Culture: Yo, Dog Breath! You Call That a Charge ?

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine
Outside magazine, July 1996

Culture: Yo, Dog Breath! You Call That a Charge ?

Is your living room ready for Craig Bone's in-your-muzzle wildlife art?
By Todd Wilkinson

Wildlife painter craig bone, 40, has been called "the craziest white man in Africa." A former soldier (for Ian Smith's Rhodesian army in the seventies), Bone has a habit of marching into the Zimbabwean bush, essentially unarmed, to "rile up" the creatures that fill his canvases: elephants, lions, leopards, crocodiles, buffalo, hyenas, and rhinoceroses. A tad obnoxious perhaps, but the gonzo technique seems to work. Bone's critically acclaimed oils and watercolors are popular among both conservationists and big-game hunters, selling for up to $125,000. He donates several paintings to wildlife preservation groups every year and has raised hundreds of thousands to protect habitat and combat rhino and elephant poachers. Outside caught up with the elusive, unhinged brushman at a secluded backcountry camp in Zimbabwe's Mana Pools National Park.

You have a reputation for being kind of, well, overzealous in your approach to the great outdoors.

I have to be. I'm an ultrarealistic painter. If you want to paint a convincing picture, then you've got to get up real close, feel the animal's raw power, and get a sense of what it's capable of doing to you.

But why not carry a weapon?

I do-a machete. [He unsheaths it; the blade is covered in blood.]
A machete?

To fend off lions and elephants?

No, to kill poisonous snakes, like black mambas that can crawl as fast as you can run. They're bloody frightening, them buggers.

Weren't you almost killed recently by an elephant?

Yeah, that's right. I was photographing a big bull, and he started charging and was on top of me in a matter of seconds, so I crawled into a dug-out anthill-a hole in the ground, basically-that had been excavated by an anteater.


The elephant wrapped his trunk around my leg and tried to pull me out, but luckily I got stuck. Since that wasn't working, he thrust his tusks into the ground and began digging to get underneath me. I thought I was going to get skewered. I thought my time had come.

And then?

I don't know why, but he let me go. After we looked each other in the eye, he must have noticed that I had been sufficiently humbled. Later, the same elephant messed up a tourist pretty bad.

What's next for you?

I've got a major one-man exhibition coming to the States next year, and after that I'd like to do some paintings of bison and grizzly bears in Montana.

Plan on employing the same in-your-face techniques on that outing?

I've heard that grizzlies can get a little ornery, can't they? I'm sure I'll learn how to climb a few trees and play dead.

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