Donald Ker was born in England in 1905 and moved with his family to Kenya in 1911. When he was eight, Donald’s father taught him to shoot and at 16 he went on his first elephant hunt with Mike Cottar, son of the renowned hunter Charles. Trained by the Cottars in tracking and bush skills, Donald became a ‘learner hunter’ on their epic safaris, which would regularly involve hundreds of porters and camp staff.
In 1928 Donald hunted with Denys Finch-Hatton and the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VIII), and in 1934 he was second hunter to Bror Blixen, whose expedition included George Vanderbilt and the Vicomte de Rochefoucauld. By the end of the war, Donald’s eyes were already on a future in photographic safaris; as he noted, many of his hunting clients “really came out for a good camping holiday in the bush”. When hunting was banned in Kenya in 1977, Donald adapted easily to the new landscape, wholeheartedly embracing the concept of conserving the animals that had been his life.
Syd was born in 1905 on an Argentinian ranch where his British father was the manager. It was so large that Syd and his siblings rarely left until they went to school in England in 1914. Syd moved to Africa in 1924, a continent he would leave just three times in his life. He became a professional hunter in 1930 and spent much of his time in the Maasai Mara. He was described as “possibly the greatest hunter after Frederick Selous” – a reputation that earned him an enviable client list of royals, Maharajas and film stars.
During World War II Syd joined the intelligence corps, tracking Italian movements into Sudan and Ethiopia, where he was captured and imprisoned. On his release he met Donald Ker and agreed to set up a safari company in Kenya. Syd was always drawn to photographic safaris; when he died in 1983, a friend said that “he would have preferred to be remembered not for his legendary skill with a gun or the immense pleasure he gave so many clients, but for his efforts to conserve wildlife and preserve the beauties of the environment.”
One of the ‘greats’ of Africa’s legendary hunter-guides, John Sutton joined Ker & Downey in 1951, and led the company through the heady transition to photographic safaris during the 1970s. Raised on a farm near Nakuru, John spent much of his childhood on the slopes of the Aberdare Mountains, where he became a keen observer of the complex relationship and changing dynamics between wildlife, the land and the people. His insight – widely sought throughout his life – led to a firm conviction that wildlife is a national resource whose proper management is essential to its survival.
A council member of the East African Wild Life Society, John worked closely with a wide range of conservation-oriented organisations and was a trustee of the African Wildlife Foundation. Pivotal to the establishment of Ker & Downey’s operations in both Botswana and Tanzania, John’s clients included Prince Charles and Princess Anne, Jimmy Stewart and Laurens van der Post. John worked on many of Hollywood’s classic African films, including Mogambo and Out of Africa, for which he famously ran a tented camp for 340 cast and crew.
David guided his first safari with Syd Downey in 1959, but did not join the company until 1964. Born in Eldoret in western Kenya in 1931, he worked on locust control in the north of Kenya, Saudi Arabia, Eritrea and the Ogaden. Returning to farm in Kenya, he was nominated to the East African Professional Hunters Association in 1960 and hunted in Tanzania and Uganda before joining Ker & Downey. On one of his first K&D assignments, David worked on the film Sammy Going South with Edward G. Robinson.
During his long professional career, David led safaris in Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Southern Sudan, Zaire and Botswana. His clients included the Greek shipping magnate Stavros Niarchos, the film star Stewart Granger, and the King of Bhutan. In later life, David concentrated on photographic safaris – with a particular interest and affection for the beautiful birdlife of East Africa.
Allan has been with Ker & Downey Safaris for over 35 years, becoming a director in 1982 and taking over the chairmanship of the company from John Sutton in 1997. Born in Kenya, Allan is the fourthgeneration son of two family lines, one of which arrived in 1896 to build the ‘Lunatic Line’, as the railway from Mombasa to Kisumu would become known.
Allan is credited with helping to develop the mobile photographic safari model that is so popular at K&D today. He has led safaris to many of the farthest-flung parts of Africa, including Zakouma National Park in Chad and the Simien Mountains in Ethiopia. But his great love today is conservation, and putting back into the bush what it has given him. Allan has been instrumental in developing Kenya’s wildlife conservancy movement, and sits on the boards of the Maasai Mara Wildlife Conservancies Association and the Kenya Wildlife Conservancies Association. He has also served on the board of the Kenya Wildlife Service, and is the current chairman of the Kenya Wildlife Trust.