Jackson County Times

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Thursday, December 31, 2009

“Back From Africa”

By Bo McMullian

Here’s a gift idea for the man who has everything: How about a lion from Africa to put in his office? But you can’t buy the one Cresh Harrison Jr. has in his Indian Springs real estate office; it’s not for sale.

It took him nine days of hunting in Zimbabwe in 2005 to bag that lion, and a gemsbok, and a sable antelope. The gemsbok is in his office too but the sable is still in Africa, tied up in red tape. Zimbabwe is unsafe today for most anything living, due to the unstable dictatorship of President Robert Mugabe. In fact, Harrison was more intimidated by the soldiers or policemen than he was by the lion. The big cat was dead with one shot to his shoulder from Harrison’s 416 rifle.

But he and his fellow safari member Lee Sells were stopped several times by policemen carrying AK-47 machine guns who demanded U.S. currency--not a lot, just $5 usually--and a ride to the local “pub.” “I wouldn’t go back there now,” Harrison told the TIMES on Tuesday.

The hunters stayed in lodges on a 50,000-acre “ranch.” They had flown in from Cape Town, South Africa and Bulawa in Botswana. They rode in Land Rovers to the lodge. On the hunting party were the white English-speaking hunters who translated and directed the native trackers and the lower-paid servants carrying supplies. “There’s no lack of manpower in Zimbabwe,” Harrison said, “no shortage of labor. They’ll even carry your gun for you.”

But Harrison carried his own gun. He grew up hunting deer and turkey in the wilds of Alabama near Tuscaloosa, where his family still owns large tracts of land. Creshull Jr., 50, graduated from Marianna High School in 1977, just after his dad sold the Chevrolet dealership in Marianna to the late Quen Rahal. Senior’s dad, the first Creshull, opened that dealership in 1927. Cresh went to Auburn, much to the chagrin of his dad, an Alabama alumnus. After Auburn and about 10 years of real estate and appraisals, Cresh bought out his dad’s interest in the Indian Springs residential development and finally sold the last of the 400 lots there in 2005. He continues to buy and sell real estate from the office east of Marianna on U.S. 90, where the old roller-skating rink used to be. He and wife Alisha have their hands full now with their own species of wild game, known as Skyler, 17; Seth, 15; and Haily, 6.

Back to the lion safari... It’s June 2005 but that’s the time for cooler weather in Zimbabwe. Harrison and Sells had been there first in 2000 and they were back again, this time to get the lion, one of the “Big Five most dangerous game” on the continent, besides the cape buffalo, the leopard, the rhino and the elephant. To go lion hunting, you must book a safari for at least 16 days. You might see one sooner but you’ll surely see one in a fortnight, Harrison said. Cresh and Lee put out “bait” for nine days, often killing small impalas or other game to put up in trees to attract the lions. Eary in the morning of the ninth day, Harrison said, a tracker “who sees things we’ll never see” came back to the white hunter excitingly describing the lion he spotted. After the kill, the lion was skinned nearby and the skin was sent to a taxidermist in Demopolis, Ala. Now that lion keeps the other dozen or so trophies company in Cresh’s office. It’s a large office--not the whole former skating rink but a chunk of it.

Harrison first hunted in Zimbabwe in 2000, after Sells came up with the idea, he said. They talked Paul Donofro Sr., the Marianna mayor’s dad, into going along as well. The government was better then, Harrison said. All the natives were friendly and there weren’t as many machine guns. On the third day of the hunt, Harrison killed a cape buffalo, the huge beast taking three shots from the 416 before going down.

“We had to crawl on our butts to approach the animal,” Cresh said. “It doesn’t let a man get near on his feet; it will charge or retreat. But if you crouch like a monkey, it may mistake you for one and not be frightened.”

The cape buffalo’s head and neck are also mounted for display in the office. It is located next to the wildebeest and above the turkey. Behind the desk are the heads of the impala, the waterbuck, the gemsbok and the bushbuck, all antelopes and all bagged in the 2000 trip. Except for the gemsbok, killed in 2005.

Harrison may return to Africa someday, he said, but not to the country of Zimbabwe. “You couldn’t pay me to go back there. Too many of those policemen/soldiers and their AK-47’s.”

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