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From the Niger to the Nile - An Armchair Safari with Boyd Alexander

Aug 04, 2017

Armchair-Safari-Boyd-Alexander-book-cover-080517Every explorer looks upon the map of that part of the world which particularly calls him, and endeavors to find a spot that still affords opportunity for the special powers he may possess….” It was Lake Chad that originally interested Alexander, but his fellow officer, Captain Gosling, an avid hunter, joined his expedition and the men expanded their horizon and traveled from the Niger to the Nile, of course hunting along the way. Their first chance to hunt big game was lion.

The road led through bush forest of Senegambian character and broad stretches of elephant grass. We crossed the River Simanka twice for its course was serpentine. At this time of year, the river was low and for four miles we were able to follow its course. We eventually stopped at Serikin Kudu, a village populated by slaves that escaped the local King. There the natives talked about the misdeeds of some man-eating lions, a male and a female. The local road was their hunting ground and they were so successful that caravan traffic was paralyzed. Accordingly, I decided to hunt them.

At the next village, we heard more lion stories, so the next day we followed a bush trail for about seven miles before coming out onto an open plain. The land was low and had been covered with water during the rainy season. There we saw elephant tracks baked permanently by the hot sun. We shot a hartebeest for meat. I decided it would not be smart to pursue lions with ordinary Mauser bullets, so I sent one man back to main camp for soft-nosed cartridges. The next day we followed a caravan route through lion country — thick trees and bush broken up into clumps and cropped grass trampled by herds of game.

Suddenly my man called out, “Zachi,” (lions!). Following the direction in which he was pointing, there against the low bush about 150 yards away to my left, I beheld two lions, a male and female, steadily regarding us with quiet gaze. I was surprised to find them so quickly. One man begged me to shoot but not yet having the right sort of cartridge, I refused. I did not want to make a mess of it and perhaps scarce them away altogether. So we continued on until midday. Meanwhile I was feeling ill. Fever had taken hold of me at three in the afternoon and we quit early. I sent word back to my man not to travel through lion country at night with the ammunition.

Armchair-Safari-Camp-on-Benue-river-080517Feeling better, I rode my horse the following afternoon. On the call of “lions,” I reined in my horse. No sooner did the horse sense danger than he instantly grew rigid and would not move. I had to get off and, with help from some men, push before he would start again. When we came to the spot on the road where lions had first been encountered, the horse turned suddenly and bolted straight back to camp. We followed on foot.

At intervals through the night, I was awaked by the deep cry of a lion — a cry that has a strange and weird effect upon the sleeper within range of its sound. I was still a little ill and wanted to sleep, but the lions cried throughout the night. The following morning my man returned with the ammunition and I asked him to do a reconnaissance for lions. Alas, the man was so excited when he found the lions that he fired at the male and it collapsed. But when we advanced to inspect his prize, the male moved and the female headed for tall grass where she turned and stared back at the men. They waited a bit and upon inspection of the site where the male ha fallen were some broken teeth. Obviously, the cat had been hit in the jaw.

The men continued trailing until they came to a spot where both animals had crouched and flattened the grass. There was blood from a wounded lion. It would be dangerous to follow because there were not one but two infuriated lions which might be found at any moment, perhaps preparing to spring. So the men returned to camp.

Armchair-Safari-Alexander-River-Simanka-080517I was put out at the news that the man had not been able to keep his finger off the trigger, and was even more irritated at the fact that the unsuccessful shot might spoil my chance of securing a lion. Anxious to lose no time in going after the wounded animal, I determined to start the next day. We knew that the lions were still in our neighborhood by the cries they uttered during the night. We returned to the spot where the men gave up the chase. Again I became so ill that I had to let one of the men carry my rifle.

As I was almost giving up, there appeared in the distance a break in the monotony of the grass, where a slight depression in the ground, marked by a cluster of trees, struck me as a likely refuge for lion. So I struggled on but resolved to only reach that point. On arrival, we saw it was a completely dried up bed of a little stream. I came out of the tall grass and went down into the donga and was just peering up the gorge when suddenly I was aware of a large mass of live yellow, crouching under the screen branches of an overhanging bush.

Instinctively I threw my hand back for my rifle. But the men were busy stampeding into the grass behind.  At that instant the yellow mass sprang, with a roar like a storm, over my head. One man, luckily standing his ground, and retaining presence of mind, sent a shot whizzing over the lion.  Coming so soon after his unpleasant memory of the encounter with a bullet, the noise was enough to make the lion turn in the air. He landed on the ground three yards from my left and dashed into the long grass. The sudden shock of this adventure made me forget my illness and determined to continue pursuit.  Meanwhile the boys, being reassured of their safety by my shouting, returned one by one. They were dealt with by the head man and became anxious to continue hunting. After all, a lion twice fired at and once wounded would require all the additional help of their skill as hunters. They would have to stand their ground.

Armchair-safari-Alexanderthe-expedition-on-the-river-080517We then went up to the bed of the stream and found their lair. It was a cozy dwelling place, covered and concealed by two thick, low thorn bushes that met arching overhead. Creeping in at the entrance on hands and knees we could see their “forms” in the bed of dried leaves and grass which was decorated with dry bones. The sight of this made us all anxious to meet them soon. We again hunted the long grass, making a circuit that took in several likely places but with no success. So, while the boys already were tasting lion chops, we had to admit failure and return to camp. The men at camp had heard the single shot, which they thought was a sign of success but once more they were destined to disappointment.

The next morning, though feeling no better, the cry of the lion about a mile from camp pulled me out of bed to go after it. We set out early and the increasingly loud cries said we were getting near. One of the men got jumpy again and mistook a gentle kob standing a little way off for the king of beasts. Presently we heard the lion returning on this path. So we stood perfectly still and waited. In a few minutes he came into sight about fifty yards on the left, trotting briskly along. My first shot missed. This failure annoyed me and I tried to find an excuse. Then one of the men fired a shot which turned the lion into the long grass. We traced his tracks with our gaze by the shaking of the grass for about forty yards. We then followed in his direction as quickly as possible, but the going was rendered difficult and we could hardly keep our feet steady for the unevenness of the ground, which has been broken up into hard hillocks and deep holes by the tracks of elephants in the rainy season when the area became a swamp.

Soon we realized we were upon our quarry when close ahead we heard a low angry growl and a great commotion in the grass caused by a heavy animal getting on its feet. Then suddenly we saw his tail stand up erect above the grass and a moment after his great head and shoulders appeared. On he came, growling, struggling and pushing himself along by the great strokes of his hind legs. At ten yards, he paused, glaring and made on great effort to spring. Immediately I fired and hit him in the forehead.

Armchair-Safari-Alexander-lion-080517He fell instantly. There was suddenly great excitement among the boys. After making quite sure that the lion was dead this time, they pressed around and feasted their eye on the carcass. Then one ran off to be first into camp with the good news, while others went into the bush to cut stout sticks for bearing poles. On those, the lion was slung and six men carried him into camp.

They were accompanied by a big Hausa trader, who, upon hearing that a white man was hunting the lions, had ventured again to take the road with his caravan. He thanked me and said that the lion’s death would open a road that had been closed to trade for several years. He also showed me the burial place of two men who had fallen victim to the lions. Strangely enough, without knowing it, we had pitched our camp almost exactly on the same site.  

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