ELECTRIC LIGHTS, MOTOR-CARS AND FIFTEEN VARIETIES OF WILD GAME. CHASING LIONS ACROSS COUNTRY IN A CARRIAGE
Nairobi is a thriving, bustling city, with motor cars, electric lights, clubs, race meets, balls, banquets, and all the frills that constitute an up-to-date community. Carriages and dog-carts and motorcycles rush about, and lords and princes and earls sit upon the veranda of the leading hotel in hunting costumes. Lying out from Nairobi are big grazing farms, many of them fenced in with barbed wire; and the peaceful rows of telegraph poles make exclamation points of civilization across the landscape. It doesn't sound like good hunting in such a district, does it? Yet this is what actually happened:
We had discharged our safari, packed up our tents, and were just ready to start to Mombasa to catch a ship for Bombay. A telegram unexpectedly arrived, saying that the boat would not sail until three days later, so we decided to put in two or three more mornings of shooting out beyond the limits of the city.
We got a carriage, a low-necked vehicle drawn by two little mules. It was driven by a young black boy, and we got another boy from the hotel to go along for general utility purposes. Into this vehicle we placed our guns, and at seven o'clock in the morning drove out of the town. In fifteen or twenty minutes we had passed through the streets and had reached the pleasant roads of the open plains. Soon we passed the race-track and then bowled merrily along between peaceful barbed-wire fences. Occasional groups of Kikuyus were tramping along the road, bringing in eggs or milk to Nairobi. A farm-house or two lay off to either side, and once or twice we passed boys herding little bunches of ostriches.
At about a quarter to eight we drove up the tree-lined avenue of a farm-house and a pleasant-faced woman responded to our knock. We asked for permission to shoot on the farm and were told that we were quite welcome to shoot as much as we wished.
Five minutes later, less than an hour's drive from Nairobi, we drove past a herd of nearly sixty impalla. They watched us gravely from a distance of two hundred yards. At this point we left the well-traveled road and drove into the short prairie grass that carpeted, the Athi Plains. The carriage bumped pleasantly along, and as we reached a little rise a few hundred feet away, the great stretch of the plains lay spread out before us.
Mount Kenia, eighty or ninety miles north, was clear and bright with its snow-capped peaks sparkling in the early sunlight. Off to its left rose the Aberdare Range, with the dominating peak of Kinangop; to its right rose the lone bald uplift of Donyo Sabuk, and to the east were the blue Lukenia Hills. The house-tops of Nairobi waved miragically in the valley, with a low range of blue hills beyond. Across the plains ran the row of telegraph poles that marked the course of the railway and a traveling column of smoke indicated the busy course of a railway train. This was the setting within which lay the broad stretches of the Athi Plains, billowing in waves like a grass-covered sea.
A Nest of Ostrich Eggs
A Herd of Ostriches
We Bumped Merrily Along
As we drove along big herds of zebras paused in their grazing to regard the carriage as it merrily bumped across the hills. As long as we remained in the vehicle they showed no alarm, for they had seen many carriages along the neighboring roads. It was only when the carriage stopped that they showed an apprehensive interest. Great numbers of Coke's hartebeest watched us with humorous interest. An eland grazed peacefully upon a distant hill, and a wart-hog trotted away as we approached. Immense numbers of Thompson's gazelle skipped away merrily and then turned to regard us with widespread ears and alert eyes. Two Grant's gazelles were seen, while far off upon a grassy hillside were many wildebeestthe animal that we were seeking. It was impossible to get close enough to shoot effectively, and after a time we gave up our attempts in that direction.
The wildebeest, although living so near Nairobi, are most wild, and with miles of plains stretching out upon all sides it is easy for them to keep several hundred yards of space between themselves and danger. We spent a couple of hours of fruitless stalking and then were obliged to hurry back to town in order to be at the hotel when the tiffin bell rang.
I had not yet secured a Thompson's gazelle, so we stopped and each of us shot one on our way to the road. Then we returned to town. People along the streets regarded us with surprised interest, for there were two gazelles hanging out of the carriage and our four rifles gave the vehicle an incongruously warlike aspect.
Shooting Wildebeest (Cross Marks Location of Wildebeest, Outward Bound)
The next morning at seven o'clock we were again in our carriage. We drove out to the same place and at a few minutes after eight we were amazed to see a wild dog rise from the grass and look at us. We hastily jumped out of the carriage and walked toward him. In a moment a number of others rose from the grass, until we saw seventeen of them. This animal is seldom seen by sportsmen, and I believe it is considered quite rare. In four months only one of our party had previously seen any. Sometimes they savagely attack human beings, and when they do their attack is fierce and hard to repel. They watched us narrowly as we approached them and then moved slowly away. They seemed neither afraid nor ferocious.
We each shot and missed. The pack split, and Stephenson followed one little bunch while I followed another. My course led me toward a shallow, rock-strewn nullah, and once or twice I fired again at the wild dogs. But I couldn't hit them. There was nothing remarkable in my failure to make a good shot, but Stephenson, who is a celebrated rifle shot, seemed to be equally unfortunate in his work. He was some distance away and his bullets would not go where he wanted them to go.
Suddenly my attention was riveted upon three forms that walked slowly out of the nullah and climbed the slope on the other side, about three hundred and fifty yards away. I was transfixed with amazement and could hardly believe my eyes.
They were lions!
One was a female and the other two immense males. They were walking slowly, and once or twice they stopped to look back at me. Then they resumed their stately retreat.
As soon as I recovered from my astonishment I shouted to Stephenson, who had been lured far away by the wild dogs.
"Simba!" I yelled, pointing to the three lions.
He seemed not to comprehend, and I saw him reluctantly turn from the dogs and fix his glasses upon the direction I indicated. In no time he was hurrying up to join me, and we hastily formed a plan of campaign. The lions had now disappeared over the brow of the hill. I looked at my watch and the hour was not yet nine o'clock. We were still in sight of the distant house-tops of Nairobi. It seemed unbelievable.
We crossed the nullah and the carriage jolted down and across a few minutes later. We took our seats and studied the plains with our glasses. The lions were not in sight. Then we studied the herds of game and saw that many of them were looking in a certain direction. We drove in that direction and whipped up the mules to a lively trot. In a few minutes Stephenson picked up the three lions far to the left, where they were slowly making their way toward another ravine a mile or so beyond.
Then began one of the strangest lion hunts ever recorded in African sporting annals.
You may have read of the practice of "riding" lions. Doctor Rainsford, in his splendid book on lion hunting, describes this thrilling sport in such vivid words that you shiver as you read them. Mounted men gallop after the lion, bring it to bay, and then hold it there until the white hunter comes up to a close range and shoots it. In the meantime the cornered beast is charging savagely at the horsemen, who trust to the speed and quickness of their mounts to elude the angry rushes of the infuriated animal. It is a most spectacular method of lion hunting and is only eclipsed in danger and daring by the native method of surrounding a lion and spearing it to death.
A Kikuyu Woman Uses Her Head
On the Athi Plains
It Was a Rakish Craft
To my knowledge, no one has ever "galloped" a lion in a carriage drawn by two mules, and probably few hunters have ever galloped three lions at one time under any conditions.
It was a memorable chase. The mules were lashed into a gallop and the carriage rocked like a Channel steamer. We were gaining rapidly and the distance separating us from the lions was quickly diminishing. It seemed as if the three lions were not especially eager to escape, for they moved away slowly, as if half-inclined to turn upon us.
It Rocked Like a Channel Steamer
We hoped to overtake them before they reached the ravine or such uneven ground as would compel us to abandon the carriage.
Five hundred yards! Then four hundred yards, and soon three hundred yards. The mules were doing splendidly, and we knew that we should soon be within good shooting distance. At two hundred and fifty yards the largest of the two males, a great, black-maned lion, stopped and turned toward us. His two companions continued moving away toward the ravine.
Thinking it a good moment to strike, we leaped from the carriage and knelt to fire. Stephenson shot at the big black-mane and I at the male that was retreating. Both shots missed. The black-mane resumed his retreat and we got in a couple more ineffectual shots before the three lions disappeared over the brow of the ravine.
At Two Hundred and Fifty Yards
Once more in the carriage and another wild gallop as far as the vehicle would go. For a few moments we lost sight of the lions, but presently we saw them climbing up the opposite slope, four hundred yards away. It was a long distance to shoot, but we hoped to bring them to bay at least by wounding them into a fighting mood. The large lion turned and swung along the brow of the hill; the others disappeared over the opposite side, but they soon reappeared some distance farther to the right.
Little spurts of dirt showed where our bullets were striking. Once I kicked up the ground just under him and once a shot from Stephenson passed so close to his nose that he ducked his head angrily.
We became frantic with eagerness and continued disappointment. The thought of losing the finest lion we had seen on the whole trip was maddening, yet it seemed impossible to hit him.
Then he disappeared and probably rejoined his companions in a retreat that led down into the ravine where it wound far away from us. There were patches of reeds in the ravine and it was there that I thought they would hide.
Sending the carriage in a wide detour, we climbed across a spur of the ravine and tried to pick up the trail. Once I fell upon the rocks that lined the steep sides of the gully and cut my hand so deeply that the scar will always remain as a reminder of that eventful day. Stephenson kept to the top of the ridge, believing that the lions would continue across the ravine; I went into the ravine, thinking they would take cover in the reeds and might be scared out with a shot or two.
But nothing could be seen of them, and after half an hour we rejoined on the top of the hill, where a wide view of the whole country was revealed.
We sat down in despair. The greatest chance of the whole trip was gone.
"That's the last we'll see of them," said I oracularly as I sat upon a stone. My hand was covered with blood, but alas! it was mine and not the lion's.
The carriage appeared and we held a prolonged consolation meeting. Suddenly our general utility boy, Happy Bill, uttered a low cry of warning. We turned, and there, in the valley ahead of us, the three lions were again seen. They had evidently passed through the reeds without stopping and had continued across only a few yards from where we were now standing.
Fate seemed determined to give us plenty of chances to get these lions. Again we opened fire on them at about four or five hundred yards. My big-gun ammunition was gone, so I fired with my .256.
No result! The distance was too great and our bombardment was fruitless. The black-maned lion was in a bad humor and repeatedly turned as if intent to stop and defend his outraged dignity. In a few moments the three lions disappeared in the tall grass that fringed a big reed bed many acres in extent.
For an hour we raked the reed bed with shot, hoping to drive them from cover. But that was the last we saw of the lions. A little bunch of waterbuck does were scared up, but nothing else. The lions were now safe, for nothing less than fifty beaters could hope to dislodge them from the dense security of the swamp.
It Would Have Been Historic
Talk about dejection! Our ride back to town was as mournful as a ride could be. We thought of the glory of driving through the streets of Nairobi with a lion or two hanging over the back of the carriage. It would have been historic. Citizens would have talked of it for years. It would have taken an honored place in the lion-hunting literature of Africa, for no lion hunters have ever pursued a band of lions in a carriage and brought back a carriage-load of them.
We almost regretted having had the chance that we so heartbreakingly lost.
But we told about it when we struck town, and before the day was over it was the topic in hotels and clubs throughout the whole town of Nairobi. Everybody who had a gun was resolved to go out the next day, and interest was at a fever pitch.
We went out again the following morning, shot at wildebeests at all known ranges, from two hundred yards up to five hundred yardsbut our luck was against us. We came back empty-handed, and our chief reward for the morning's work was the great privilege of seeing both Mount Kenia, ninety miles north, and Kilima-Njaro, nearly two hundred miles southeast, as clear as a cameo against the lovely African sky.
The lesson of this story is not so much a review of bad shooting or of bad luck. The thing that seems most noteworthy is that within six or seven miles from Nairobi, nearly all the time within sight of the house-tops of that town, we had seen fifteen varieties of wild game, some of which were present in great numbers.
Surely there is still some game left in Africa.
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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