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  OBITUARY  

July 22 - 28 , 2011

 

 Coastweek   Kenya


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Coastweek -- College of African Wildlife Management administrator Frank Poppleton at 10, 000 feet on Mount Kilimanjaro, Tanzania. PHOTO COURTESY OF TOM GILBERT

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Captain Frank Poppleton

30th July 1922—16th June, 2011

"I know of very few men who savoured life and communed
with nature as Frank did,"
writes wildlife artist Mohamed Ismail.
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Coastweek -- In September of 1967, Murka in Tsavo West National Park was a lonely and desolate place.

There was an abandoned mica mine and a few dilapidated houses for workers which had long been deserted.

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 survival.

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.

Immediately, the elephant sensed our presence.

It trumpeted loudly and charged.

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 unscathed.

Frank Poppleton was born on July 30th 1922 in Ruiru to the north-east of Nairobi.

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Coastweek -- Prince of Wales School Rugby XV: Frank is [standing] back row centre.

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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 moved on.

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 Car Regiment.

On cessation of hostilities, he accepted a regular commission and was posted to the 17/21 Lancers.

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 management.

It was at the College of African Wildlife Management that I got to know Frank both as a mentor and friend.

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 Charles.

     
 

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.

All three 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 aircrafts.

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 thorns!

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 domestication.

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 sugarcane.

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 National Park.

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.

Suspended and 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 body fell.

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.

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Coastweek -- High in the Himalayas: Mount Everest view from Sagarmatha National Park.

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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 1985.

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 National Park.

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 adventurous life.

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!

Mohamed Ismail, Fulya, Istanbul.

afriventures@usa.net
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SEE ALSO: Cahil Maduff on Mohamed Ismail

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