It is nearly three o'clock in the sweltering morning of September 2, 1974. In four hot, still hours dawn will hemorrhage like a fresh wound in the sky over the eastern Muchingas, the great, towering walls that confine the upper reaches of the Luangwa River in Zambia's Eastern Province. In the anemic wash of a dying Central African moon, three canvas teints gleam bluely in a sparse grove of sausage trees near the water's edge. One of them, older and more weather worn, is pitched fifty yards from the others. Behind its bleached cloth and netting walls, a slender white man sleeps fitfully, tossing in the humid spring silence as greasy sweat darkens the sheets of his camp bed. On the dirt floor beside the tent's walls, a watery moonbeam glows on the scratched white stencil of a footlocker: Peter Hankin, Box 72, Chipata. Inside the travel-dented locker lie three flat five-packs of Kynoch 300-grain soft-point cartridges for the battered, silver-worn, old rifle, a Cogswell and Harrison, .375 Holland and Holland Magnum in caliber. But the rifle, as bush-scarred as the face of its owner, is not leaning in its usual place beside the bed. Operating in a photographic safari area, professional hunter Peter Hankin has had to leave it at his hunting camp, Chitangulu, forty miles downstream. His friends will later decide that even if he had the rifle now he would still have less than one minute to live.
Fifty yards from Hankin's tent, in the shadowy skeleton of a fallen muSassa tree, there is a tiny, silent movement. Dilated wide to gather the pale light, two hard, amber eyes flicker across the broken ground and lock on the indistinct form of the man sleeping behind the netting. Seconds pass, then the lioness rises and begins to ooze forward, gliding like a tawny wraith between deep clumps of shadow. There is no sound as she slips along on thick pads, the white sickles of her claws sheathed, the aching throb of hunger hollow in her chest and loins.
At twenty yards she freezes, the thick, acrid man-scent dank in her nostrils. She stifles an involuntary growl, her black upper lip curled back to show thick, long fangs. For amoment she hesitates, but her ancestral fear of the smell is washed over by the desperation of her hunger. At five yards she gathers her hind legs beneath her flattened, lean body, the hind claws gripping the earth for purchase. The man-thing is still asleep, unaware of crouching death so near, his breathing deep and regular in the cat's lain-back ears. In a flash of dark motion she is in the air, claws extended like naked linoleum knives, the light mosquito netting shredding before her charge. Her impact hurls the man from his bed and onto the ground. Before he is even awake, there is the soggy snap of crushing vertiebrae, then silence. For Peter Hankin, one of central Africa's most experienced professional white hunters, the last safari is over.
It is light before Hankin's clients, unarmed and cowering in their tents while listening to the wet feeding sounds, can escape and seek help. In a few hours Joe Joubert, a professional hunter employed by Hankin's safari firm, a Zambian game guard, and Joubert's safari client, Samuel Lenher of Wilmington, Delaware, are driving hard along the bush road from Joubert's camp at Zokwe to the scene of the tragedy. When they arrive, the lioness is still feeding on Hankin's corpse, which has been dragged a few yards out of the tent. Before Joubert can come up with his express rifle, the Zambian foolishly wounds the man-eater with a blast of SG buckshot from his single-barrel-issue Greener shotgun/carbine. The big cat runs off into the bush where Joubert takes up the blood spoor.
Over the next hour the lioness inscribes a large circle through the heavy riverine cover and incredibly, despite her wounds and the men following her, returns to the man she has killed and resumes feeding. Joubert, half-retching with horror and disgust, executes her with a shot from his .458 Brno, the 510-grain Winchester soft-point dropping the man-eater lifeless across the body of her victim. Inspection establishes that the lioness is in the prime of life and previously uninjured or disabled although very lean and, with macabre obviousness, hungry. A post-mortem on thebody of Peter Hankin determines that, mercifully, he died instantly of a broken neck from the lioness' first bite.
America in the last quarter of the twentieth century is something of an odd place from which to contemplate the fact that, contrary to popular belief, man-eating lions (not to mention leopards, crocodiles, and hyenas who will receive their due later in this book) are still very much in evidence in large areas of Africa. Due, most likely, to the Sea-to-Shining-Sea garbage we are force-fed by the Network Nature Fakers, including such prime-time pap as the happily now-defunct Born Free television series, it's understandable that most Americans don't regard the average lion as much tougher or more dangerous than Rima the Bird Girl.
And speaking of the Adamson lions, you might be interested to know that one of those cuddly creatures sprang upon an open car driven by one of Kenya's top game officers, who was riding with his wife and young son in a game reserve a year or so ago. It grabbed the boy by the skull from between the unarmed mother and father and dragged him out of the Land Rover, severely mauling him until, somehow, the father was able to reclaim his son. At the time I was given this report by the father, who stayed several days with us in Rhodesia this past season, the complete extent of the boy's injuries was yet unknown, although some brain damage was suspected. That lion still roams free. I was also given an unconfirmed report during this same conversation that one of George Adamson's lions killed and ate one of his African domestics, a cook as the tale goes. Knowing the reputation of the man who told me this, I do not personally doubt the information offered, but cannot prove it.
There are several very good reasons why, despite the surprising number of maneating incidents that occur today in Africa, most are hushed up like an epidemic of social disease at a bible school. It's the same reason that FloridaChambers of Commerce don't go out of their way to spread the word of shark attacks along their beaches. One doesn't tend to pack the tourists in when word gets around that there is an outside chance of seeing the inside of a lion on a trip through the Tsavo National Park. How many Detroit schoolteachers do you think the tour mongers in Kenya's national parks would have signed up last year if word had gotten out about the photographer who was pulled out of his tent by the head and eaten down to his toenails by a solitary Simba with a taste for white meat? If most of the emerging, game-rich countries ever published figures on how many people are killed and eaten by a variety of carnivores within their borders, there would be a tourist recession that would make Black Tuesday look like St. Swithin's Eve.
Of course, nobody knows for certain exactly how many people are eaten, the very nature of man-eating having a decided tendency to make evidence somewhat scarce. Maneating lions, if undisturbed, commonly eat almost every vestige of their victims, even the blood-soaked clothes and shoes as well as the bones. Whatever may be left falls to the African Sanitary Department and, after even a few days, it's difficult to examine a piece of skullcap the size of a demitasse saucer and state unequivocally that the cause of death was a lion. Yet, in only one six-month season as a professional hunter in Zambia, I learned of six definite cases of man-eating by lions in just one concession area of twenty by sixty miles. I wonder how many more there were who were simply reported as "missing" or, considering the primitive conditions of the more remote tribes, never reported at all.
Certainly, there are any number of cases of men being killed but not eaten by lions. Unlucky bwanas and unfortunate natives get pounded with monotonous frequency by running inadvertently into females with small cubs, mating lions, feeding lions, and the like. Wounded lions' scores for homicide are probably about as high as genuine man-eaters, but obviously the moral considerations are quite different. However, unless you've promised your carcass toHarvard, the difference between being nabbed by a certifiable man-eater or having your face bitten off by an irate lady lion are, at best, academic. After all, if the lion doesn't eat you personally, you won't have to wait long until the vultures, ants, hyenas, and jackals do. Africa is astoundingly efficient in the disposal of protein.
The non-African attitude toward man-eating lions is typical of the whistling-in-the-graveyard humor of cartoons showing missionaries in the cannibal pot. Large, well-fed lions are drawn burping over a rifle and pith-helmet with the caption: "I never met a man I didn't like ... ." To nearly all of us, the concept of being eaten, actually eaten, is so remote as to be unthinkable. However, if you spend the best part of eleven years, as I did, living with big, live, genuine lions all around, you might discover that your balding head never hits your pillow without that little niggling of doubt. Just maybe tonight ...
Man-eating lions have had an almost unbelievable influence on the continent of Africa since the first European explorers and developers began to open up the bush in earnest. A classic example took place at the close of the last century when no less a power than the empire of Queen Victoria was thwarted in its imperial designs by eight man-eaters who halted construction of the so called Lunatic Express, the Uganda Railroad, as it passed through south-east Kenya. The Man-eaters of Tsavo treated the project as one extended buffet table, their accomplishment having been to have eaten more imported Indian coolies than it took to film Bhowani Junction. These incredibly brazen killers finally had their hash settled by a pith-helmeted paladin working for the railway, a Lieutenant Colonel J. H. Patterson, DSO, but only after a period of several months of frustrating hunting, during which time the colonel very nearly got the chop himself on several occasions. His book on the episode is a classic of hunting literature and, due to its immense popularity, is still often available in used bookstores. The Man-Eaters of Tsavo has been so widely quoted in works about lions and man-eaters as to make a furtherretelling merely lily gilding, save to mention that, a bit after Patterson killed the Tsavo pride, a single man-eater of considerable talent took residence further up the line displaying, to quote Colonel Patterson, "an extraordinary taste for the members of the railway staff," culminating in the catching, killing, and eating of the superintendent of police, a Mr. Ryall. Very bad form, indeed. The lion, as if he had a shopping list, entered a railway car and killed the man in the company of two other whites, one of whom the lion had to stand upon to reach the sleeping Ryall in an upper berth. He was later trapped and, after being displayed, shot.
Although there is virtually no area in Africa that has not recorded a degree of man-eating activity, some localities are historically much more dangerous than others. One of the worst is Central Africa, especially near the Great Rift Fault that crosses the continent perpendicularly. There have been literally hundreds of man-eaters reported in the area since 1900 and, as the case of Peter Hankin so horribly demonstrates, there is still not much of a shortage.
One pride, for example, the Ubena man-eaters, had been in operation for a full ten years before George Rushby, a game officer of Tanganyika (now Tanzania), and one of the greatest man-eating lion hunters of all time, began to put the screws on them in their thirty by fifty mile range in 1942. In the two years of hard hunting he needed to wipe out the pride, the lions added an additional 249 human kills to their record. Imagine the number of people they had eaten in the ten years they operated unmolested! Four years later, in the Njombe District of Tanganyika's Southern Province, Rushby was again enlisted to hunt the Njombe man-eaters, a collectivity of feline mayhem that, between the fifteen members of the grisly pride racked up a confirmed score of over 1,500 natives and colonists. And, remember, those are just the ones we know of.
The scores of other man-eaters in central and south-east Africa, such as the Mpika lions, the Revugwi man-eaters,the Chabunkwa lion that I killed, and literally dozens of others, less famous because of remoteness, have killed without question many tens of thousands of people in this century alone. All indications are that the end is far from near.
One of the most consistant danger points of this area is the Luangwa Valley of Zambia (formerly Northern Rhodesia), a northern tributary of the Zambezi and one of the better hunting grounds of Africa. The death of Peter Hankin in the Luangwa Valley came to me as more than a news item; I had worked for him as a professional hunter in the area quite near where he was killed. I knew him as one of the most experienced and talented professional hunters in all Africa, an immensely respected gentleman and a good friend. But, he knew the odds and they caught up with him. One night they nearly caught up with me, too.
I was on a twenty-one-day safari with two Italian clients, hunting from a base camp called Nyampala, an Awiza tribal area located at the juncture of the Munyamadzi and Luangwa rivers. It was near midnight on a cool winter's night in July, and I was asleep in one of the grass and pole huts we preferred to canvas tents because of better ventilation when the weather warmed up later in the season. I was awakened by one hell of a commotion--roaring, snarling, and growling some hundred yards away where my native staff was quartered in similar huts. Grabbing my big, five-cell torch, I stuck a pair of soft-points into my .475 No. 2 Jeffery's express double-barreled rifle, flipped up the ivory night-bead sight, and burst out of the door in my sandals and kikoy, a wraparound loincloth. As I neared the huts, I caught the flash of a big, male lion in the probing beam, moving off into the bush and high grass. Silent, my gunbearer, heard my call and stepped out of the hut with his brother, Invisible. In Fanagalo, our common language, I asked them what had been going on.
Silent had been asleep near the door on his rush mat,his brother at the rear of the hut. He wasn't certain what had awakened him but realized that he could hear the breathing of a heavy animal just through the grass of the walls. The next instant a lion crashed into the door, closed and jammed with a stick through the frame. One paw ripped through the grass like shredded newspaper, the lion tearing chunks from the hard mopane wood frame with his teeth. Snarling fit to freeze the man's blood, he tore away a section of the grass wall and squeezed his head through, right next to Silent's waist.
The little gunbearer scrambled around the floor trying to find his spear without success. Then he touched something smooth and hard, snatching up a bottle of beloved Coca-Cola, a still unopened gift from the Italians. With all his strength he belted the lion across the muzzle with it, then again. It grunted at the blows and pulled its head back partially, then with a furious roar stuck it back into the hut. Silent hammered the lion one in the nose twice again until, probably confused by my torch and shouting, it ran off into the darkness. Silent finished the story sucking at the gashes on the heel of his hand that the cap of the bottle had cut. It had to be the only recorded instance of a man driving off a marauding lion with a Coke bottle!
Not much fancying the probable results of following a hungry man-eater into the dark, I gave Silent my Beretta over/under 12-bore shotgun and a handful of buckshot shells, sending him and Invisible over to the large hut where the rest of my staff slept. I stopped by the Italians' hut to advise them of the state of affairs and was able to talk them out of their .460 Weatherby magnum elephant guns, figuring that a pair of tyros opening up blindly at some night noise with those cannons could well have tragic consequences. I told them, and myself, that the odds of the lion returning were pretty slim, but when I left, that hut was better defended than the Alamo. Pinching a bottle of cold beer from the condensation bag, I went back to my hut and lashed the door shut with a long piece of buffalo hide thong.
Anybody who is not at least slightly terrified by theprospect of a man-eating lion dropping by for a late snack is, in my opinion, suffering from soft spots in the head. I have no soft spots. I checked the Jeffery, shook the panatella-sized cartridges to hear the satisfying rattle of cordite against the cool, brass cases, closed the rifle's action and, sitting on the bed with a cigarette and the bottle of beer, waited to see what would happen.
Perhaps an hour went by, a hell of a long time when you are sitting in the dark wondering if something big and hairy is going to burst through the frail grass walls and grab you. You will likely recall the sensation from your first childhood camping trip. There were the usual bushveldt sounds of insects, the wet swirls of catfish and crocs on the river, the honking of hippos and the sleepy chatter of insomniac baboons in the grove of fever trees over the ridge. Then, somehow, with prehistoric certainty I knew he was there, very close. I could absolutely sense him. The hackles were crawling around on my neck like a nest of maggots, and my palms were slippery cold on the Circassian walnut stock of the rifle. My heart slammed in my ears like Gene Krupa on speed as adrenalin pumped through my system. With my heightened senses, I could now hear the animal padding through the soft dirt outside the hut, looking for a weak point. There was a long pause and I knew he was coming. A low, incredibly sinister rumble welled up through the dark, and the hut shook under a heavy shock. Pieces of dry grass and dust shook down cloudlike from the roof into my hair and eyes. Frantically, I tried to locate the lion, but his roars drowned everything out, a solid vortex of impossible sound saturating the hut. Then, against the eighteen-inch open strip that ran under the flat roof for ventilation, a dark lump was silhouetted against the slightly lighter sky. It was the lion's head, looking in, and I realized in a flash that he was crouched or lying on the roof, a flimsy network of slender poles and bunched grass. Two big feathers of flame erupted from the muzzles as I raised the double rifle, sighted on the spot where the cat seemed to be, and pressed the triggers. As the thousand grains of lead tore through the roof (happily without setting fire to it withmuzzle blast), there was a tremendous roar that blended with the twin crash of the shots. There followed a scratching, thrashing sound and a thump like a meal sack dropped down an empty elevator shaft. I automatically broke the action and dunked in two fresh rounds from between the fingers of my left hand, the greasy cordite fumes stinging my eyes.
The thrashing continued outside the hut for a few seconds less than it took me to untie the rawhide lock with quivering fingers. The bare, beaten earth outside the hut was empty. My back flat to the wall, I swung the torch in a slow, wide arc, the dark, grape-jelly gleam of blood spoor reflecting in the lightbeam. I stopped and fingered it. Arterial. One pussycat that wasn't going far. Forty yards away, collapsed in a heap of tan putty, lay the dead lion. One big slug had taken him from below at a slight angle, punching a cantaloupe-sized hole through his chest that broke his off-shoulder into atoms, the other just creasing his side in a long, red welt that cut the short hair of his flank like a barber's razor. I released a very large breath that I had been holding for the past hour and wandered over to the dining hut for a similarly proportioned Scotch before the shakes arrived.
The whole camp poured out and came over to view the punctured pussy. The killing of a lion seems to excite Africans more than any other species, and this was no exception. I eventually declined the presidency of the republic and got to thinking about the consequences of having bashed this chap. Aware, from related incidents, of the Zambian Game Department's policy on the killing of unlicensed game, I knew that the department would conclude that since the lion had not actually eaten me, there was no proof that it was a man-eater, and I was therefore guilty of lion poaching. If I had let it eat maybe a leg or two before shooting it, all would have been well. Catch-22, Afro style. One of the Italians kindly took it on his license for me, solving a very real legal problem.
Interestingly, a rash of killings that had been takingplace over the past few months in an area some fifty miles upriver abruptly stopped after the incident. There was no proof, but circumstantial evidence pointed to the fact that the big, healthy, glossy-coated cat (who is now a full-mount in Milano) had decided that things were getting a bit hot where he was operating and moved south, just happening to pick the wrong hut for his first foray in a new zone. If he wasn't a man-eater, what do you suppose he had in mind trying to get into Silent's house and then returning to give me a try? Perhaps he just wanted to borrow a cup of zebra.
Over the years since the first Europeans began writing about African game, there has been a consistent controversy over just why lions and other Felidae become man-eaters. In researching this book among many hundreds of previous works that date as far back as the first decade of the eighteenth century, I have noticed one conclusion as to the cause of man-eating that seems to recur. Almost without exception, until the publication of Patterson's book on the Tsavo lions in 1907, man-eaters were traditionally reported to be poor, broken-down, tooth-worn, crippled "brutes" who ate people for a living only because they had been injured by nasty hunters, porcupine quills, and the like. The fact is, it's not necessarily true.
It is my experience and belief that there are many classes of man-eating lions. Although injured carnivores who cannot fend for themselves in a normal hunting manner may, indeed, turn to sneaking a native or two between meals, most people-preying lions are generally healthy, sleek, and often oversized specimens more than fit to pursue their normal food. Actually, all of the man-eaters I have shot or inspected after someone else killed them have been in the blush of health with the exception of one old lioness in Ethiopia who had a horribly deformed lower jaw, from the bone of which I extracted a two-and-a-half-inch chunk of iron curtain rod shot there by a hydrocephalic moron with a muzzle loader. I can only hope he was her first victim. Most of her frontal lower teeth were missing, but she stillmanaged to gum fourteen Galla tribesmen with quite definitive results.
Possibly, the practice of the early explorers to consider all man-eaters as "mangy brutes" is better rooted in psychology than fact. Human nature being what it is, Homo sapiens are somehow loathe to entertain the thought that any mere animal would possibly want to eat them for food. For proof to the contrary, it is interesting to consult the excellent table compiled by Peter Turnbull-Kemp, the well-known South African game ranger and author, on the age and condition of eighty-nine known lion man-eaters at death: 91 percent of the killers were either in "good" or "fair" condition when disposed of; only 13.3 percent were "aged" and uninjured, and a mere 4.4 percent aged and injured by any cause, including man.
Aside from those lions forced through injury to a life of homicide, there are many ways that normal lions may take up man-eating. They may be the offspring of maneating parents, weaned on human flesh and taught to hunt man as a normal activity. In heavy bush country men sometimes stumble onto lions that have no sense of humor. Lions may or may not eat people killed under these circumstances, but if they do, they don't seem to forget how easily the meal was obtained and voilà, you have a budding, new man-eater. Look at it this way: why fool around with Cape buffalo and zebra when man is such a pushover?
There are many natural catastrophes, such as plagues and epidemics that litter the bush with corpses, that may lead to lions' learning to eat man. The Tsavo man-eaters may have picked up their culinary preferences by dining upon the bodies of Indian coolies discarded along the railway line. Many African tribes still cling to the custom of discarding their aged and dying members without burial in the bush, which, when you think about it, is tantamount to teaching lions to feed on man. Lions are not at all above scavenging and take to moderately decomposed carrion quite nicely, thanks very much.
Authorities have likened man-eating lions to homocidal maniacs among men; indeed, there are apparently some lions that kill just for the hell of it, but the most common cause of man-eating in Africa is the most obvious: hunger. If a lion is hungry enough, he will eat you. Period. Consider the recent case in Wankie National Park, Rhodesia, of the lions that in 1972 gave two white families a night of indescribable horror. Here is the story as I obtained it from direct interview at the time.
Len Harvey, a Rhodesian game warden, had recently been married and was honeymoon camping with his wife, Jean, at an old elephant control station near the Shapi pan, as natural ponds and flowages are called. At Shapi was another semivacationing ranger and his family, an experienced man named Willy De Beer, his wife, daughter, and her husband, a student from Salisbury called Colin Matthews. In a two-day period, three lions had become increasingly bold, even to the point of entering the camp and eating chickens belonging to the native staff. However, since they had attacked no one and were within the borders of the national park, nothing could be done despite their threatening behavior.
The second night, firearms locked away in accordance with regulations designed to prevent their theft for guerrilla purposes, Len and Jean were asleep in a pole-and-dagga (mud) hut. Slightly after 11 P.M. a large lioness leaped through the window of the hut, hurling Jean from her bed to the floor. Instantly the lioness bit her through the small of the back and shook her like a terrier with a lamb chop. Shrieking with pain and terror, the woman struggled to escape. Shocked awake, Len Harvey realized what was happening and, with the incredible bravery of the desperate, threw himself on the lioness barehanded, punching and scratching to make the big cat drop his wife. It did. In one lightning movement it flattened the man, driving long fangs deep into his shoulder. Still conscious, Len screamed for his wife to get out of the hut and run. She rolled under the bed and, hysterical with agony and fear, emerged fromthe far side of the hut near the door. Covered with gore from her wounds, she fled the black hut but, halfway to the De Beer house, she stopped, giving a desperate thought to helping her husband. As she neared the hut again with steel nerve, there was a scuffle of movement, and although she was a young woman who had never listened to anyone die, the sound that came through the darkness left no doubt that Len Harvey was beyond help.
Banging on the De Beers' door, she poured out her story and collapsed. Willy awoke his son-in-law and sent him to start the small Honda generator while he went to the storeroom for the guns. In the light of the small plant he grabbed a Model 70 Winchester in .375 H&H caliber, and a Parker-Hale .243, both bolt-action rifles, along with a handful of cartridges for each. Fumbling, he loaded them both, jacking a round into each chamber. Locking the safety catches, he handed the .243 to Colin Matthews as he came up. Both men, still in their underwear, ran for the Harvey hut. The door was shut.
De Beer looked the hut over carefully. Seeing and hearing nothing, he called Harvey's name softly. A deep, warning snarl cut the thin light of the naked bulb outside the hut and De Beer cursed. Still inside. He edged up to the window, a small, black orifice in the mud wall. The safety snicked off the .375 as the Rhodesian paused. What if Len wasn't dead but only unconscious? A blind shot might kill him. He would have to be able to see the lioness to risk a safe shot. Gritting his teeth, he eased his head into the window, catching a glimpse of Harvey's bloody legs in a thin bar of light. But he did not see the paw stroke that tore through the skin of his forehead and grated on his skull bone. A sheet of blood burst into his eyes as he threw himself backward, gasping in pain.
Most men who had just had their foreheads ripped open by a man-eating lioness would not be anxious for an encore performance. Willy De Beer was not most men. Directing Colin Matthews to rip his T-shirt into strips, he had the young man bind the wound to keep the blood out ofhis eyes. Shortening up on the rifle, he approached the window once more. Waves of agony made him gag and wobble, but he pushed the rifle barrel through the window again. This time the lioness was ready and waiting for him. She lashed out of the blackness and caught De Beer behind the head at the base of the skull, the two-inch talons driving to bone and holding him like great fishhooks. The cat tried to drag him into the hut with her, but De Beer screamed, let the rifle fall through the window into the hut, and, gripping the edges of the opening with both hands, tried to push away. The lioness' breath gagged him as she tried to get his face into her mouth, but, because the paw she was holding him with was in the way, she failed. The man-eater gave a terrific tug and the claws ripped forward, tearing De Beer's scalp loose from his skull until it hung over his face like a dripping, hairy, red beret. The man fell backward onto the ground, and the lioness immediately launched herself through the window after him, landing on his prostrate body.
Although barely conscious, Willy De Beer had the presence of mind to try to cover his mutilated head with his hands, a feat he accomplished just as the man-eater grabbed his head in her jaws and started to drag him away. Perhaps covering his head was a conscious gesture, perhaps reflex. Whichever, it probably saved his life. As the lioness lay chewing on his head, she may have thought that the crushing sounds she heard beneath her teeth were the breaking of the skull bone instead of those of the man's hands and fingers. De Beer, completely blind and helpless, could only scream as the lioness ate him alive.
Ten feet away, petrified with terror, Colin Matthews stood watching the cat ravage his father-in-law. In his white-knuckled fists was the .243 rifle, loaded with four 100-grain soft-point slugs and a fifth in the chamber. Colin could have easily shot the man-eater, but he did not. Never having fired a rifle before, he did not know where the safety catch was or even that there was one. As he fought with the little Parker-Hale to make it fire, the incredible, unbelievable,unthinkable happened: Colin Matthews put his foot into a galvanized bucket hidden in the shadows, lost his balance, and fell, dropping the precious rifle.
The lioness looked up, her bloody mouth twisted into a snarl. She had been too busy with Willy De Beer to realize Matthews' presence but suddenly dropped the ranger and, with a hair-raising roar, charged the prostrate boy. Matthews was still struggling to remove the bucket from his foot when the lioness slammed into him. As if in a dream, he shoved his right arm as far as it would go into the enraged animal's mouth, the wood-rasp tongue tight in his fist. White flares of agony rocketed up his arm as the powerful teeth met against his bones, crushing them like pretzel sticks.
Slowly the blind, semiconscious De Beer realized that the great weight was gone, that the lioness wasn't biting him anymore. As from a long distance, he could hear Colin shrieking over his pain. He rolled over, face-up on the dirt, listening to the lion chewing on the young man. Automatically his crushed hands began to feel around for a weapon, anything. His broken fingers touched something hard: in a flash he realized that it was a rifle barrel, the fallen .243. Ignoring the agony of broken bones, he tried to grasp it. It seemed stuck. It dawned on him that the lioness must be standing on the stock. Somehow he tugged it free, the sudden release making him fall backward. Awkwardly, he reversed the rifle, found the safety, and, still unseeing, listened to determine where to fire. By the sounds, the lioness was standing over Colin's body. He triggered the first shot, then, as fast as his smashed hands could work the bolt action, fired twice more. Silence blanketed the camp.
"Colin! Are you all right? Colin!"
"Yes, Dad, I'm all right," answered a pain-tight voice. "But you've shot my hand off."
Before De Beer could answer, Matthews gave another scream, which mixed with a grunt from the dying lioness. In her death throes, she had moved down the young man's body and, in a final reflex, bitten the kneecap completelyoff Colin's leg. On De Beer's legs and Matthew's eyes, they staggered back to the house where Mrs. De Beer drove the thirty miles to Main Camp, Wankie, for the Rhodesian army helicopter that evacuated the victims at five the next morning.
Rescuers found Len Harvey's body where it lay in the hut, partially eaten by the lioness. He was buried the next day. A post-mortem on the lioness revealed no reason for her attack beyond hunger. Her stomach contained a small snake, a wad of chicken feathers, and most of Len Harvey's face. The first shot fired by De Beer had caught her in the lungs, the second in the shoulder, and the third, traveling at a muzzle velocity of 3,000 feet per second, pierced the cat's right cheek, completely smashed Colin's hand and knuckles, which were inside the lioness' mouth, and then passed harmlessly through the left cheek. An inch or so higher or lower would have broken either her upper or lower jaw and prevented her from snapping off Colin's kneecap a few seconds later. The luck of the draw.
Willy De Beer, surprisingly, survived his wounds. He had 222 stitches in his head alone and immense skin and bone grafting work on both head and hands. Two months after the attack his head was still swollen twice the normal size, and he continued to suffer from dizziness and ringing in the ears. Colin Matthews has had many operations on his hand, but it is not expected to be of much use to him again. His knee may someday support his weight once more, but that won't be determined until years of grafting operations have been completed. Widow Jean Harvey recovered from her bites, if not her nightmares, and was released from the hospital within two months of the tragic night.
I have often wondered what became of the two other starving lions that were reported as accompanying the lioness that killed Len Harvey. They have not been heard from. Yet.
Hunger can, of course, have many causes. As previously mentioned there are some lions injured or aged past thepoint where they can take their natural prey and therefore turn to man. Hunting conditions, such as the scarcity of game in an area or very high and dense grass after a wet season making hunting difficult, may also be responsible. Although it is almost a cardinal rule that a man-eating lion, once established in his profession, will kill and feed on man to the exclusion of other prey, there is one area of Africa where man-eating is decidedly seasonal. In the grasslands of Tanzania and parts of Portuguese East Africa (now Mozambique) as well as in Malawi (formerly Nyasaland), man-eating activity rises to a crescendo when high grass inhibits normal hunting for lions. Yet, taking Africa as a whole, this behavior is definitely exceptional.
The brazen dedication of the experienced man-eating lion to his art can be spine chilling. Just as a normal lion learns techniques of killing and hunting animal prey in specific manners, so does the man-eater develop a modus operandi for catching humans. The fact that a man-eating feline is the most difficult animal in the world to hunt can be explained by the cat's ability to learn well and quickly. As most men who have written about the hunting of man-eaters have confirmed, the majority of really high-scoring lions have been hunted badly by an amateur or clumsy professional before. Most often it's an amateur because you don't live very long as a pro if you get careless. The first time a lion returns to a human kill to finish his meal and receives a whiplash of bullet from a bad shot, you can bet the beer money he won't make the same mistake twice. If you can catch him the first time and make an effective shot, you will end his career right there. But if you blow it, it may cost many dozens of lives before you have another chance.
Just as he does when hunting zebra or wildebeest, a lion, having chosen a victim, will usually stick with his choice, no matter how many other animals pass within easier reach. The singlemindedness of a man-eater was amply demonstrated by C. A. W. Guggisberg in his definitive work on lions, Simba. In the vicinity of Fort Mangoche there was an isolated hut some hundred yards from the main village. Atdusk one evening a woman was mixing a meal of posho while her husband sat nearby chanting, playing a small drum. A large male lion had been stalking him from cover and charged, grabbing him, presumably in the chest, with its teeth. He managed to shout that a lion had him, and his wife bravely snatched up a flaming stick from the campfire and beat the lion in the face with it. Surprised at her audacity, the cat dropped the man, and the woman was able to pull him into the hut, closing and jamming the door shut. Unfortunately, her heroism was for naught since the man died shortly from his wounds. Seconds later, as the woman sat mourning her husband, she was terrified to hear the lion scratching at the hut. Many times the animal tried to break in, and finally the woman's nerve broke. Snatching up a new flaming brand, she opened the door and ran for the village, right past the lion, who let her go. The lion simply walked into the hut, dragged out the body of the man, and carried it off to eat.
When a man-eating lion takes a human from a hut or from a ring of sleepers around a campfire, it is usually by the method of a bite in the skull, which causes instant death. Curiously, there have been many cases of lions actually stepping over one man to pick another, like a bored matron at the canape platter of a cocktail party. Sometimes, however, the victim is grasped by the body and dragged off to be eaten alive. A "big" bite in the thoracic region by a lion is almost sure death, but victims caught by a shoulder or leg can live a long time in the most unspeakable horror and agony. Hans Besser, a German hunter early in this century, told of a missionary of the White Fathers in Tanganyika being carried off and taking fifteen minutes to die while the lion ate him. Nobody had the nerve to go to his aid. In East Africa there are several cases recorded of a lion eating his victim within the sight of paralyzed onlookers.
I still get the old flutter-guts when I recall the night in Ngamiland, Botswana, in 1970 when I was sharing a tent with Daryll Dandridge, a fellow professional hunter at the time with Ker, Downey, and Selby Safaris, Ltd. Our campwas pitched hard on the edges of the Okavango Swamp, and, the night being warm, we had not zipped the ends of the tent closed. There had been lion noises throughout the night, but since we were used to them, neither of us had any trouble sleeping. I was shaving at first light when I heard a muffled curse from Daryll, who was sitting up in his camp bed, staring at the powdery dirt of the floor. Two feet from the end of my bed, where my head lay, was a very fresh set of immense lion pug marks. He had almost without doubt stood there to sniff my head as I slept blithely on. To add insult, he then had walked smack between our beds and out the other side of the tent.
Lions in camp are a fairly normal state of affairs in Africa today. I personally suspect that the increase of tourism and the expanded game reserves have taken the edge off the traditional fear lions have had of man since he first developed the sharp stick. If they have less apprehension about the scent of man through familiarity, I feel they are more likely to attack. In 1969 on the Luangwa I was sharing a hut with Brian Smith, a young professional hunter, in Mwangwalala camp, which was located about 150 yards from the main camp used by the clients. I had just poured a sun-downer and, armed with nothing more formidable than a fly switch, walked through the half-light down the path along the river separating the camps. I should have known better since Martin, my head waiter, had reported seeing a lioness with three cubs that very afternoon close to camp. A very attention-getting grunt sounded from the grass about twenty feet away, and a most determined-looking lioness stepped onto the path and flattened herself. I froze. The banks of the river in this area are perhaps forty to fifty feet high, and below them is one of the niftiest collections of large crocodiles and hippos you would ever want to see. My mind raced like a flywheel: What'll it be, boy, lion or crocs? Interesting choice. I finally decided, after locking eyes with her for at least six months, that I would prefer the devil I didn't know to the one lying there watching me like a butcher reading a cuts chart. I marked aspot on the trail that would allow me to go over the edge out of her reach. Slowly, and I do not misuse the word, I eased a step back. She came forward one. Impasse. There was no way I could possibly make it the seventy-five yards back to the rifle. Still measuring our relative distances carefully, I decided to take a step toward her. It worked, since she backed up, but not without some violent muttering. Another yard and she seemed uncertain. Well, I reckoned, double or nothing. I dropped the drink, clapped my hands as loud as I could, and screamed a very unprintable phrase, tensed for that long fall to the water if she took it unkindly. My heart hit the top of my skull as she growled and dashed almost past me to disappear into the grass. I did not make that walk ever again without a rifle.
Another night in Sidamo Province, just across the Ethiopian border from the Northern Frontier District of Kenya, I was camped with the late, great Christian Pollet, a famous professional hunter from the Congo. By visual count we had eleven lions wandering around the trucks and tents at once, possibly a couple more in the murk we could not see. They stuck around for almost an hour, probably attracted by the odor of our hung meat, a fringe-eared oryx I had shot that afternoon. Our safari crew was scared white, but none of the big cats showed any aggressiveness and eventually melted off into the night. One, an absolutely immense black-maned male, was the biggest lion I have ever seen, certainly over ten feet in length. I have never seen his like since.
I am indebted to John W. Cox, my good friend and a noted sportsman, once the owner of such larger-than-a-breadbox items as Yankee Stadium, for permission to print an account of his adventures one dark night in the 1950s in Chad. It's one of the more interesting lion-in-camp tales I have heard.
It was the first shooting day of Cox's safari with the French hunter M. Cornon, and the party had driven all day from Fort Archambeau, on the Bahr Aouk, to their hunting area on the Chari River. Reaching their campsite, Cornonhad some mechanical difficulty with the truck that hauled provisions, tentage, and such. Deciding that repair was imperative, Cornon elected to drive back through the night for spare parts. As Johnnie Cox tells it:
"We would miss him, but, after all, we were well ensconced at our water hole. Actually, before Cornon left, a group of nomads came to camp adjacent to us, so we had quite a gathering."
"As night closed in, we retired to our cots and mosquito netting. I had heard lions roaring in the distance but thought nothing of it at the time. Although I was tired, sleep came fitfully; possibly the ever-nearing roar of those lions helped keep my mind occupied. A murmur of voices arising from somewhere in our camp indicated that I was not alone in my apprehension. Before long, these mutterings rose to a crescendo of gabble in a strange language which left me totally uninformed as to what was going on."
"It didn't take long to find out about the disturbance. The whole camp and our nomad neighbors broke into an uproar, people screaming and running all over the place. I looked out and saw the world's biggest lion walking past my cot, growling in that low, gutteral tone they apparently use to scare things. It worked in my case. Those lions can't do that for pleasure, because it has to scare them, too. There was nothing between me and that lion but a fairly fragile mosquito net, so I felt it incumbent on me to take a dive out the opposite side of the cot."
"Where were my guns? Good God, we hadn't unpacked them! I ran into Marie (a friend of Cornon's) on her way to the top of a truck and implored her to find out where the guns were. She came through, and soon I was assembling my .308 rifle and shotgun. Where was the ammunition? Meantime, the whole camp and the nomads were frantically seeking higher ground. People were climbing on top of trucks, scaling trees and shouting in terror. Lions were everywhere. I was too scared to either climb or shout, but got some false courage by possession of my rifle and my over/under with pockets full of ammunition for both."
"As I could see lions within what looked like biting distance, I started blasting away with the .308. They were dimly-lit in the semi-darkness of the camp. I didn't hit one as far as I know, but the shots scared them out of camp. They did not go away, though; they just stayed out in the high grass adjacent the camp and growled. I wished they would quit doing that."
"No one had been bitten. Marie, Marcel (Marcel Brochard, owner of the Studio de Bologne, a major Paris movie studio and Cox's nonhunting companion), one of our trackers and I were the only ones left on terra firma. Everybody else was ensconced aloft somewhere except my partners, Steiner and Sherwin, Americans from Chicago."
"What to do now? I tried to arouse those tired, intrepid hunters, Steiner and Sherwin, but I'll be damned if they had not slept through the whole thing and told me I was nuts to wake them out of a sound sleep with such a wild tale."
"I then entered into the stupidest misadventure of a mis-spent life. It seemed obvious that these lions were regrouping for another raid on the camp. I had learned in Asia that the best weapon against a thin-skinned animal at close range was a 12-gauge shotgun with magnum loads of buckshot. I beckoned to the remaining grounded tracker to go with me out into that black, high grass where all those lions were loitering. We started out to where a lion was grunting about 20 yards from the camp perimeter. Courageis a fleeting fault. We got within what seemed like inches of that lion, when he let out a fine roar, almost as if he didn't like us there. That did it. That tracker turned and ran like a scared-ass ape toward camp, leaving me all alone except for one vocal lion. I passed that tracker before he got out of the grass."
"In the security of camp fires and lanterns which had been lit, I just happened to check the shotgun in case those lions did return. Both barrels were empty! I had bearded that lion in deep grass at night with an empty gun! My dear, dumb friend, who had never fired a gun in his life, Marcel, had unloaded it without my knowledge. He thought it unsafe to have a loaded gun around the camp."
"What remained of the night, I spent firing at lion noises in the grass with the .308. At least those shots might keep the lions in the grass and out of camp. Sometime before dawn, the lion sounds stopped. Apparently, the pride had left, so I went back to my cot and fell asleep, lions or no lions."
"There was a large tree in our camp area. In the dawn light, that tree proved to be the residence of all the nomads as well as most of our crew. Nobody had any interest whatever in coming down until we found out what 'gave' with those lions. With a loaded rifle and shotgun, I ventured into the now-lighted grass which had so nearly proved my undoing. We found two dead lions, which were triumphantly dragged back to camp by the now-intrepid occupants of the tree. One of the lions had a shot which had broken its tail--a testimony to my marksmanship. Shooting a lion in the tail in high grass with a rifle in the dark of night is difficult."
The fact that those lions were not driven off or particularly intimated by repeated rifle fire is fair evidence, Ibelieve, that they were reasonably desperate. Presumably, since the natives were nomads, there were some livestock, camels, or horses in camp. Yet, the lions paid them no appreciable interest. Were they a man-eating pride? We'll never know, but the odds surely tilt in that direction. At very least, it was quite a first night on safari for Johnnie Cox.
In a life of professional hunting one is never short of potential close calls. With most big game, especially the dangerous varieties, one slip can be enough to spend the rest of your life on crutches, if you're lucky, or place you or sundry recovered parts thereof in a nice, aromatic pine box. Of course, many individual animals stand out in one's mind or nightmares as having been particularly challenging or having come extra-close to redecorating you. One of the hairiest experiences I have had was with the Chabunkwa lion, a man-eater with nine kills when my gunbearer Silent and I began to hunt him in the Luangwa Valley. We came within waltzing distance of becoming still two more victims.
The spoor told the whole story. A rounded edge of half-moon was just beginning to creep over the black horizon as the lion covered the last few feet to the edge of the sleeping village. He could surely smell the human odor mixed with the smoky scent of dying campfires, urine, and stale tshwala beer. His preying eyes slipped carefully across the village, but all was still--none of the hairless animals in sight.
In a low, hunch-shouldered crouch, he slinked toward the rear of a darkened hut, his huge paws soundless against the packed red clay. He stopped. The heat of the African night pressed heavily against him, and, as he paused, the hush of quiet breathing came to his pricked-up ears. Flattened to the ground, he crept across the open space between two huts and froze into tawny stone as he saw the three huddled forms in the shadows against the side of a hut, near the dying embers of a small fire. He lay perfectly still for several moments deciding which man would die,then began to flow through the shadows toward the three deeply sleeping men.
He passed the first two, sniffing softly at their heads, and stood over the closest to the mud wall. His jaws opened and the long, white canines drove into the unsuspecting victim's temples, piercing the thin bone past the eye sockets, and sank into the brain like driven spikes. The man gave a single, convulsive tremor and lay still. Without releasing his grip, the lion tugged, gently pulling the body from between the hut and the sleepers a few inches away. When it was clear, the man-eater straddled the corpse and, holding it by a limp shoulder, dragged it across the open and into the blackness of bush.
The lion easily carried his kill for three miles, pausing only twice to shift his grip. A dark green stretch of towering conbretum loomed ahead in the moonlight, and the killer made for it, dragging the man deep into one of the tunnels of the tangled boughs. A single hyena had crossed the blood spoor and followed the lion, but a threatening rumble from the man-eater kept the other animal shuffling twenty feet away.
The big cat rolled the body over and, holding it down with his forepaws, began to feed. The scissor-shaped incisors sheared away huge chunks of meat from buttocks and thighs, the lion chewing with the side of his muzzle until his face and chest were covered with dark gore. By the time dawn lightened the sky there was little left, but still plenty to interest the hyena. The Man-eater of Chabunkwa, thirsty from his ninth kill, padded from the thicket to drink at the nearby river.
The safari season was over and I was puttering around camp, taking care of the last-minute details of tagging trophies and sorting and packing equipment when I heard from the district commissioner of the area, who had sent a runner with a note wedged in a cleft stick asking me to come on my SSB radio as soon as I got it. When I had the aerial rigged after breakfast, he answered my call immediately. We went through the usual amenities, the Thin-Red-Line-of-Empiahvoice hollow over the speaker. I asked him what was up.
"Sorry to bugger your holiday," he told me, "but something's come up ... . I thought you might be able to help me out. That bloody Chabunkwa lion chopped another Senga last night. The Tribal Council is screaming for action. Suppose you might spare a day or so to pop over there and sort him out? Over."
"Stand by, please," I answered. We both knew that man-eating lions didn't usually get sorted out in a day or so. I lit a cigarette from the flat thirty-pack of Matinees. Well, I reasoned, I'm stuck. He must have already cleared it through my company or he wouldn't have known I was free. Also, one just doesn't turn down official requests from district commissioners, not if one wants to hang on to one's professional hunter's license. I reached for a pencil and pad.
"Right, Cyril," I answered. "What are the details? Over."
"Bugger hit the village just this side of the Munyamadzi--know it?--around midnight last night, so far as the report goes. Grabbed a young man sleeping off a beer bust with two others, but neither of his pals awoke. Smells like that same chap who ate the other bunch over at Chabunkwa, about five miles from this village. We don't have any Game Department people in the area and it'll be a few days before we can get somebody up from Valley Command or Nsefu. Can you give it a try before the trail cools? Over."
"Roger, Cyril. Roger. I'll leave in an hour. Shall I give you a radio sched at eight tonight to see if anything's new? Over."
He reckoned that would be a fine idea. We went through the usual jolly-goods and signed off. I whistled up Silent and told him to get cracking with the normal katundu for a three-day trip. Less than an hour later we were boiling through the growing heat and billowing dust to the village of Kampisi.
Kampisi looked like most in Zambia's Eastern Province--shabbyand dusty with a ragtag collection of snarling curs and tired-looking people, hordes of spindle-legged children who would not reach puberty. We were greeted by the headman, a born politician who always wore eyeglasses and carried a fistful of ballpoint pens despite the fact he could see perfectly well without glasses and couldn't write a letter. Status symbols are as important in the African miombo as they are on Park Avenue. He treated all within earshot to a tirade on the lack of government protection from the horrors of the bush. I asked him why in hell the three men had been sleeping outside when there was a known man-eater in the vicinity.
"The young men thought it was too hot to sleep inside their kaia, Bwana," he replied. "Also," he said, shuffling the dirt with a big toe, "they were a little bit drunk." He shrugged with typical African fatalism. Most Africans believe it can never happen to them, something like the attitude of front-line troops. The millet and sorghum beer the tribes brew and drink keeps fermenting in their stomachs until the celebrants pass into a comatose sleep wherever they happen to lie down. In this case the price of the binge wasn't a headache, but death.
The headman pointed to the north when I asked him in Fanagalo where the lion had carried his kill. Silent whistled for me, and I walked over to see the pool of dried blood on the crusted blanket where the man had received his fatal bite. He had backtracked the lion's stalk, showing where he had lain watching the village, how he had stalked the sleepers, and where he had begun to drag the body. I loaded my .470 Evans double-express rifle with soft-points and stuck another clump of the big cartridges into various pockets of my bush clothes where they wouldn't rattle against each other. Silent started off on the now-cold trail carrying the water bag, a pouch of biltong (wind- and shade-dried meat), and his long spear.
The afternoon sun seared our shoulders as we followed the spoor into the bush and finally found the spot in the conbretum where the lion had settled down for his meal.The prints of the hyena were over those of the cat, and the most we could recover was a tooth-scarred chunk of lower jawbone and some splinters of unidentifiable bone. Silent wrapped the pitiful fragments in ntambo bark fiber and we started back to the village. Too late. There was no point in continuing to follow the cold trail since darkness was only an hour off and we both knew the most heavily armed man is no match for a lion's stealth at night.
Arriving back at Kampisi about dark, I had two hours to kill before my radio schedule with the D.C. I fished out my flask of Scotch and poured a hair-raising shot into the little, scratched plastic cup while Silent recruited men to cut thorn for a boma, or as it is called in East Africa, a zariba, a spiky barrier or fence to keep out nocturnal unpleasantries. I felt the first lukewarm slug burn the dust from between my teeth and form a small, liquid bonfire in the pit of my stomach. It was that sun-downer or three that made you forget the saber-toothed tsetse flies and the pain in the small of your back, like a hot, knotted cable from too many miles bent over tracking. Four wrist-thick sticks of the biltong washed down with a cool Castle Pilsner from the condensation bag on the Land Rover's bonnet completed my dinner. I sent one of the tribesmen to fetch the headman, who came over to my fire. In a few curt sentences I gave him the succinct impression that anything found wandering around tonight would be shot as the man-eater, so he'd better keep his boys on the straight and narrow. He looked hard at the two asparagus-sized cartridges in my hand and decided that would be a fair idea.
The commissioner came on the radio right on schedule to report everything quiet, so far, from the other villages. "Keep on it, Old Boy," he told me.
I did not think the man-eater would kill again tonight because of the size of his meal the night before. Still, I knew that there had been cases of lions killing as frequently as twice the same night and that, anyway, man-eaters have an uncanny way of showing up where least expected. To be on the safe side, I would sleep in the open car with the big rifleagainst my leg. Not overly comfortable, to be sure, but those two barrels contained better than 10,000 foot-pounds of wallop, which gives a man considerable peace of mind. I'm not the squeamish sort, but when you have just finished putting what is left of a man in a coffee tin for burial, it does give pause for thought. I had hunted man-eating cats twice before this experience: the Okavango man-eater, a famous killer-leopard, and a lioness who had developed a sweet-tooth for Ethiopians. I had come close enough, theoretically, to being a statistic on both occasions to never again underestimate a man-eating feline.
I rigged the mosquito netting and took my weekly malaria pill as Silent maneuvered the extra thorn bushes across the barrier. The humidity hung about like a barber's towel, and sweat poured from my body. After fifteen minutes of tossing, I took another bite at the flask and dozed off shortly after.
You don't have to live in the African bush surrounded by dangerous or potentially dangerous game very long before you develop a sixth sense that may mean the difference between life and the alternative. After enough experience, you find your brain never goes completely to sleep, but, like an army posting sentries, keeps partially awake while the main body sleeps. A parallel may be found in the case of the new mother who awakes instantly at her infant's faintest cry. This reflex seems better developed in humans than in most big game, who have few if any natural enemies. I have walked up to within a few feet of sleeping lions, elephants, and rhinos, who never noticed me. But then, what do they have to fear?
I don't know what awakened me a few hours later--perhaps a sound I didn't remember hearing, but more likely that sixth sense of apprehension. I sneaked my eyes open but saw nothing in the pale moonlight filtering through the tall acacias. I lay listening for long minutes but decided it must be only nerves. Just as my eyes closed, the night was slashed by a shriek that would curdle Bearnaise sauce. Three more unearthly screams followed. I grabbedthe rifle and electric torch, pulled the thorn fence away, and dashed barefoot toward the screams. The beam showed nothing as I pounded through the village until I came to a hut at the far side with the door hanging from a single leather hinge. A gibbering man was inside, his bloodshot eyes wide as poached eggs with terror.
I flashed the light around the interior of the kaia. No blood. The walls seemed intact, as was the roof. The soft snapping of Silent's fingers attracted my attention back outside the hut. In the beam of the light was clear evidence of a scuffle, the smooth earth torn by striations of long claw marks. Bending down, I defined the clear pugmark of a big, male lion. I went back into the hut. The man was still staring in horror, mumbling gibberish. Silent entered with my flask, and we were able to get a gagging shot down his throat. Finally, he calmed down enough to tell us what had happened.
He had awakened when his wife stirred to a call of nature. He told her not to go outside, but she insisted. Anatomically unequiped, as was he, to perform the function through the door, she had stepped out into the night, and the lion had immediately nailed her. The man, named Teapot, heard the struggle and the first scream and bounded off his mat to the door. His wife had reached it and was gripping a crossbar that formed a frame for the lashed-on tshani grass. He recoiled in terror as he saw the lion pulling her by the leg until she was suspended off the ground between his mouth and the door frame. Suddenly, the upper hinge had broken, and the woman lost her hold. The lion immediately swarmed over her upper body and, with a crush of fangs, dragged her quickly off.
I looked at my wristwatch. The scratched, old Rolex said two hours until dawn, perhaps just about right to permit the lion to feed and get careless. We might be able to stalk him while he was actually eating his kill or intercept him on his way to water before he went to lie up for the hot hours.
"Chabwino, Bwana," commented Silent. "It is good. Ithink we will find this eater of people this day." I couldn't share his enthusiasm. Rooting man-eating lions out of thick cover is not my idea of good fun. Still, we had our best shot at him yet.
We took up the trail at half-past five as the false dawn began to turn the trees into gnarled monsters. I felt that just as the day before, the lion would travel a few miles, then stop to feed, although after the meal he had taken the previous day, he couldn't have been terribly hungry. Silent ruled out the possibility of this being another lion; one glance at a set of week-old prints and my gunbearer could tell you that lion's favorite color as well as his probable political leanings. The tracks showed definitely that we were on the trail of the right lion.
The spoor led through thinning, winter-dry bush studded with thorn, scrub mopane, and towering ant hills for a couple of miles, then turned off to the dense riverine vegetation that bordered the shallow Munyamadzi for about 500 yards of depth along each bank. I had tried hunting lion in this cover before, harrying them through the jungles of waxy, green conbretum, a dense, house-high shrub that grows like a beach umbrella with the handle cut off, in hope of getting my clients a quick shot as the cats crossed the open channels between the heavier clumps. It was hard, dangerous hunting that I had quit rather than risk a client's being chewed up. Half the time was spent on hands and knees peering under the dense growth for a patch of tawny hide, hoping, when you saw it that it wasn't attached to a growing halo of teeth hurtling at you in a close-quarter charge. Everything was in the lion's favor in this growth, and I hadn't kidded myself that the man-eater had left it. After all, he had already proven ten times that he had no natural fear of man--the fear that can give the hunter an edge.
I thought about Paul Nielssen's mauling in the past year within this same strip of bush, about five miles upriver. A Spanish client, Armando Bassi of Barcelona, a fine hunter, had wounded a good-maned lion, but it had escapedinto the thick conbretum before Paul could get in a finishing shot. As the professional, Paul was obliged to earn his $25 per day salary by following the lion and killing it. Nielssen put Bassi up a tree, as is standard practice, and went in alone after it with his double rifle, a .458 Winchester converted from a .450. The lion lay under a bush, after doubling back on his track in a short loop, and watched Paul track past. Nielssen later told me he heard a slight sound behind him, but as he spun to fire, the lion was on him and knocked him flat.
The infuriated cat grabbed Paul by the shoulder and sank his fangs through meat and bone, while shaking the puny human like a jackal with a mouse. For some reason the lion then turned on Paul's legs and began chewing, as I recall, on his left thigh. Armando Bassi, hearing the mauling, jumped out of his tree and ran blindly after Paul. Coming up, he shouted and yelled at the lion to draw its attention and blew the cat's head into pudding with his own .458. Lord, give us more clients like Armando Bassi! Paul owed the man his life and escaped crippling injury, although he suffered a broken femur and a collection of stitches that would have done a Bond Street tailor proud. An animal that can and does kill Cape buffalo with a single bite doesn't waste much time sorting out a mere human.
As we approached the thick cover, Silent and I stopped to peel off our bush jackets lest they scrape against a branch or thorn giving away our presence or position. We left them behind with the water bag after I removed the cartridges from mine. Entering the green tangle, Silent moved just ahead of me in a low crouch, his eyes on the spoor and his spear held in front of his body like a lance. It is normal between a hunter and his gunbearer/tracker that the first spoors while the other covers the possibility of an ambush charge. It's impossible to hunt and track at the same time. The safety was off the .470 and the night sight, an oversized bead of wart hog ivory, which doesn't yellow like elephant ivory, was flipped up for fast sighting in the deep shade. We drifted slowly through the bush listening for the crunch ofbone or a low growl as the lion fed in the leafy stillness. The damp, soft soil muffled our stealthy walking on the outsides of our feet, the quietest way to stalk, as we slid through the mottled murk with pounding hearts, ringing ears, and stomachs full of bats.
My mind went over the lion charges I had met before: the quick jerking of the tail tuft, the paralyzing roar, and the low, incredibly fast rush, bringing the white teeth in the center of bristling mane closer in a blur of speed. If we jumped him and he charged us, it would be from such close quarters that there would be time for only one shot, if that. Charging lions have been known to cover a hundred yards in just over three seconds. That's a very long charge, longer than I have ever seen in our thick central African hunting grounds. In tangles like this, a long charge would be twenty-five to thirty yards, which gives you some idea of the time left to shoot.
Ahead of me, Silent stiffened and solidified into an ebony statue. He held his crouch with his head cocked for almost a minute, watching something off to the left of the spoor. The wild thought raced through my skull that if the lion came now, the rifle would be too slippery to hold, since my palms were sweating so heavily. What the hell was Silent looking at, anyway?
Moving a quarter of an inch at a time, he began to back away from the bush toward me. I could see the tightness of his knuckles on the knobby, thornwood shaft of the spear. After ten yards of retreat, he pantomimed that a woman's hand was lying just off the trail and that he could smell the lion. The soft breeze brought me the same unmistakable odor of a house cat on a humid day. Tensely I drew in a very deep breath and started forward, my rifle low on my hip. I was wishing I had listened to mother and become an accountant or a haberdasher as I slipped into a duck-walk and inched ahead. I was certain the lion could not miss the thump-crash of my heart as it jammed into the bottom of my throat in a choking lump, my mouth full of copper sulphate. I could almost feel his eyes on me, watching forthe opportunity that would bring him flashing onto me.
I lifted my foot to slide it slowly forward and heard a tiny noise just off my right elbow. In a reflex motion, I spun around and slammed the sides of the barrels against the flank of the lion, who was in midair, close enough to shake hands with. His head was already past the muzzles, too close to shoot, looking like a hairy pickle barrel full of teeth. He seemed to hang in the air while my numbed brain screeched SHOOT! As he smashed into me, seemingly in slow motion, the right barrel fired, perhaps from a conscious trigger pull, perhaps from impact, I'll never know. The slug fortunately caught him below the ribs and bulled through his lower guts at a shallow but damaging angle, the muzzle blast scorching his shoulder.
I was flattened, rolling in the dirt, the rifle spinning away. I stiffened against the feel of long fangs that would be along presently, burying themselves in my shoulder or neck, and thought about how nice and quick it would probably be. Writing this, I find it difficult to describe the almost dreamy sense of complacency I felt, almost drugged.
A shout penetrated this haze. It was a hollow, senseless howl that I recognized as Silent. Good, old Silent, trying to draw the lion off me, armed with nothing but a spear. The cat, standing over me, growling horribly, seemed confused, then bounded back to attack Silent. He ran forward, spear leveled. I tried to yell to him but the words wouldn't come.
In a single bound, the great cat cuffed the spear aside and smashed the Awiza to the ground, pinning him with the weight of his 450-pound, steel sinewed body the way a dog holds a juicy bone. Despite my own shock, I can still close my eyes and see, as if in Super Vistavision, Silent trying to shove his hand into the lion's mouth to buy time for me to recover the rifle and kill him. He was still giving the same, meaningless shout as I shook off my numbness and scrambled to my feet, ripping away branches like a mad man searching for the gun. If only the bloody Zambians would let a hunter carry sidearms! Something gleamed on the dark earth, which I recognized as Silent's spear, the shaftbroken halfway. I grabbed it and ran over to the lion from behind, the cat still chewing thoughtfully on Silent's arm. The old man, in shock, appeared to be smiling.
I measured the lion. Holding the blade low with both hands, I thrust it with every ounce of my strength into his neck, feeling the keen blade slice through meat and gristle with surprising ease. I heard and felt the metal hit bone and stop. The cat gave a horrible roar and released Silent as I wrenched the spear free, the long point bright with blood. A pulsing fountain burst from the wound in a tall throbbing geyser as I thrust it back again, working it with all the strength of my arms. As if brain-shot he instantly collapsed as the edge of the blade found and severed the spinal chord, killing him at once. Except for muscular ripples up and down his flanks, he never moved again. The Chabunkwa man-eater was dead.
Ripping off my belt, I placed a tourniquet on Silent's tattered arm. Except for the arm and some claw marks on his chest, he seemed to be unhurt. I took the little plastic bottle of sulfathiozole from my pocket and worked it deeply into his wounds, amazed that the wrist did not seem broken, although the lion's teeth had badly mangled the area. He never made a sound as I tended him, nor did I speak. I transported him in a fireman's carry to the water, where he had a long drink, and then I returned to find the rifle, wedged in a low bush . I went back and once more put the gunbearer across my shoulders and headed for the village.
Silent's injuries far from dampened the celebration of the Sengas, a party of whom went back to collect our shirts and inspect the lion. As I left in the hunting car to take Silent to the small dispensary some seventy-five miles away, I warned the headman that if anyone so much as disturbed a whisker of the lion for juju, I would personally shoot him. I almost meant it, too. That lion was one trophy that Silent had earned.
The doctor examined Silent's wounds, bound them, and gave him a buttful of penicillin against likely infection from the layers of putrefied meat found under the lion'sclaws and on his teeth, then released him in my care. We were back at the Senga village in late afternoon, the brave little hunter grinning from the painkiller I had given him from my flask.
I snapped a couple of pictures of the lion with the self-timer and began to skin him. I would later report that the hide had spoiled and was not taken, so I wouldn't have to turn in more than the ears to the Game Department, which claims all unlicensed trophies. Actually, I had it salted and presented it to Silent, who believed that sleeping on it would bring back much of the romance of his youth. When I dropped him off at his village, near my safari camp, his fat, young wives seemed to concur as they bore him off to his hut with much giggling.
The Sengas retrieved the body of the lion's last victim, which was about half-eaten. That night, back in my own camp, I took a long bath and sat smoking in the tub, with a tall glass of man's best friend at my elbow. Only now did I realize how close I had come to being the Chabunkwa lion's eleventh victim. My side was starting to turn a lovely black and blue where the lion had hit me, but whether it was from a paw stroke or just the 450 pounds of impact, I didn't know. Academic at best. In this kind of business you learn to remember close calls only for what they taught you, not for how they might have turned out. I took away one lesson for sure: the next time a district commissioner asks me for a favor, I'm going to have a severe attack of radio trouble.
A very strong case, both historically and morally, can be made that the lion is the classic big game animal. Because of the great personal danger inherent in sport hunting for lions under modern conditions, it might be said that hunting lion on foot in the thick covers of central Africa is the purest expression of the honest sport of hunting. I use the term "honest" because there are many ways to get a cat to skin; to safely bust a Simba across 200 yards of cover such as the putting green grass of the Kenya flats is a much simpler proposition than rooting one out of the scrub miombo ofcentral Africa, where eyebell-to-eyeball confrontations are as common as not. Crawling into the nightmare tangles of thorn on your hands and knees after a big male lion may have very different consequences from kicking a cottontail rabbit out of a Connecticut brush pile, although in each case the sport is called hunting.
But for his skin as a personal trophy, the lion is hunted entirely as a personal challenge. He has no prized ivory or horn; you cannot eat him, although there are some tribes who do so for sympathetic magic; his pelt is not made into coats. Lions are hunted for the same reason people skydive, race cars, or, in extreme cases, play Russian roulette. They are hunted for the oldest of motives: the challenge of man against a fast, deadly animal on the animal's terms. When you pick up a rifle and take the first step on a lion hunt, you know that you are taking a fair chance of being maimed or killed. It is the clearest case of not just the ancient confrontation of man against beast, but also of man deliberately putting himself in harm's way. It is, in fact, man against himself.
Over the incalculably hoary ages, lion hunting has been considered one of the most noble sports, and the lion the most respected adversary of the hunter. From the time of the interglacial Pleistocene, the period in which, incidentally, Africa still finds itself zoologically, man has had a direct relationship with the lion. Panthera leo once roamed throughout Europe, North America, Asia, and, of course, the whole of Africa. Certainly early man confronted him in the Paleolithic and Mesolithic periods, and the tradition of lion hunting as one of the most respected pastimes continued well into the earliest civilizations, which have left us records of early hunts.
Many of the first advanced cultures' monarchs must have concentrated a great deal of their time on perforating lions for fun and profit. I have seen the scarabaeus in the British Museum, dating from approximately 1400 B.C. and bearing the cartouche of Amenhotep III, progenitor of Ikhnaton, or Amenhotep IV, which records his killing 102"fierce-looking" lions during the first decade of his phar-aohship. Of course, a pharaonic lion hunt must have made a duke's Scottish grouse drive look like a girl scout outing. Huge bands of beaters concentrated the game while the pharaoh shot them with arrows from his chariot. I think, considering the number of lions killed, that the pharaohs' personal bodyguards must have formed quite a rank, or surely, inevitably, a wounded lion would have caught up with somebody's royal hindside.
Tiglathpileser I, a Middle Eastern monarch in a later time slot, is recorded to have made Amenhotep III look like a beginner by smiting "120 brave-hearted lions in heroic battles on foot [I'll bet!] and 800 lions from my chariot." Assurnasirpal II claimed to have done in "370 lions like caged birds" with a spear.
In ancient Greece, lion sticking was all the rage. Surviving illustrations appear to demonstrate that warriors surrounded their lion in much the same manner of the Masai or Nandi of East Africa, throwing spears or javelins and then relying upon the tall shields they carried for protection when the lion charged.
Most early European sportsmen hunted lion from horseback with muzzle-loading rifles in Africa, not quite as safe a proposition as one might immediately presume. Many of them, at one time or another, were severely mauled or killed through failure of their primitive arms or foolhardy pursuit of wounded lions. I have never decided in my own mind which animal, the elephant or lion, has killed more people. Hippo is is at the top of the list for herbivores, and crocodiles lead the category of man-killers in the carnivore section, yet neither are true sporting animals in the classic sense. At any rate, lions certainly have a creditable record for killing the famous. Nairobi has an impressive cemetery of lion-killed white men, including Sir George Grey, brother of the then prime minister of Great Britain early in this century. In the 1920s it was fashionable for young British bloods to amuse themselves lion hunting on horseback in such areas as the Athi Plains. Sir Georgemade the last mistake of his life by trying to stop a determined charge from a big lion with a little .280 Ross rifle, firing a 140-grain bullet. He bravely held his ground and made the shot nicely, only the bullet broke up in the massive chest muscles of the lion, who proceeded to chew Sir George into small, easily digested chunks before anybody could come to his aid. The nobleman joined a double carload of other defunct sportsmen who learned the hard way that you only make one mistake with a lion: your last.
Modern lion-hunting techniques are somewhat diverse, dependent upon terrain and other physical considerations. Probably, most legally shot lions today are killed by stalking, usually after they have been heard roaring near dawn. There is no form of lion hunting that is not exciting, but this is one of the methods most likely to continue fluttering your stomach twenty years after you first tried it. It is chancy hunting, since the lion is on the move at this time of day, and, in thick bush, you are unlikely to see him until he is quite close.
Another extremely interesting form of lion hunting is practiced mostly in arid countries such as the gussu Kalahari shield of northwestern Botswana, formerly the Bechuanaland Protectorate of South Africa. Botswana lions are generally among the largest in Africa. They are also, I can promise you, the most consistently nasty. It has been suggested that this may be due to the fact that Bushmen commonly taunt them off their kills for the meat, and their patience with man is therefore somewhat short. I couldn't say for sure, but in my experience a Botswana lion is as likely to charge on sight at close quarters as not.
Because of the loose, sandy texture of the soil, tracking is quite easy in this area. During the course of a safari, one or more lion kills of natural game are usually discovered. If they were made the night before, the standard procedure is to say your prayers, load your heavy rifle, and follow the tracks to the point where the lion has "lain up" for the hot daylight hours, usually sleeping in the thickest tangle of crud it can find until it cools off and darkness falls.
The impossibly slow and hopefully soundless creeping through the blast-furnace heat of midday, with visibility often less than ten yards, is enough to rattle the nerves of a snake charmer. The average shot will be about fifteen yards, if you are lucky, and if you can determine which part of the lion the shadow-dappled patch of hide covers. At such a short range it is impossible to overestimate the degree of danger a hunter is subjected to. A lion can cover forty-five feet quicker than you can pronounce it. Also, there is the small consideration that he probably won't be alone. One day, with a client from Philadelphia, we shot a very fine male lion at about ten yards after tracking him off the carcass of a wildebeest for three hours. At my client's shot, six other lions appeared, none showing any particular inclination to move off. We looked at them and they looked at us. Discretion being the better part of lion hunting, it was we who cleared off, returning a few hours later for the old boy's skin. I was almost positive that I was going to have to shoot our way out of there, but, fortunately, they let us back off.
Baiting for lion is widely misunderstood. As opposed to leopard baiting, where the object is to actually kill the animal over the offering, the use of baits for lion serves mainly to draw a lion to an area and hold him so he can be followed up for a shot. Baits may be deliberately laid out and hung at chest height by wire from a tree or may take the form of previously killed large game such as elephant. Over the years, my clients have probably killed 25 percent of their lions off dead elephant carcasses or nearby, where the lion has gone to sleep off his meal.
Although many harassed lions will charge unwounded, the vast majority of human maulings and deaths under hunting circumstances are, logically, from wounded lions. There are things I would less rather do than follow up a wounded lion into thick bush, but none come to mind immediately. I've done it nine times and I certainly hope it never comes to ten.
There are several factors that make a wounded lion soincredibly dangerous. First among them is his inclination to charge from close quarters where only a brain or spine shot will anchor him. You may blow a hole in his heart big enough to accommodate a navel orange, but in his condition of hyperadrenia, there will still be enough oxygen in his brain to carry his charge for a surprising distance and enough moxie left over to turn you into something that would give a hyena the dry heaves. A lion with a bullet in his guts will do everything he can to repay the favor by lying in wait until the last moment before he charges.
The second factor contributing to a lion's dangerousness is the combination of his speed and strength and the small target he offers in a frontal charge. If I had to pick a common trait of all dangerous game, besides the fact that they can kill you, it would have to be that they are all so unbelievably fast. In times of stress their movements are virtually nothing but blurs, a very unnerving fact at a time when you yourself are probably scared witless. A typical charge by a lion from sixty feet takes a blinking of an eye. Add to this the blood-curdling vocal display that accompanies the rush, and you will see why there have been many men who never even got a shot off, let alone a winner. Many lion charges are successful because, considering the velocity, the gunner doesn't hold a low enough lead factor. Also, the anatomy of a lion is such that he has no skull above the eyebrows, usually just a mass of fatty tissue and mane. I almost blew my first lion charge by not compensating for this, but luckily the slug passed through the scalp and broke the spine above the paunch. I didn't miss the second time as he dragged himself toward me with his front paws.
Lion charges are usually, but not always, preceded by a short grunt, which is a great aid in locating the cat. Leopards, on the other hand, almost never make a sound when charging. I do not enjoy following up either one, but if I had to make a choice between digging a lion or a leopard out of grass, I would take the leopard simply on the basis that although he was much more likely to chew a couple of sirloins off me, he probably would not be as likely to kill me.You get nailed by a lion with one good body bite and, brother, your problems are all over.
I am absolutely delighted to tell you that, as of this writing, I have no idea whatsoever of what it feels like to be bitten by a lion. Jaguar, yes. But, I've had plenty of friends who are firsthand experts on the subject. There has always been something of a controversy about the pain experienced, some maulees claiming that there is little pain, mostly a dreamlike sensation caused by shock, others that the bite of a lion is extremely painful. Undoubtedly, both may be correct, depending upon mental condition at the time, location of the bite, and other such factors. David Livingstone was severely mauled in his early days by a lion he had wounded in Bechuanaland, the cat grabbing him by the shoulder and shaking him until he felt no pain at all. Others, such as Willy De Beer and Paul Nielssen say that the pain was excruciating.
The fact that I have never been seriously injured by an animal, save a bite on a booted foot by a Brazilian jaguar, is owed both to luck of the purest form and an absolute dedication on my part to caution with any game. Some professionals show their assorted scars with pride, but I don't feel that way. If you are a professional, every stitched seam on your body shows that you're probably not very good at it. I am, however, a believer in the sooner-or-later theory, sort of an offshoot of Murphy's Law, which, paraphrased, states that if you stick your neck out with the stuff that bites back enough times, you're going to get it sooner or later. The only possible way to counter the odds of this happening is to be so incredibly careful as to forestall the inevitable as long as possible. Africa has no patience with careless hunters.
Still, many of the really fine hunters from time to time get caught through flukes and plain bad luck. John Kingsley-Heath, a very well-known pro, was badly mauled by a lion he wounded with a light rifle while in a leopard blind several years ago. He followed it up with his .470, but despite two head shots that gave erratic bullet performance,was badly chewed up by the lion. His gunbearer, Kiebe, saved him by shooting the cat off him. Brian Smith, with whom I made several safaris, has been twice mauled by lions and once by a leopard. I believe that an educated guess would be that of those professional African hunters who have plied their trade for more than ten years, perhaps 25 percent go to their graves with lion scars.
Lions are intensely interesting animals to hunt, and to say that no two lion hunts are similar is nearly axiomatic. For example, let's just take one season, May through September 1975, when I was a professional hunter in the Matetsi region of northwest Rhodesia.
Since lions, like all other game, are allocated on a careful quota system by the Game Department to concessionaires of safari areas, lion licenses are only available to those clients who stay for long safaris. My first clients who had lion licenses were Americans on a thirty-day safari. Most clients consider their safari highlighted by the taking of a lion, so this is the species upon which we normally start concentrating. Also, the killing of a good lion early in the trip takes a great deal of pressure off the professional hunter.
The clients arrived in camp late one afternoon and settled in. As we sat around the fire getting to know each other, a pair of lions started the evening serenade. By the sound of their calls they were probably at a bait I had hung some three miles from camp. Well before dawn had broken we were off, trying to get as close as possible to the last calls before first light to begin tracking as soon as we could see.
We picked up the spoor without any trouble and tracked for an hour, the lions, by the sign a pair of large males, not stopping as I thought they would after eating a good portion of the zebra bait.
After the second hour, tracking in more difficult terrain, my gunbearer, a half-Kalanga, half-Bushman named Amos, suddenly stopped and held up his hand to listen. Perhaps a mile away a lion's roar could be heard, althoughsomewhat indistinctly. Instantly Amos diagnosed that the animal was in a deep valley at the base of a hill called "Insholoinyati," Sindebele Zulu for a buffalo-horn boss because of its shape. Carrying rifles at high port arms, our party of five ran for the end of the valley and began to stalk up it, much as one would when trying to flush guinea fowl or francolin. We had not gone 300 yards when we froze at a low hiss from Amos and Rota, his apprentice tracker. An easy forty yards away, lying down and looking at us from the edge of a thicket, was a magnificent male lion with a full, auburn mane. I pointed at it and grabbed the nearest client saying in a whisper, "Lion! Bust him!"
The man looked confused but raised his rifle and sighted. I held my breath as I waited for him to fire, praying it would be quickly since I could see that the lion had pretty well satisfied his curiosity and was about to melt back into the thicket any second. Still, the man did not fire. "Bust him! Bust him," I kept urging, but he just kept looking through the scope at the lion. Finally, the huge lion sat up, yawned, and walked slowly into the grass. I was practically beside myself at having missed the chance to take a beautiful trophy like that the first morning, right out of the box.
We chased further up the valley, hoping for. another glimpse of the lion or the one with it, but it was too late. When, after a half-hour, I decided to give it up rather than risk scaring the lions out of the concession, we stopped for a smoke and I asked the man as gently as possible why he had not fired. To my amazement he answered that he thought I was out of my mind and that he was looking at a wart hog! By the time he realized that it was a lion, it was already mostly obscured by the grass and he was afraid to fire in case he only wounded it.
Oddly, that was that client's third safari, and he had never seen a live lion outside of a zoo before. Yet, he was to have another chance the third day.
The original two lions had pushed off to parts unknown, and I had hung a series of other baits in strategic locations within reach. The morning of the third day wewere driving slowly toward a bait I had near a wide, grass-choked vlei, an area swampy in the rains but dry in winter. Since the previous year had been a record one for heavy rainfall, much of the grass was twelve to fourteen feet tall and offered the visibility of minestrone soup. I have seen more attractive places to hunt lion. Except for a very small percentage of the acreage that the buffalo herds had knocked down, it was practically impenetrable. As we drove along, I felt an urgent tap on the shoulder from Amos, riding in the back of the old Land Rover. I slowed further and he explained in Fanagalo that he had seen the flicker of an ear beneath a small thorn shrub in the grass but wasn't certain if it belonged to a lion or a hyena. Rather than risk spooking whatever it might be, I continued another half-mile down the road before stopping. Finally, we stopped and, checking the wind, swung in a wide arc to bring us as close as possible to the shrub yet offer us maximum visibility under the difficult circumstances.
Finally, we came up to the thorn bush and, the three armed men leading the trackers and gunbearers, sneaked up on it. At twenty yards there was the familiar Whuff! as two huge male lions broke into a run across our fronts. I shouted to the client to take the second one since it seemed to have a better mane. He wing-shot it, though a bit far back, and it rose into the air with a terrible roar, rearing like a hooked tarpon. In a blink it was gone into the high grass, but not before I was able to stick a .375 into it with undetermined effect. Quivering with adrenalin we listened to it growling ferociously thirty yards in the cover.
I led the men back a few yards to have a cigarette and hoped the bloody thing would die before I had to go in and drag it out. I was sure it was badly hurt, perhaps crippled because it stayed in the same position without moving away or attempting a charge. In the impossibly heavy grass, the visibility could not have been over ten feet, and I wanted to give it every conceivable opportunity to expire before I went in. Also, I knew there was more than one wounded lion in there, not forgetting the companion who had notreappeared nor shown himself after disappearing into the hardwoods that ringed the vlei. Finally an idea formed that would give me an edge. I sent Amos back for the Rover and my driver, Elias, who pulled up on the road shortly.
Although this particular car was open, a raised plank on a pipe framework over the pickup bed had been built for photography and better visibility in heavy cover. Installing the two clients atop this with me, I had Elias carefully drive toward the continuing growls, the bumper of the car's front flattening the grass ahead of us.
As we came closer, perhaps seven or eight yards, we saw some movement at the place from which the growling was coming and instantly fired. The lion thrashed and roared for several minutes, then seemed to die. For good measure, we both shot it again until I was sure it was dead. As if I was walking on a pile of sleeping mambas, I dismounted and approached the lion. It was still breathing. I had refilled the magazine but was afraid to shoot since I did not know where the other lion was and dared not risk a zero-range charge while working the bolt. It was an interesting few minutes. My nerves were further jangled when the second client screamed, "Watch it! Your right!" I swung around a half-turn and looked smack into the puss of the second lion, who uttered a low sound that you didn't have to speak lionese to understand. Through all the firing, he had stayed not ten feet from the wounded one and, if the American had not spotted his creeping up on me, I would likely have been given the New Look. I put a shot into the ground right between his legs and he did a back flip and disappeared, finally showing himself again as he cleared the grass 200 yards away. I aimed carefully and paid the insurance on the first one.
Although nothing to write home about in the mane department, these two were extremely large and heavy lions, probably about 500 pounds, and in their prime. Hell, I'm in my prime, and I don't have much of a mane! He taped out at a bit over nine feet, one inch, a very fine trophy.
The man I worked with in Rhodesia, a concessionaire of about 800 square miles of hunting grounds adjoining the Wankie National Park, had another typical experience on a safari the month before. Hunting with a Southwest African, he climbed a low hill the first day and, just across a small valley, saw a very good lion resting under a shady tree.
They made the stalk very well--too well in my opinion--getting to within ten yards of the lion, but they were unable to see him because of intervening brush and thorn scrub. Trying to find a passage to shoot in the cover, the hunter almost stepped upon a second, unseen lion, which, happily, was as surprised as he was. Of course, it spooked the other and the chance was lost.
The two men hunted from long before dawn until last light for the next twenty-nine days, often arriving back in camp chilled to the bone from the long, icy rides in the open car as late as 10 P.M. Aziko Silwane. Nikis. No lions. At all. No spoor, no roaring, no kills. Yet, they kept at it until, almost at dark the last day of the safari, they heard a lion roaring a mile away. Since the sun was already down, they ran as fast as they could toward the sound and actually caught up with a big lion within shooting distance. The client fired, but because he was so blown and shaking from lack of breath after the long run, he just creased the forepaw. The lion ducked into a thicket, raising vocal murder.
The professional, muttering unprintables, bulled in after it to save his reputation for never letting a client with a lion license go home empty-handed. It was so dark that he could hardly see, but he heard the short Chuff! that the lion coughed before beginning his charge. At ten feet he put his .458 bullet into the center of a growing, dark shape that seemed to float up at him and was fortunate to remove the top of the lion's skull.
As they built a fire to skin the cat, two men had to stand guard against the other several lions and lionesses who came practically up to the fire. Finished, they backed away to the truck and got out of there.
Lions do very odd things to otherwise stable, soberpeople. I had a client in Zambia once, who shall go unnamed, who had a great chance at a lion that was very well known in the area, a tremendous black-maned monster called the Mwangwalala lion. As lions go, he was a real beaut, well over nine feet and with an anthracite neckpiece that grew down to his cuticles. We were checking a bait one morning when I caught a movement out of the corner of an eye and saw this lion walking sedately across a small dambo, or flat, as casually as you please.
I told the gentleman to please place a large hole in it with all dispatch, and he got into shooting position. Five times he worked the bolt of his .338 custom Mauser, but the lion did not fall. In fact, he hardly hurried his stately exit after a disdainful glance at us. My client was doing everything right except for one minor item: he had forgotten to pull the trigger. As the saying goes, I kid you not. He was positive he was firing the rifle, in fact, became furious at me when I told him he had merely worked the bolt of the action. Only when I picked up his unfired cartridges and gave them back to him did he believe me. In the excitement he was positive he was actually shooting at the lion, and to this day I suspect he wonders if I pulled some sort of practical joke.
Another hunter friend of mine reports that, upon seeing his first lion at close range, his client threw away his rifle and ran like a lunatic straight after the big cat. The lion, fortunately, wasn't having any, although what might have happened if the client had caught him might have made interesting reading.
I don't know about you, but I still get a funny feeling in the pit of my stomach when I flip on the Late Show and see the poor old MGM bloke doing his thing. Even though most African lions are afraid of man on general principles, Africa is a mind-bogglingly big place, and it's going to be some time before you can bet the beer money that the next lion you bump into won't be the wrong one.