WHO'S WHO IN JUNGLELAND. THE HARTEBEEST AND THE WILDEBEEST, THE AMUSING GIRAFFE AND THE UBIQUITOUS ZEBRA, THE LOVELY GAZELLE AND THE GENTLE IMPALLA
In the course of the average shooting experience in British East Africa the sportsman is likely to see between twenty and thirty different species of animals. From the windows of the car as he journeys from Mombasa to Nairobi, three hundred and twenty-seven miles, he may definitely count upon seeing at least seven of these species: Wildebeest, hartebeest, Grant's gazelle, Thompson's gazelle, zebra, impalla, and giraffe, with the likelihood of seeing in addition some wart-hogs and a distant rhinoceros, and the remote possibility of seeing cheetah, lion, and hyena. Of the bird varieties the traveler will be sure of seeing many ostriches, some giant bustards, and perhaps a sedate secretary-bird or two.
Hassan and a Hartebeest
The Author's Home in Africa
Beautiful Upland Country
These animals are the common varieties, and after a short time in the country the stranger learns to tell them apart. He knows the zebra from his previous observation in circuses; he also does not have to be told what the giraffe is, but the other ones of the seven common varieties he must learn, for most of them are utterly strange to an American eye.
Gazelle, with Wildebeest in Background
He soon learns to pick out the wildebeest, or gnu, by its American buffalo appearance; he comes to know the little Thompson's gazelle by its big black stripe on its white sides and by its frisky tail that is always flirting back and forth. The Grant's gazelle is a little harder to pick out at first, and one is likely to get the Grant's and Tommy's confused. But after a short time the difference is apparent, the Grant's being much larger in stature and has much larger horns and is minus the Thompsonian perpetual motion tail. It certainly is a stirring tail! The impalla is about the same size as the Grant's gazelle, but has horns of a lyrate shape.
The hartebeest is speedily identified, because he is unlike any other antelope in appearance and exists in such large numbers in nearly every part of East Africa. Indeed, if a returned traveler were asked what animal is most typical of the country he would at once name the hartebeest. He sees it so much and so often that after a time it seems to be only a necessary fixture in the landscape. A horizon without a few hartebeests on it would seem to be lacking in completeness.
Furthermore, the stranger soon learns that the hartebeest is commonly called by its native name, kongoni, and by the time his shooting trip is over the sight of the ubiquitous kongoni has become as much of his daily experience as the sight of his tent or his breakfast table. To me the kongoni appealed most strongly because of his droll appearance and because of a many-sided character that stirs one's imagination.
He is big and awkward in appearance and action; his face is long and thin and always seems to wear a quizzical look of good humor, as if he were amused at something. Others besides myself have remarked upon this, so I am hoping that the kongoni wore this amused look even at times when he was not looking at me. His long, rakish horns are mounted on a pedicle that extends above his head, thus accentuating the droll length of his features. His withers are unusually high and add to the awkward appearance of the animal. Standing, the kongoni is a picture of alert, interested good humor; running, he is extremely funny, as he bounces along on legs that seem to be stiffened so that he appears to rise and fall in his stride like a huge rubber ball. We made quite a study of the kongoni, for he is a most interesting animal. He is unselfish and vigilant in protecting the other creatures of the plain. His eyes are as keen as those of a hawk, and when a herd is feeding there are always several kongoni sentinels posted on ant-hills in such a strategic way that not a thing moves anywhere on the plains that escapes their attention. Oftentimes I have cautiously crept to the top of a ridge to scan the plains, and there, a mile away, a kongoni would be looking at me with great interest.
If you try to approach he will remain where he is until his warning sneezes have alarmed all the other animals, and finally, when all have fled, he goes gallumphing along in the rear. He is the self-appointed protector of his fellow creatures, the sentinel of the plains. I have seen him run back into danger in order to alarm a herd of unsuspecting zebras.
He leads the wildebeests to water and he lends his eyes to the elephants as they feed. With nearly every herd of game, or near by, will be found the faithful kongoni, always alert, watchful, and vigilant, and it is nearly always his cry of warning that sends the beasts of the plains flying from dangers that they can not see.
The sportsman swears at the kongoni because it so often alarms the quarry he is stalking. How very often it happens! The hunter sees afar some trophy that he is eager to secure and straightway begins a careful stalk of many hundred yards. At last, after much patient work, he reaches a point where he feels that he can chance a shot. He takes a careful sight and at that moment a kongoni that has been silently watching him from some place or other gives the alarm, and away goes the trophy beyond reach of a bullet. And then how the hunter curses at the kongoni, who has stopped some little distance away and is regarding him with that quaint, lugubriously funny look. It almost seems to be laughing at him.
One day I tried to shoot a topi. It was a broiling hot day and the sun hung dead above and drove its burning javelins into me as I crept along. For seven hundred yards, on hands and knees, I slowly and painfully made my way. The grass wore through the knees of my trousers and the sharp stubbles cut my palms; once a snake darted out of a clump of grass just as my hand was descending upon it, and lizards frequently shot away within a yard of my nose. My neck was nearly broken from looking forward while on my hands and knees, and it was nearly an hour of creeping progress that I spent while stalking that topi.
When I got within two hundred and fifty yards, and was just ready to take a careful aim, with an ant-hill as a rest, a kongoni somewhere gave the alarm, and away went the topi, safe and sound but badly scared. The kongoni went a little way off and then turned and grinned broadly. I was momentarily tempted to shoot him, but on second thought I realized that he had acted nobly from the animal point of view, so I forgave him.
Outward BoundReading Your ThoughtsConcluding your Intentions Are Hostile
The kongoni seems to be gifted with a clairvoyant instinct. He knows when you don't want to shoot him and when you do. If you start out in the morning with no hostile intentions toward him he will allow you to approach to within a short distance. He will be alert and watchful, but he will show no anxiety. But just suppose for an instant that you change your mind. Suppose you say to yourself that the porters have had no meat for several days and that it might be well to shoot a kongoni. The latter knows what is passing in your mind long before you have made a single movement to betray your intentions. He begins to edge away, ready in an instant to go bounding rapidly beyond rifle shot.
I've seen a herd of kongoni standing quite near, watching me with curious interest, but without fear. Perhaps I was intent upon something else and hardly noticed them. Suddenly a villainous thought might enter my head, such as "That big kongoni has enormous horns," and instantly the herd would prick up their ears, run a few steps, and then turn to verify their suspicions. Then, if the villainous thought still lurked in my brain, they would sneeze shrilly and go galloping away in the distance. There is no way to explain this except to attribute it to thought transference, and this in spite of the fact that the kongoni doesn't understand English.
The kongoni is found nearly every place in East Africa. Along the railway between Makindu and Nairobi the species is called Coke's hartebeest. Farther up the railway the species is Neumann's hartebeest, while still beyond, on the Guas Ngishu Plateau and the Mau escarpment, the species is called Jackson's hartebeest. In the main the three varieties are almost the same; it is in the horns that the chief distinction lies, with lesser differences in color and stature. The hunter has been allowed to kill ten of each on his license, but under the new game ordinance in force since December, 1909, only four Jackson's are allowed and twenty Coke's instead of ten.
The Young Kongoni Is Very Funny
When we went across the Guas Ngishu Plateau in early November we saw thousands of Jackson's hartebeest, and never a calf. When we came back in late December and early January we saw hundreds and hundreds of calves, many of them less than a day old. The stork must have been busy, for they all arrived at once. These little calves come into the world fully equipped for running, and almost immediately after birth go bounding along after their mothers, so awkward and so funny that I'm not surprised that their own mothers look perpetually amused.
The hartebeest, or kongoni, is hard to kill. The Dutch gave him the name for that reason. It often seems as if bullets have no effect on him. He will absorb lead without losing a trace of his good-humored look, and after he has been shot several times he will go bounding earnestly away, as if nothing was the matter. If he succeeds in joining a herd there is little way of distinguishing which one has been shot, unless he suddenly exhibits signs or falls over. Otherwise he is quite likely to gallop away, far beyond pursuit, and then slowly succumb to his wounds.
Again I've seen them knocked over and lie as if dead, but before one could approach they would be up and off as good as ever. This is the great tragedy of the conscientious hunter's lifethe escape of a wounded animal beyond pursuitand the thought of it is one that keeps him awake at night with a remorseful heart and saddened thoughts. Whenever I shall think of Africa in the future, I shall think of my old friend, the kongoni, dotting the landscape and sticking his inquiring ears over various spots on the horizon. In four and a half months I think I must have seen at least a hundred thousand kongoni.
The giraffe is also a creature of most amusing actions. You are pretty certain to see a bunch of them as you come up the railway from the coast. They were the first wild animals I saw in British East Africaa group of four or five quietly feeding within only a hundred yards of the thundering railway engine. They were in the protected area, however, and seemed to know that no harm would reach them there. Later on in the morning we saw other herds, but invariably at long range, sometimes teetering along the sky line or appearing and disappearing behind the flat-topped umbrella acacias.
They Run Loosely but Earnestly
The giraffe is most laughable when in action. He first looks at you, then curls his tail over his back, and then lopes off with head and neck stuck out, and with body and legs slowly folding and unfolding in a most ungainly stride. It is hard to describe the gait of a giraffe to one who has never seen it, but any one would at once know without being told that a giraffe couldn't help being funny when running.
As a general thing it is difficult to approach a giraffe. With their keen eyes and great height they almost invariably see you before you see them, and that will be at seven or eight hundred yards' distance. From the moment they see you they never lose sight of you unless it is when they disappear behind a hill a mile or two away.
When seen on the sky-line a herd of giraffe will suggest a line of telegraph poles; when seen scattered along a hillside, partly sheltered under the trees, they blend into the mottled lights and shadows in such a way as to be almost invisible. I have been within two hundred yards of a motionless giraffe and, although looking directly at it, was not aware that it was a giraffe until it moved. It might easily have been mistaken for a bare fork of the tree, with the mottled shadows of the leaves cast upon it.
Along the Tana River I saw several herds of giraffe, perhaps fifty head in all, but it was on the great stretches of the scrub country that slopes down from Mount Elgon that I saw the great herds of them. One afternoon I saw twenty-nine together, big black males, beautifully marked tawny females, and lots of little ones that loomed up like lamp posts amidst a group of telegraph poles. Within two hours I saw two other herds of seven and nine each, and every day thereafter it was quite a common thing to run across groups of these strange-looking animals browsing among the trees.
One is not allowed to kill a giraffe except under a special license, which costs one hundred and fifty rupees, or fifty dollars. One of our party had a commission to secure a specimen for a collector and had been unsuccessful in getting it. That circumstance led to an amusing adventure that I had with a giant giraffe. One day, with my gunbearers, I had ridden out from camp in search of wild pigs. Ten minutes after leaving camp I drew rein hastily, for off to my left and in front a lone giraffe of great size and of splendid black color was slowly careening along toward me. If he continued in his course and did not see us he would pass within a hundred yards of me. So I hastily but quietly dismounted to try for a photograph as he passed.
A moment or two later he saw me for the first time and at once swung into a funny trot. I took the picture, and then the thought struck me, "Why not drive him into camp, where he could be secured by the one having a special license?" I jumped on my horse and galloped around him, but in a few moments struck a ravine so rocky that I had to walk my horse through the worst of it. By the time I had crossed the giraffe was some hundred yards ahead. Still farther ahead the prairie was burning and the long line of fire extended a mile or more across our front.
I thought this fire would swing the giraffe off, and so it became a race to reach the fire line first, in order to swing him in the right direction. The ground was deep with prairie grass, as dry as tinder, and scattered throughout were innumerable holes in the ground made by the ant-bears and wart-hogs. Any one of these holes was enough to throw a horse head over heels if he went into it. I had no gun, having left it with my gunbearer when I took the picture. So there was nothing to hinder me as we swept across the great plain.
We passed the camp half a mile away at a furious pace, the giraffe holding his own with the horse and keeping too far in front to be turned. By degrees we approached the prairie fire and the flames were leaping up three or four feet in a line many hundred yards long. The giraffe hesitated and then breasted the walls of fire; I didn't know whether my horse would take the salamander leap or not, and as we rushed down toward it I half-expected that he would stop suddenly and send me flying over his shoulders. But he never wavered. The excitement of the chase was upon him and he took the leap like an antelope. There was a moment of blinding smoke, a burning blast of air, and then we were galloping madly on across the blackened dust where the fire had already swept.
For two miles I galloped the giraffe, vainly endeavoring to swing him around, but once a swamp retarded me and another time a low hill shut the giraffe from view. When I passed the hill he had disappeared and could not be found again. There was no deep regret at having lost him, for I felt particularly grateful to him for having given me the most exhilarating and the most joyous ride I had in Africa.
The large male giraffes often appear solid black at a distance, for the yellow bands separating the splotches of black are so slender as to be invisible at even a short distance. The females are much lighter and usually look like the giraffes we see in the circuses at home.
Then there's the ubiquitous zebra, almost as numerous as the kongoni. You see vast herds of zebra at many places along the railway, and thereafter, as you roam about the level spots of East Africa, you are always running into herds of them. At first, the sight of a herd of zebras is a surprise, for you have been accustomed to seeing them in the small numbers found in captivity. It is a source of passing wonder that these rare animals should be roaming about the suburbs of towns in hundred lots. You decide that it would be a shame to shoot a zebra and determine not to join in this heartless slaughter.
Later on your sentiments will undergo a change. Everybody will tell you that the zebra is a fearful pest and must be exterminated if civilization and progress are to continue. The zebra is absolutely useless and efforts to domesticate him have been without good results. He tramps over the plains, breaks down fences, tears up the cultivated fields, and really fulfills no mission in life save that of supplying the lions with food. As long as the zebras stay the lions will be there, but the settlers say that the lions are even preferable to the zebras.
Under the old game ordinance expiring December fifteenth, 1909, a sportsman was allowed two zebras under his license; under the new one he is allowed twenty! That reveals the attitude of East Africa toward the jaunty little striped pony.
Zebra, Wildebeest and Gazelle (Wildebeest in Middle)
In action the zebra is dependent upon his friend, the kongoni. When the latter signals him to run, he trots off and then turns to look. If the kongoni sends out a 4-11 alarm, the zebra will hike off in a Shetland-pony-like gallop and run some distance before stopping. They have no endurance and may be easily rounded up with a horse.
On the Athi Plains may be found the bones of scores of zebras, each spot marking where a lion has fed; and in the barb-wire fences of the settlers other scores of withered hides and whitened skulls mark where they have fallen before the grim march of civilization.
With each sportsman granted an allowance of twenty zebras, it may not be so long before the zebra will be forced to seek the sanctuary of the game reserves, which, happily, are large enough to insure his escape from extinction.
The zebra's chief peculiarity, aside from his beautiful markings, is a dog-like bark which is much more canine than equine in its sound. The zebra's chief charm is its colt, for there is nothing alive that is prettier or more graceful than a young zebra a few weeks old.
The only Grant's gazelles that I saw were those along the railway at Kapiti Plains and Athi Plains. This animal is graceful and beautiful, with a splendid sweep of horns. With them, and in much greater numbers, is the little "Tommy," or Thompson's gazelle, a graceful, buoyant, happy, bounding little antelope with an ever active tail flirting gaily in the sunshine. The Tommy is small, about twice as big as a fox terrier, and is of a fawn color. Along the lower parts of his sides is a broad white belt, along the middle of which runs a bold black stripe. The effect is strikingly handsome.
The impalla is much bigger than the Tommy, and he usually travels in large herds of fifty or more. It is no uncommon sight to see one buck with twenty or thirty females, and it is probably due to the fact that hunters try to get the male specimens as trophies that accounts for the vast preponderance of females in the various antelope herds. The impalla is seen along the railroad and in enormous numbers out along the Thika Thika and Tana Rivers. There are also many up in the Rift Valley and doubtless in other sections. From my own experience and observation they were most abundant on the Tana River.
Impalla Buck and Lady Friends
The wildebeest, or gnu, is found on the Athi Plains and northward along the Athi River and the Thika Thika. One need never travel more than two hours' drive or walk from Nairobi to see wildebeest, but it's a different thing to get them. You would have to travel many hours, most likely, before you succeeded in bringing down a wildebeest.
My first shot in Africa was at a wildebeest at three hundred yards. The bullet struck, but so did the wildebeest. He struck out for northern Africa, and when last seen was still headed earnestly for the north pole. I am consoled in thinking that my shot must have inflicted more surprise than injury and so I hope he has now fully recovered, wilder and beastier than of yore.
My last shot in Africa, the day before leaving for the coast, was at a wildebeest an hour or so out of Nairobi. This time I missed entirely and repeatedly and the wildebeest remains unscathed to roam the broad plains of the Athi until some better or luckier shot passes his way. If I have anything on my conscience, it is certainly not the remorse of having reduced the supply of wildebeests.
Wildebeest With the White Man Only Eight Miles Away
In our last few days' shooting out on the Athi Plains we saw perhaps fifty or seventy-five of these great bison-like animals. Their bodies and legs and tails are slender and graceful, like those of a horse, but the heads are heavy-featured, heavy-horned and heavy-bearded. They are wild and when they see you a mile or so away will start and run for the nearest vanishing point, usually arriving there long before you do.
The foregoing seven species of animals are the ones most commonly seen in East Africa. Perhaps something about some of the less common ones will have some instructive value.
CHAPTER ONE | CHAPTER TWO | CHAPTER THREE | CHAPTER FOUR | CHAPTER FIVE | CHAPTER SIX | CHAPTER SEVEN | CHAPTER EIGHT | CHAPTER NINE| CHAPTER TEN | CHAPTER ELEVEN | CHAPTER TWELVE | CHAPTER THIRTEEN | CHAPTER FOURTEEN | CHAPTER FIFTEEN | CHAPTER SIXTEEN | CHAPTER SEVENTEEN | CHAPTER EIGHTEEN | CHAPTER NINETEEN | CHAPTER TWENTY | CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE | CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO
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