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U3A Writing: A Lion Hunt

John Ricketts, who was at one time the headmaster of a school in Africa, recalls the day he went on a lion hunt.

We were just finishing school one day (school times were from eight till one) when someone came up asking for volunteers to go on a hunt. What had happened was that an African man and his wife, out searching for food (any of them were still to some extent hunter gatherers), saw a honey guide. This is a bird which is reputed to lead people to the hives of wild bees in the hope of gathering the scrap left behind after the hive is raided.

They followed the bird which led them to a tall tree. They could see the bees flying in and out of a hole high up in the trunk. The man had decided to climb up and get the honey while his wife wove a basket in which to carry it away.

After making the bees dozy with smoke the man climbed the tree and started to cut a hole through which to extract the honey combs. While he was working he heard a noise from below. Looking down he saw his wife being carried away in the mouth of a lion. He jumped down from the tree, grabbed his muzzle-loader musket and fired at the lion which dropped the woman and ran off into the bush. Unfortunately the woman was dead.

As a rule lions do not attack people. The man-eaters of Tsavo were very unusual. The trouble is that once a lion gets a taste for human flesh and finds out how easy it is to kill people they tend to carry on doing this. Often the man-eater is old or lame and unable to catch harder prey. It is necessary to hunt down all man-eaters. If this is not done several generations of lions kill people.

A group of about twenty volunteered to hunt down this lion. I I was one of them. I went back to my house and collected my hunting rifle and joined the rest of the group in three Land Rovers. We drove to the place where the woman had been killed and were organised into a long line across the veldt.

Steve Jansen who was an experienced hunter and an excellent shot was at one end of the line and I was next to him with about five- yard intervals between us. We were told to keep the distances, stay in a straight line and watch ahead and to the left and right. So we started to go slowly forward with our guns at the ready. The ground was fairly flat and open with occasional trees, clumps of bushes and dry grass. Clear visibility was only five yards.

We had gone a few yards when I suddenly thought “What the hell am I doing? A bullet from my rifle would be like a flea bite to a lion. Why didn’t I bring my shot gun? Loaded with buckshot it might have at least deterred the lion.”

Of course it was impossible to back out now so very, very nervously I marched forward, praying that if any lion appeared it would be at the other end of the line. After about half an hour of this agony there were suddenly three shots from down the line and I heard shouts of “We’ve got him !” Running to where the shouts had come from we found all the men gathered round a mangy old lion which had obviously been on its last legs. It was loaded into one of the Land Rovers to be taken back and skinned as a trophy.

I was glad to see that I was not the only one who made for the bushes to relieve myself. I made a promise to myself that before I volunteered in future I would sit and think of all the pros and cons.

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