Anton Turner, who died on 30th October 2009 aged 38, as a result of an elephant charge whilst guiding for a film production team in Tanzania, was a passionate conservationist, hunter and adventurer, dedicated to preserving the last great wildernesses of East Africa.
The team that Anton was leading was on foot and cutting their way through close country of low lying bush in a remote area of south west Tanzania, very seldom frequented by people. They had encountered elephant on numerous occasions over the previous few days and several times that day, with the animals moving on ahead each time they caught the scent of the group.
Unprovoked, a bull elephant charged down the slope towards the group which was alerted by two trackers who had been out front, blazing the trail, running back towards Anton shouting at him to shoot it as they were convinced that this was not a mock charge. Anton immediately ensured the safety of the group in his care by ordering them to follow their pre-established emergency drills and move off the track and take cover, whilst he stood his ground to face the charge and tried to shout the elephant down. The speed with which the elephant appeared, breaking through the bush at such close proximity, left no time for any armed reaction, other than for Anton to wrap his arms around its trunk on impact. The injuries resulting from this initial charge proved almost instantaneously fatal.
The second hunter arrived almost immediately and by firing into the elephant, forced it to leave Anton, who by then was mortally injured, and disappear back into the screen of low lying bush. There is no doubt that by his incredibly brave actions, Anton prevented there being any further casualties amongst his group. The entire incident, from the elephant appearing to disappearing after Pen's shots was 12 seconds.
Anton was born on 15 April 1971 in Hampshire, England, the son of an Army Officer, Major Tim Turner and Patricia (nee Murphy).
Anton spent his early years in Dubai along with his devoted sister Georgie, attending school in Dubai prior to being sent to England to board at Kings College Taunton, where he obtained 3 "A" levels. He represented the school at hockey and was a tenacious wing forward at rugby.
During his gap year in '91, Anton accompanied by his close friend David Chan, bought an old 1979 Land Rover and completed a 6 month trip across East, Central and South West Africa (more about that else where). The seeds for adventure had however been sown earlier, with numerous family safaris in Kenya, an overland family journey from UK to Dubai and many desert safaris in the Gulf region. It was on his first African safari that Anton, aged 3, nonchalantly remarked, "Daddy we've got elephants in the garden", as a small herd walked through the 'camp-site'. Either too young or too brave, even that age, he was totally unmoved as he watched them stroll by!
Following in his father's footsteps, Anton was commissioned in April 1992 from the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst into the Royal Tank Regiment. Volunteering to serve on an operational tour of Northern Ireland, Anton transferred to the 1st Battalion the Worcestershire and Sherwood Foresters in February 1994, completing six months as a Platoon Commander in South Armagh. Operational deployment to Bosnia followed in '96 whereupon Anton began to develop his amazing ability to engage with people across boundaries. Somewhat unorthodox in his approach to soldiering, Anton was nevertheless extremely popular with the men he commanded, whilst never quite managing to satisfy the more formal expectations of his senior officers. Preferring to sleep in a tent beneath the stars in Bosnia rather than the more obvious choice of the relative comfort provided by an Army barracks was as much for the 'fresh air' as he put it, as in mild defiance of the conformity expected from his Officer Commanding. Having picked up the language in record time, Anton was a regular sight socializing, politicking and drinking the local plum brandy or Slivovitz with opposition Warlords, across established military divides. Senior British Army officers would regularly be denied an audience with these Warlords unless it was in the presence of "Captain Anton" whom the latter respected and trusted. This naturally caused discontent amongst the senior commanders, who eventually found cause to have Anton formally disciplined for his unconventional, if highly effective style. Arriving late and slightly the worse for wear due to his latest liaison session earlier that morning, The senior officer presiding left his seat to usher Anton in front of the disciplinary board, whereupon Anton, spying the empty chair, promptly sat down and to the incredulous crowd of Officers asked "So where do we go from here?"
The answer was, "BACK TO AFRICA", but with a good educational background and therefore on leaving the Army in 1997, Anton engaged in a degree course of Agro Forestry at Bangor University, achieving a FIRST CLASS HONOURS DEGREE in the subject in July 2000, whilst living in a beautiful old watermill on Anglesea on the shores of the Menai Straits, from where he pursued his love of sea kayaking and mountaineering, circumnavigating the Island on several occasions.
Back in Africa, Anton initially understudied Anthony Russell, a celebrated Kenyan hunter, safari guide and conservationist, adapting quickly to training in the skills of tracking, marksmanship, bushcraft and full integration with the local Masai people. He mastered the language of Kiswahili as well as more local dialects quickly, always one of his great attributes. From Russell's previous project work, Turner developed a deep understanding of the importance of the local people being supported and given the opportunity to become masters of their own resources and destiny if Africa's unique habitat were to remain unspoilt.
Numerous safari clients from around the world encountered Anton in his remote riverside bush camp, along with his two river boatmen and camp helpers, one deaf and the other dumb, whom Anton had trained into first class staff members with his unique aptitude for bringing out the best in people and his trademark combination of determination, encouragement, charm and sensitivity. Often barefoot and suffering from the inherent health issues of protracted bush living, Anton was undiminished in his passion for the environment; his quick wit, impeccable manners and the tales of his previous wild adventures around the camp fire left an unfading impression of a remarkable character belonging to a bygone age.
Anton was an enormously talented hunter and safari guide, revered amongst the local Masai people for his equal measure of toughness and compassion, who had devoted the last few years in East Africa developing a community based conservation and safari adventure programme in the Lukula area of the southern sector of the Selous Game Reserve, a remote area of over 300,000 acres in central Tanzania. He had qualified as a Professional Hunter with the Tanzanian National Parks and Game Department in 2003, building on previous related qualifications with the Kenya Wildlife Service from 2001-2003 and having led anti poaching patrols in Kenya in 2001. As a third generation Kenyan, Anton had returned to Africa in 2000 and was working towards completion of his sustainable tourism and game conservation project, to manage and safeguard the animals and peoples of this beautiful part of Tanzania.
Growing up on the Arabian Peninsular and crossing the Arabian Gulf at the age of three in a trading dhow sparked a lifelong interest in traditional Arabic dhow sailing as well as outdoor adventure and an understanding and acceptance of the delicacies of varied cultures and customs.
His thirst for adventure led him over the next 5 years to some of the world's most hostile and challenging environments as a Security Advisor, providing escort and protection for BBC crews and reporters; Baghdad and throughout post conflict Iraq, Sudan's Western Darfur, the Niger Delta, Sierra Leone, Ivory Coast, Afghanistan and India's NW Frontier as well as more routine work for the oil and gas industry. Anton's steadiness under pressure and belief in the positive aspects of some of these war ravaged environments gave great confidence to some of today's eminent media reporters, who held Anton's professional ability in the highest regard. The proceeds from this work were used to fund Anton's desire to get back to Africa and set up his own enterprise in the hunting and conservation world, in the footsteps of his paternal Great Uncle, the celebrated Kenya safari guide and hunter, Stan Lawrence-Brown.
Interspersed throughout this potentially hazardous occupation, Anton led many scientific and conservation based expeditions to remote parts of the world, from the jungles of Indonesia and Belize, across Africa from North to South by vehicle to an unsupported 3 month crossing on foot of the Danakil Desert in the Afar region of Ethiopia in 2001 in the company of Bruce Parry and Piele Thompson. This was the first successful completion of the 750km route since the original expedition by Wilfrid Thesiger. Anton was accompanied by two hugely experienced and hardy adventurers, who were in awe of Anton's boundless energy, walking barefoot, singing to his favourite camel and racing ahead to get the camp set up and the kettle boiling to meet their weary arrival. Despite being taken hostage and forced at gunpoint to return to the start of the route after having completed almost half of the journey, Anton and his companions immediately resumed the march, successfully completing the crossing several weeks later.
Anton's vision for the Selous Project had only very recently begun to become a reality and with some highly successful and acclaimed safaris completed over the last year, the previous few years of harsh living, study, drive and commitment to his dream were falling into place.
He had recently realized a long held ambition to work with a team of traditional Tanzanian craftsmen and build his own dhow, which had taken two years and was completed a few weeks before his death. The earlier part of his final expedition was spent with the film crew and children aboard the dhow on its maiden voyage along the Tanzanian Coast. The family has vowed that his dhow - and his dream - will live on.
On 21st October 2010, Antonís bravery was recognised with the presentation of an In Memoriam award to his father by Princess Alexandra, the President of the Royal Humane Society. (For more details, please click on http://www.shropshirestar.com/news/2010/10/25/former-shropshire-mans-sacrifice-to-be-honoured/)
On 23rd March 2012, Anton was also awarded The Queen's Gallantry Medal. For more details, please click on:-
the Regimental motto of the Royal Tank Regiment. That was Anton personified