A LION DRIVE. WITH A RHINO IN RANGE SOME ONE SHOUTS "SIMBA" AND I GET MY FIRST GLIMPSE OF A WILD LION. THREE SHOTS AND OUT
Like every one who goes to Africa with a gun and a return ticket, I had two absorbing ambitions. One was to kill a lion and the other to live to tell about it. In my estimation all the other animals compared to a lion as latitude eighty-seven and a half compares to the north pole. I wanted to climb out of the Tartarin of Tarascon class of near lion hunters into the ranks of those who are entitled to remark, "Once, when I was in Africa shooting lions," etc. A dead lion is bogey in the big game sportthe score that every hunter dreams of achievingand I was extremely eager to make the dream a reality.
When speaking with English sportsmen in London my first question was, "Did you get any lions?" If they had, they at once rose in my estimation; if not, no matter how many elephants or rhinos or buffaloes they may have shot, they still remained in the amateur class.
On the steamer going down to Mombasa the hunting talk was four-fifths lion and one-fifth about other game. The cripple who had been badly mauled by a lion was a person of much distinction, even more so than the ivory hunter who had killed three hundred elephants.
Mr. Stephenson's Lion
A Post Mortem Inquiry
On the railway to Nairobi every eye was on the lookout for lions and every one gazed with intense interest at the station of Tsavo and remembered the famous pair of man-eaters that had terrorized that place some years before.
In Nairobi the men who had killed lions, and those who had been mauled by them (and there are many of the latter), were objects of vast concern, and the little cemetery with its many headstones marked "Killed by lion" added still greater fire to my interest.
The Jolly Little Cemetery
Consequently, when we marched out of Nairobi on the evening of September twenty-third, with tents and guns and a hundred and twenty men, the dominating thought was of lions. If ever any one had greater hope and less expectation of killing a lion I was the one.
We had planned a short trip of from three to five weeks northeast of Nairobi in what is called the Tana River country. While there are some lions in that section, as there are in most parts of British East Africa, it is not considered a good lion country. Buffaloes, rhinos, hippos, giraffes, and many varieties of smaller game are abundant, largely because the Tana River is in a bad fever belt and hunting parties generally prefer to go elsewhere. This preliminary trip was intended to perfect our shooting, so that later, when in real lion country, we might be better equipped to take on the king of beasts with some promise of hitting him.
Peering for Lions
The tree-tops and corrugated iron roofs of Nairobi had hardly dropped behind a long, sun-soaked hump of the Athi Plains when I began to peel my eyes inquiringly for lions. All the lion stories that I had heard for the preceding few months paraded back and forth in my memory, and if ever a horizon was thoroughly scanned for lion, that horizon just out of Nairobi was the one. Hartebeests in droves loped awkwardly away from the trail and then turned and looked with wondering interest at us. Zebras, too fat to run, trotted off, and also turned to observe the invaders. Gazelles did the same, and away off in the distance a few wildebeests went galloping slowly to a safe distance. They were probably safe at any distance had they only known it, for up to the hour when I cantered forth from Nairobi in quest of lions and rhinos I had not shot at anything for three years, nor hit anything for ten.
Night came onthe black, sudden night of Africaand we went into camp four miles from Nairobi without ever having heard the welcome roar of a lion. It was a distinct disappointment. I remembered the story about the lions that stampeded the zebras through the peaceful gardens of Nairobi only a few nights beforealso the report that some man-eaters had been recently partaking of nourishment along the very road upon which we were now camping. I also remembered hearing that lions had been seen prowling around the edge of the town and that the Athi Plains are a time-honored habitat of the lion family. On the other hand, I thought of Mr. Roosevelt, who had recently been reducing the supply. I also remembered how many hunters had spent years in Africa without ever seeing a lion, and how Doctor Rainsford had made two different hunting trips to Africa, always looking for lions, but without success.
During our first three days of marching, we looked industriously for lions. On broad, grassy plain, in low scrub, on the slopes of low hillseverywhere we looked for them. If a flock of vultures circled above a distant spot we went over at once in the hope of surprising a lion at his kill. Every reed bed was promptly investigated, every dry nullah was explored. McMillan's farm, which is a farm only in name, was scoured without ever a sign or a hint that a lion lurked thereabouts. Mr. McMillan has four lions in a cage, but they snarled so savagely that we hastened away to look for lions elsewhere. The second day we crossed the Nairobi River, the third day we crossed the Induruga River, and the fourth day we camped down on the Athi River. Here we struck a clue. Two English settlers came over and told us that lions had been heard the night before near their ranch house, on the slopes of Donyo Sabuk, a high solitary round top mountain rising from the Athi Plains, and we determined to organize our first lion hunt. It was here that Mr. Lucas was killed by a lion a short time before.
A lion hunt, or a lion drive, is quite a ceremony. You take thirty or forty natives, go to the place where the lion was heard, and then beat every bit of cover in the hope of scaring out the beasts. Lions are fond of lying up during the day in dry reed beds, and when you go out looking for them, you are most likely to find them in such places.
Mr. Stephenson's Splendid Buffalo
The Lion and Lioness in Camp
We started, three of us, with forty porters, at about daybreak. At seven o'clock we had climbed up the side of the mountain to the spot where the lions were supposed to be lurkinga long, reed-filled cleft in the side of the slope. The porters were sent up to one end of the reed bed, twenty on each side, while we went below to where the lion would probably be driven out by their shouting and noise. The porters bombarded the reeds with stones while we waited with rifles ready for the angry creature to dash out in our vicinity. It was an interesting wait, with plenty of food for thought. I wondered why the Englishmen had not come out to get the lions themselves, and then remembered that one of them had been mauled by a lion and had henceforth remained neutral in all lion fights. I wondered many other things which I have now forgotten. I was quite busy wondering for some time as I waited. In the meantime the lions failed to appear.
Bushbuck, waterbuck, and lots of other herbivora appeared, but no carnivora. We raked the reed bed fore and aft, and combed the long grass in every direction. A young rhino was startled in his morning nap, ran around excitedly for a while, and then trotted off. Birds of many varieties fluttered up and wondered what the racket was about. At ten o'clock we decided that the lions had failed to do their part of the program, and that no further developments were to be expected. So we marched back homeward, got mixed up with another rhino, and finally gained camp, seven miles away, just as our hunger had reached an advanced stage.
The next day we marched to the Thika Thika River, then to Punda Milia, and then to Fort Hall. Some one claimed to have heard a lion out from Fort Hall early in the morning, but I more than half suspect it was one of our porters who reverberates when he sleeps. From Fort Hall we crossed the Tana and made three marches down the river. Rhinos were everywhere jumping out from behind bushes when least expected and in many ways behaving in a most diverting way. For a time we forgot lions while dodging rhinos. There were dozens of them in the thick, low scrub, with now and then a bunch of eland, or a herd of waterbuck, or a few hundred of the ubiquitous kongoni.
We camped in a beautiful spot down on the Tana. The country looked like a park, with graceful trees scattered about on the rolling lawn-like hills. On all sides was game in great profusion. Hippos played about in the river, baboons scampered about on the edge of the water, monkeys chattered in the trees, and it seemed as though nearly all of the eight hundred varieties of East African birds gave us a morning serenade. A five-minutes' walk from camp would show you a rhino, while from the top of any knoll one could look across a vast sweep of hills upon which almost countless numbers of zebras, kongoni, and other animals might be seen.
But never a lion. It certainly looked discouraging.
As a form of pleasant excitement, we began to photograph rhinos, Mr. Akeley took out his moving-picture machine, advanced it cautiously to within a few yards of the unsuspecting rhino, and then we tried to provoke a charge. We took a dozen or more rhinos in this way, often approaching to within a few yards, and if there is any more exciting diversion I don't know what it is. I've looped the loop and there is no comparison. It is more like being ambushed by Filipino insurgentsthat is, it's the same kind of excitement, with more danger.
One day it was necessary to shoot a big bull rhino. He staggered and fell, but at once got up and trotted over a hill. Having wounded him, it was then necessary for me to follow him, which I did for three blazing hours. From nine o'clock till twelve I followed, with the sun beating down on the dry, grass-covered hills as though it meant to burn up everything beneath it. If any one had asked me, "Is it hot enough for you?" I should have answered "Yes" without a moment's hesitation. The horizon shimmered in waves of heat. From the top of one hill I could see my rhino half a mile away on the slope of another. When I reached the slope he was a mile farther on. I began to think he was a mirage. For a wounded animal, with two five-hundred-grain shells in his shoulder, he was the most astonishing example of vitality I have ever seen. He would have been safe against a Gatling gun. There were more low trees a mile farther on, and I plodded doggedly on in the hope of getting a little relief from the sun. As I drew near I noticed a rhino standing under the trees, but he was not the wounded one. I decided that the shade was insufficient for both of us and moved swiftly on. Across the valley on the slope of another blistered hill stood the one I was looking for. He didn't seem to be in the chastened mood of one who is about to die. He seemed vexed about something, probably the two cordite shells he was carrying. I at last came up within a hundred yards of him. He had got my wind and was facing me with tail nervously erect. The tail of a rhino is an infallible barometer of his state of mind. With his short sight, I knew that he could not see me at that distance, but I knew that he had detected the direction in which the danger lay. By slowly moving ahead, the distance was cut to about seventy yards, which was not too far away in an open country with a wounded rhino in the foreground. I resolved to shoot before he charged or before he ran away, and so I prepared to end the long chase with an unerring shot.
Suddenly a sound struck my ear that acted upon me like an electric shock:
It was the one word that I had been hoping to hear ever since leaving Nairobi, for the word means "lion." My Somali gunbearer was eagerly pointing toward a lone tree that stood a hundred yards off to the left. A huge, hulking animal was slowly moving away from it. It was my first glimpse of a wild lion. He was half concealed in the tall, dry grass and in a few seconds had entirely disappeared from view. We rushed after him. The rhino was completely forgotten and was left to charge or run away as he saw fit. When we reached the spot where the lion was last seen there was no trace of him. He apparently was not "as brave as a lion." We followed the course that he presumably took and presently reached the crest of a ridge. Then the second gunbearer, a keen-eyed Kikuyu, discovered the lion three hundred yards off to the right. After reaching the top of the hill the animal had swung directly off at right angles with the idea of reaching cover in a dry creek bed some distance away. I started to shoot at three hundred yards, but before I could take a careful aim the lion had disappeared in the grass. For an hour we thrashed the high reeds in the dry creek bed with never a sign of the king of beasts. He had apparently abdicated. He had vanished so completely that I thought he had escaped toward some low hills a mile farther on. The disappointment of seeing a lion and not getting it, or at least shooting at it, was keen to a degree that actually hurt.
Game Was Plenty for a Minute or Two
There was nothing left but to resume our chase after the wounded rhino. It was like going back to work after a pleasant two weeks' vacation. We presently found him on a far distant hill, and after an hour's tramp in the sun we came up to him in the middle of the rolling prairie. There was not a tree for a mile, nor a single avenue of escape in case he charged. Horticulture had never interested me especially, but just at this moment I think a tree, even a thorn tree, would have been a pleasant subject for intimate study. However, to make a long story longer, I shot him at a hundred yards and felt certain that both shells struck. Yet he wheeled around and, stumbling occasionally, was off like a railway train. Again we followed, two miles of desperate tramping in that merciless sun, up hills and down hills, until finally we entirely lost all trace of him. It was now two o'clock. I had eaten nothing since five o'clock in the morning, my water bottle was so nearly empty that I dared take only a swallow at a time, my knees were sore from climbing hills and wading through the tall, dry prairie grass, and I decided to give up this endless pursuit of a rhino who wouldn't die after being hit with four cordite shells.
The dry creek bed lay in the course of our homeward march, and we resolved to take a final look at it. There seemed no likelihood that the lion was there, and I walked into the place with the supreme courage of one who doesn't expect to find anything hostile. My head gunbearer and I had crossed and were walking down in the grass at one side. My second gunbearer was on the opposite side, and the stillness of death hung over the burning plain.
There was not a sign of life in any direction. The second gunbearer was instructed to set fire to the grass in the hope of awakening some protest from the lion in case he was still in the vicinity. There was a dry crackling of flames, and before we could count ten a deep growl came from somewhere in front of me, evidently on one of the edges of the creek bed. The second gunbearer was the first to locate him, and he signaled for me to come over on his side of the creek. In a moment I had dashed down and had climbed out on the other side and was eagerly gazing at a clump of bushes indicated by the Kikuyu. At first I could distinguish nothing, but soon I saw the tawny flanks and the lashing tail of the lion. His head was hidden by the bushes. At that time we were about a hundred yards from him and it was necessary to circle off to a point where the rest of his body could be seen. A little side ravine intervened, and I had to cross it and come directly down through the clump of bushes. The grass was high, and it was not until I had come within forty yards of the lion that I could get a clear view of him. He was glaring at me, with tail waving angrily, and his mouth was opened in a savage snarl. I could see that he didn't like me.
I raised the little .256 Mannlicher, aimed carefully at his open mouth and fired. The lion turned a back somersault and a great thrill of exultation suffused me. Already I saw the handsomely mounted lion-skin rug ornamenting my den at home. We approached cautiously, always remembering that the real danger of lion hunting comes after the lion has been shot. We threw stones in the grass where he had lain, but no answering growl was heard. I thought he was dead, but when we finally reached the spot where he had been there was no sign of him. He had vanished again. I searched the ravine and then crossed to the high grass on the other side. Then we saw him for an instant, half-concealed, just in front of us. His head was hanging, and he looked as though he had been hard hit. Again he disappeared and we searched high and low for him. For several hundred feet we beat the grass without result.
Then the grass was again fired and again the hoarse growl came in angry protest. Walking slowly, with guns ready for instant use, we advanced until we could see him under a tree seventy yards ahead on my side of the ravine. He was growling angrily. This time I used the double-barreled cordite rifle and the first shot struck him in the forehead without knocking him down. He sprang up and the second shot stretched him out. He was still alive when I came up to him, and a small bullet was fired into the base of his brain to reduce the danger of a final charge.
Old hunters always caution one about approaching a dying lion, for often the beast musters up unexpected vitality, makes a final charge, kills somebody, and then dies happy. So we waited a few feet away until the last quiver of his sides had passed. One of the boys pulled his tail and shook him, but there was no sign of life. He was extinct.
A new danger now threatened. The grass fire that the second gunbearer had started was sweeping the prairie, fanned by a strong wind, and there seemed to be not only the danger of abandoning the lion, but of being forced to flee before the flames. So we fell to work beating out the nearest fires, and trusted that a shifting of the wind would send the course of the flames in another direction.
It was now four o'clock. We were nine miles from camp and food, and we knew that at six o'clock darkness would suddenly descend, leaving us out in a rhino-infested country, far from camp. The water was nearly gone and the general outlook was far from pleasing.
The gunbearers skinned the lion. My first shot had struck one of his back teeth, breaking it squarely off, and then passed through the fleshy part of the neck. It was a wound that would startle, but not kill. The second shot had hit him between the eyes, but had glanced off the skull, merely ripping open the skin on the forehead for five inches. The third shell had killed him, except for the convulsive heaving that was finally stilled by the small bullet in the base of the brain.
As I Planned to Look in the Photograph of "My First Lion"
The skinning was interesting. All the fat in certain parts of the body was saved, for East Indians bid high for it and use it as a lubricant for rheumatic pains. The two shoulder blades are always saved and are considered a valuable trophy. They are little bones three inches long, unattached and floating, and have long since ceased to perform any function in the working of the body. The broken tooth was found and saved, and, of course, a photograph was taken. My gunbearer took the picture, and when it was developed there was only a part of the lion and part of the lion slayer visible. It was a good picture of the tree, however.
As I LookedFrom Photograph by Gunbearer
At four-thirty the homeward march was begun. At five-thirty two rhinos blocked the path and one of them had to be shot. At six we were still several miles from camp, with the country wrapped in darkness. The water was gone and only one shell remained for the big gun. Somewhere ahead were miles of thorn scrub in which there might be rhinos or buffaloes. Two days before I had killed two large buffaloes in the district through which we must pass, and there was every likelihood of others still being there. At seven we were hopelessly lost in a wide stretch of hippo grass, and I had to fire a shot in the hope of getting an answering shot from camp. In a couple of moments we heard the distant shot, and then pressed on toward camp. The lion had been carried on ahead while we stopped with the rhino, and so the news reached the camp before us. A long line of porters came out to greet us and a great reception committee was waiting at the camp. It was the first lion of the expedition, and as such was the signal for great celebration. That night there were native dances and songs around the big central camp-fire and a wonderful display of pagan hilarity.
It had been a hard day. Fourteen hours without food, several hours without water, and miles of hard tramping through thorn scrub in the darkness and of long, broiling stretches in the blazing sunlight. It seemed a good price to pay even for a lion, but that night, as I finally stretched out on my cot, I was conscious from time to time of a glow of pleasure that swept over me. It seemed that of all human gratifications there was none equal to that experienced by the man who has killed his first lion.
My second lion experience came three days later. With a couple of tents and about forty porters our party of four had marched across to a point a couple of miles from where I had killed the lion. We hoped to put in a day or two looking for lions, some of which had been reported in that district. The porters went on ahead with the camp equipment, while we came along more slowly. Mr. Akeley had taken some close-range photographs of rhinos, and we were just on the point of starting direct for the new camp when we ran across two enormous rhinos standing in the open plain. One was extremely large, with an excellent pair of horns, and it was arranged that I should try to secure this one as a trophy, while Mr. Akeley secured a photograph of the event. At thirty-five yards I shot the larger one of the two, and it dropped in its tracks. The other started to charge, but was finally driven away by shouting and by shots fired in the air. The photograph was excellent and quite dramatic.
For an hour the gunbearers worked on the dead rhino and finally secured the head and feet and certain desirable parts of the skin. At noon we resumed our march for camp, two or three miles away. We had hardly gone half the distance when one of the tent boys was seen far ahead, riding the one mule that we had dared to bring down the Tana River. It was evident that something important had occurred and we hurried on to meet him.
"Simba!" he shouted, as soon as he could be heard. In a moment we had the details. One of the saises had seen two lions, a large male and female, quite near the camp. Porters were instructed to watch the beasts until we should arrive, and now were supposed to be in touch with them. We omitted luncheon and struck off at once in the direction indicated by the tent boy. We soon came up to the porters and an instant later saw the lions. It was a beautiful sight. The two animals were majestically walking up the rocky slope of a low, fire-scorched hill a few hundred yards away. The male was a splendid beast, with all the splendid dignity of one who fears nothing in the whole wide world. From time to time the two lions stopped and looked back at us, but with no sign of fear. Several times they lay down, but soon would resume their stately course up among the rocks.
I shall never forget the picture that lay before me. It was as though some famous lion painting of Gérôme or Landseer had come to life, sometimes the animals being outlined clearly against the blue sky and at other times standing, with splendid heads erect, upon the rocks of the low ridge that rose ahead of us.
We stalked them easily. Several porters were left where the lions could constantly see them, while we three, Akeley, Stephenson and I, with our six gunbearers, worked around the base of the hill until we were able to climb up on the crest of it, being thus constantly screened from view of the lions. At the crest was an abrupt outcropping of blackened rocks, where we stopped to locate the two animals. They were nowhere to be seen. Twenty-five yards farther along on the crest was another little ledge of rocks, and we worked our way silently along to it in the expectation that the lions might have advanced that far. But even then our search disclosed nothing. For some time we waited, scouring the neighborhood with our glasses, and had almost reached the conclusion that the lions had made off down the other side of the hill and had reached the cover of a shallow ravine some distance away. Then we saw themexactly where we had last seen them before we had started our stalk. They were still together and showed no sign of alarm nor knowledge of our presence so near them. At this time they were one hundred and ten yards away. They lay down again behind the rocks and we waited twenty minutes for them to show themselves. Off to our right and in the valley another large male lion appeared and moved slowly away among the low scrub trees.
Finally we decided to rouse the two lions by shouting, but before this decision could be carried out the male rose above the rocks and stood plainly in view. It had previously been arranged that Mr. Stephenson should try for the male, while I should try for the female. In an instant he fired with his big rifle, the lion whirled around and then started running down the hill to the right.
Then the lioness appeared and I wounded her with my first shot. She ran out in the open toward us, but evidently without knowing from where the firing came. A second shot was better placed and I saw her collapse in her tracks. Leaving the lioness, I went down to where Stephenson had followed the lion. Several shots had been fired, but the lion was still running, although badly wounded. Just as it reached a small tree down on the slope a shot was put into a vital spot, and the lion went wildly over on his side. Even then he managed to drag himself under the small bushes surrounding the tree, where a moment later Mr. Stephenson killed him with a shot from his .318 Mauser.
"A Very Interesting Experience," Said I Coolly, a Couple of Days Later
We measured and photographed the lion, and then I took my camera to get a picture of the dead lioness up on the ridge. She was sitting up snarling, and I was the most surprised person in the world. I shot at her and she ran fifty yards to a small tree, where she came to a stop. Two more shots from my big gun finished her, and the photograph was finally secured.
Leaving the porters to watch the two lions, we followed the third lion that had been seen in the valley. He had not gone far and we soon found him, but too far away to get a shot. For an hour we followed him, but he finally disappeared and could not be located again.
It was sundown when our porters reached camp with the two lions, and it was then that we ate our long-deferred luncheon.
A week later, while marching from the Tana River to the Zeka River, Mr. and Mrs. Akeley and I came across a large lion, accompanied by a lioness. They were first seen moving away across a low sloping ridge of the plains within a couple of miles of where we had killed the lion and lioness a week before. We followed them and came up with them after a brisk walk of ten minutes. Both were hiding in the grass near the crest of the slope, and we could see their ears and eyes above the long grass. We crouched down a hundred yards away and the lion rose to see where we had gone. Mrs. Akeley fired and missed, but her second shot pierced his brain and he fell like a log. We expected a charge from the lioness and waited until she should declare herself. But she did not appear and her whereabouts remained an anxious mystery until she was finally seen several hundred yards away making her way slowly up a distant hill. Half-way up she sat down and watched us as we made our way cautiously in the grass to where her mate lay as he fell, stone dead. We afterward followed her, but she escaped from view and could not be located. This lion was the largest we had seen and measured nine feet from tip to tip.
This was our last experience with lions in the Trans-Tana country. After that we went up in the elephant country on Mount Kenia, but that is a story all in itself.
Lion hunting is the best kind of African hunting in one respect. One feels no self-reproach in having killed a lion, for there is always the comforting thought that by killing one lion you have saved the lives of three hundred other animals. Every lion exacts an annual toll of at least that number of zebras, hartebeests, or other forms of antelopes, all of which are powerless to defend themselves against the great creature that creeps upon them in cover of darkness. So a lion hunter may consider himself something of a benefactor.
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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