Chapter 58

Animals Are Not So Wild After All

 

In tropical countries there are hazards from many creatures that do not exist in Scotland. One gets accustomed to them and at all times avoids risks, when possible.

Dr Robert Laws once told me, 'Wild animals can find plenty to eat, without attacking human beings. Only old, frail and shortsighted animals attack anyone and anything to keep alive.'

Dr Laws was an authority on wildlife in Africa. His word was sound, after all, he had lived and travelled in Central Africa for nearly fifty years before I met him. He was a crack shot, with a record of most animals from an elephant to an antelope.

Leopards were numerous in and around Livingstonia plateau. They hid in dense bushes and up in trees. Lions made excursions about the mission station. Their temperament was quite different from the unpredictable leopard. A lion only attacked when cornered. In all my travels in Central Africa I did not see one lion, although, on one occasion, I passed through a pride of lions playing in the scrub land, seen by Africans, but not by me.

One evening my wife and I were returning from a nearby cottage and I carried a lamp and a spear. Our beautiful mastiff dog Boyd moved cautiously in front of us, his ears cocked. All at once he lay flat on the ground at our feet. He whined. We stopped. A few hundred yards before us was a crouching leopard, his eyes shining in the lamp light. My wife took the lamp. I lifted Boyd and hitched him on my shoulders, then holding the spear in my right hand we walked forward at our usual pace. The leopard did not move as we passed him without looking back. One hundred yards up the path the inert body of the dog wriggled, a sign his fear was over. He dropped to the ground and bounded home. He licked my hand as we met him on the veranda steps.

Another evening my wife and a visitor were walking up the same path. A short distance behind I walked with the husband of our visitor. All at once we saw a leopard walk a couple of feet behind the ladies. We all kept on walking and talking - the brute slipped into the bush. Had anyone panicked we would have been mauled.

A third incident comes to mind. Our toilets were twenty yards from the house - a fourteen feet deep hole, covered by a boxed seat. The building was of close-knit reeds, muddied on the outside. The roof was thatched. One evening I was in the toilet when I heard a leopard. I lit the hurricane lamp to the full, moved outside - perhaps too cautiously - for I tripped on a stone and in a second I was sprawling on the ground in darkness, the lamp snuffed out with the sudden fall. Up I jumped, only to fall again, my trousers fell down and tripped me. I was up again and soon up the back door steps to get another surprise. The leopard had rushed up the back door steps, through the lobby and seeing a fire in the sitting room from the open door, dashed out the front entrance and down the veranda steps. In its mad rush it left the lobby mat in a crumpled heap. Yet my wife was in the sitting room unaware that a leopard had sniffed near her. She heard the noise but thought it was the dog playing with the cat. The dog and cat were both sound asleep in a small room off the kitchen.

In all three cases, William, the gun boy, was called in. He set traps and waited patiently and was successful in killing the three leopards. In each case the skins were cured and sent home to Scotland. One is on the floor of our sitting room.

Walking one day with a group of Africans, the leader, a chief, stopped suddenly. He spoke one word and in a flash I found myself surrounded by men. Baboons were making a frightful chattering noise up in the trees. Knowing the customs, I did not ask why we had stopped. Then there was a rustling noise and a few low barks. A pack of wild dogs, led by a dark one, were on the prowl. Lions, leopards, hyenas, even buffaloes, dreaded the packs of wild dogs. All animals fled before them. Only with a signal from the leader would they close in for a kill. It was an interesting sight, at the same time, a savage sight as the dogs, about twenty, rushed past us at a swift pace, all creatures with fiercesome bared teeth.

Baboons always fascinated me, though on one occasion I had a scare. A couple of South Africans, travelling on foot on their way to the Lupa gold field in Tanganyika (now Tanzania), took pot shots with their rifles or pistols at all sorts of wild animals. The day in question they fired at and wounded a mother baboon and her baby.

I happened to be at the lake shore near Chitimba when the men arrived. They boasted of the event - two creatures with one shot. I told them in plain language what I thought of their foolish act on non-aggressive creatures.

One man proved the bigger fool. His retort was, 'When you are bored stiff with life a laugh is a good thing.

The following day I was returning to the Institution on my two-stroke motor cycle. On the mountain road there were eleven hair-pin bends. At one I was aware of stones, big and small, coming at me and about a score of dog-snouted baboons, leaping from tree to tree, screaming and hooting at me. I stopped my cycle and the animals retreated. After a rest I started up the motor cycle, back came the baboons, more rolling stones and incessant chatter. How I was not hurt remains a mystery, for the bombardment was non stop. I had only one option, to push the cycle uphill until I was out of range of my attackers. I pushed the cycle for an hour, then gave up. I propped it up against a tree. I wrote a note and attached it to the handle-bars. The note read:

'Bwana Mwakuyu's cycle. Please carry it, fixed on a bamboo pole; carriers will be rewarded.'

I walked the remaining six miles home. I was having a bath when the cook shouted, 'Bwana, your cycle is here, all safe.'

When I was dressed I saw four of my smiling workers. Each was rewarded with one shilling, some salt and a cake of soap. I never used my two-stroke cycle on the lake road again, for baboons have long memories. The noise of the two-stroke engine was like rifle shots to the monkey clan.

Earlier, I said I had never seen a lion in Africa. So too, an elephant. A planter on the lake shore pointed one out to me through his telescope. By the time I looked the animal had moved on. At the time I was on my way to Karonga to 'put in' my banns for marriage at the District Magistrate. For the journey I had the same two-stroke Triumph motor cycle, but this trip was more than a year previous to the 'Baboon Bombardment'.

I was having a salad of fresh fruit at the planter's house when he told me that a neighbouring planter had an adventure with his large motor cycle. Two or three Europeans on a poaching trek used sub-machine guns and 0.303 cartridges to shoot elephants. The small bullets did not kill, but they injured and in one case blinded an elephant. This cruel practice continued for a few days, then, with two elephants dead, the poachers made off with the ivory across the border.

Mr Maxwell, the planter in question, was motor cycling when he heard a thundering noise behind him. It was a charging bull elephant. Maxwell jumped off his cycle and hid behind a huge tree. The elephant tossed the cycle in the air several times, trampled on it and in a final act of fury, threw it up a tree. The planter had to zig zag from tree to tree for four miles to a neighbour's plantation. This was the story I was told as I ate my fruit salad and I had to pass through the same country for nearly forty miles.

All went well with me until I came to a track of swampy land. All at once I shivered, for before me on the soft ground were the unmistakable foot prints of an elephant and they were fresh, like the dung beside them. I took no chances. I pushed the cycle for some distance and then noting the road was fairly open I got the engine going and moved fast.

When I met the Magistrate (Money, by name), his first question was, 'Did you spot any elephant spoor?'

I slept uneasy that night and early next morning I was on my return journey home. Fortunately I met many Africans on the road. All assured me, 'The wild animals are asleep. They only hunt from dusk to dawn.' I was happy to be home one hour before dusk.

                                                        

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This work, Going With God, is copywrited by Ronald R. Caseby, 1993.   All rights reserved.  Used here by express permission.