway, Les
Robinette and Dave King which produced African game wardens and
leaders of distinction and outstanding qualities.
Frank’s life was stuff
legends are made of.
It would require any
writer no less than two tomes to fill up the details of his
Frank had two children
from his first marriage a daughter Lynette, who lives in South Africa
and son Keith.
Sadly, Keith died in a
shooting accident in Botswana on 21st April, 1990.
Frank is survived by his
second wife Inge, sons Mark, John and grandchildren.
He leaves behind his
wife, two sons and grandchildren.
I can only conclude this
obituary with the words: Ecce homo - this was a man!
, Fulya, Istanbul.
Maduff on Mohamed Ismail