By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
When released as the climactic scene in Africa's Black Death, Sullivan's performance caused a sensation among big-game aficionados, and made the video the best-selling hunting film of all time (more than 10,000 sold, nationwide).
To his clients, the scene proves Sullivan is nothing short of a hero. Craig Huber, who spent ten days hunting buffalo with Sullivan last year, says he is "cool as they come."
"He is smart enough not to get into too many overly dangerous situations," says Huber, who provides security to executives in Virginia when he isn't hunting. "When he does, he is more than able to deal with whatever comes his way.
"All the proof you need is in that video. Anyone else who got charged like that would have to send his pants to the cleaners."
One of his peers--a professional hunter who asked not to be identified so that "clients don't think about leaving me for Mark"--says Sullivan is "one of the best."
"There are few hunters who have a reputation like that guy. He sounds too good to be true, in terms of the kind of experience a client has on safari with him, but he is for real. The video proves it."
Such myth-making moments are what Sullivan says he has dreamed of since childhood; they are at the core of the attraction he feels for the hunt. "To face a huge animal like that buffalo," he reminisces, "and to stand your ground in the face of the danger; nothing sets the adrenaline pumping like that."
But in addition to typifying the kind of macho allure that has given African safaris their status among hunters, such scenes also seem to encompass the central dichotomy of big-game hunting--the compulsion and revulsion that often simultaneously seize the uninitiated.
While there is much in Sullivan's videos that repels--blood, fur and bone being blown explosively into the air; flies swarming gore-encrusted game; the sight of death itself--there is also something undeniably gripping. It isn't difficult to imagine that most American viewers of a Sullivan video would confess, if only with a blush, that the idea of going mano a mano with a creature that has the power to inflict mortal harm--while in an exotic setting like Africa, so very different from the environs of our daily lives--is, well . . . cool.
Not everyone, however, will admit to harboring this dark fascination. To many members of the animal-rights community, Sullivan isn't brave; he is a coward who shoots defenseless creatures, preserving the moment of death on slickly produced videos that amount to little more than venal "snuff" films. To them, this white hunter has a black heart.
@body:"My parents didn't own guns, and they didn't really like the outdoors," Sullivan says. "But my grandfather, he showed me a whole new world of nature."
Urged on by the older man and a subscription to Outdoor Life, the teenage Sullivan fell in love with hunting. The images in the magazine, he says, of a young American boy who had killed an elephant while on safari in Kenya, ignited within him a burning desire to hunt in Africa. So after more than a decade of working to become a proficient domestic small-game hunter--and while working in an advertising agency to make a living--Sullivan and his wife embarked on a 50-day African safari in 1977.
They spent $35,000 on the trip, but Sullivan remained unsatiated. "I kept thinking, I love safari so much, and I can't spend that much money to keep going back. I had to figure out a way to do it full-time."
The way appeared in 1981. He met a professional hunter who was visiting from Tanzania and begged the pro to take him on as an apprentice. For two years, Sullivan labored in the African bush for no pay, learning the nuances of the safari trade. The experience paid off. A decade later, Sullivan, now 43, is one of a very select group--numbering from two to perhaps five--of American professional hunters who shepherd paying clients through the heart of East Africa. He is certainly the most visible and vocal.
"Nothing else can bring out the senses in you and make the blood run through your veins," he rhapsodizes. "Safari hunting means pitting yourself against an adversary that is more than capable of killing you, sharing the same piece of ground with it, walking near it, smelling it, appreciating that the creature exists.
"I, and those who go with me, go hunting for right reasons. I love to listen to the lion's roar at night, the hippos gurgling in water next to camp, the sunrises and the sunsets, the smell of Africa, the light, the sweat, the good and bad times, the successes and failures. You make mistakes, and you live through them, work through them."
While he tends to lapse into such hyperbole, Sullivan seems to truly believe that hunting big game is a microcosm of life itself, a spiritual endeavor that renews and improves through the doing. Especially, he says, when experienced under the time-honored rules of the traditional safari.
Billing himself as a "historical hunter," Sullivan uses only antique double-barreled rifles made around the turn of the century to stalk African game. His favorite, a .577-caliber Nitro Express (a name he appropriated to dub his hunting company), is an elephant gun made in 1919 London, and uses a slug almost four inches in length. Despite its bulk, it is an elegant, graceful weapon, constructed of polished, restored wood and gleaming black steel. Although both he and his clients do allow themselves to enlist the aid of modern, high-powered scope sights--which are bolted to the old weapons--the gun highlights, Sullivan says, his overall approach to the retro-safari experience. "Going on safari with me is like jumping into a time capsule," he boasts.
I have no quams with people eating what they kill and hunting for that purpose. I have a hard time swallowing the rheteric behind trophy killings. Blood thirsty killers, probably not, but claiming trophies under the guise of "wildlife conservation" is simply perverse.