Bill Stedman

Name ID 1125

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Claytor, Tom Bushpilot
Extract Author: Tom Claytor
Page Number: 19b
Extract Date: 1996 08 Jul

visiting Baron Hugo van Lawick

I land at lake Ndutu to visit Baron Hugo van Lawick. I first met Hugo when I was working on a film called 'Serengeti Dairy' for National Geographic. The film was a celebration of his 25th year living and filming wildlife in the Serengeti, and I was part of the crew that tried to capture this place from the air. I park the plane in an empty cage designed to keep the hyenas and lions from chewing the tires, and soon a vehicle arrives to collect me. When I arrive in camp, Hugo comes out to greet me. He is in a wheelchair, and we sit by his tent looking out over the lake and drinking tea.

The nice thing about this part of the world is that traveling is so difficult that one does not usually get a lot of visitors. A visitor brings news from the outside world, and this is something that one can yearn for. Hugo first came to Africa in 1959, because he wanted to film animals. He came for two years, and he never left. He made lecture films for Louis Leakey and at age 24 shot the photographs for the articles on the Leakey's work in Africa. He was married to Jane Goodall for 10 years, and he has spent most of his life observing and recording wildlife through a lens. He is having trouble breathing with his emphysema now, but he wastes no time in filling me in on what has been happening. It seems all the wild dogs have all been exterminated by rabies brought in by the Maasai dogs; the lion numbers are down due to feline distemper, and so the cheetah numbers are up. The bat-eared foxes have been hit by rabies, and the poaching is still bad on the western boundary. According to Hugo, some people there have never tasted cow meat, only wild game meat. There are snares everywhere along that boundary, and the park used to feel very big when there weren't so many tourists. Hugo relays all this news as one might talk about the traffic jams on the way to work, and I have to quietly smile as I listen.

He then tells me about the pilot Bill Stedman who crashed his motor glider while coming in to land here last year. He was working on Hugo's film 'The Leopard Sun'; the plane just dropped out of the sky, and Bill was dead. We both pause and looked out across the lake. I ask Hugo if he remembers when we landed on that lake and built a fire on the edge as part of our 'camping scene' for the film. He remembers and chuckles about this. I was arrested shortly after that back in Seronera by armed scouts. They took me to the park warden's office, but I had no idea why. I was asked what I had done the previous day, and I explained that we had been filming by the lake and had landed on its edge. A little man confirmed that I had landed on the edge of the lake, and then I was released because I had told the truth. I was still a little confused by all this. I was told that they were going to 'compound' me and the plane, but that since I had told the truth, I would now only have to pay a fine. I shuddered to think what this fine would be, but it was only 1,500 Tanzanian Shillings (about $3).

Extract ID: 3657