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U3A Writing: Big Boy And Little Boy

John Ricketts, who was the headmaster of a school in Africa for a number of years, tells of lions in the classroom.

I heard a Land Rover pull up outside the school and I went out to see who my visitor was. It was a fellow I had met casually a couple of time before by the name of Norman Carr, who was the chief game warden of the Kafui National Park. I walked over to greet him and as we shook hands, he said “I’ve something in the back which I think the children would like to see. Come and see what you think.”

I peered into the shadow of the back and saw two bundles of fur curled up together in the shelter of a rug. He reached in and lifted out two lion cubs which could not be more than a couple of weeks old. As he lifted them they growled rumbling growls and tried to scratch and bite him.

I walked round into the first classroom where the younger children were and Norman put the lions on the floor in the front of the class. Though the children had lived in Africa all their lives none of them had ever seen a lion before, and certainly none as small and cuddly as these two. The children from the other class came in and they all had a chance to touch and stroke the cubs. I am sure that given the chance they would have taken them home.

Norman Carr told them that one of his rangers was out in the bush when he heard a queer noise coming from under the roots of a tree. He went to look and was shocked to see three very small lion cubs which had probably been born in the last twenty-four hours. He immediately realised the danger he was in and slipped a round up the breach of his rifle. As he turned round he saw the mother of the cubs charging to their defence. He fired and was lucky enough to stop the lioness in her tracks.

He picked up the cubs, carried them back to Ngoma camp where he gave them to his boss Norman Carr, who gave one of them to someone else to look after as he realised that they needed feeding every few hours. He told the children that he had bought them into Kalomo so that they could be examined to see if they were healthy and to get advice on how and what to feed them on. He had bought baby milk supplies from the chemist and had been told what other thing he needed to add. Some of the children were even lucky enough to bottle feed the cubs.

He left, promising to bring the cubs back so that the children could see their development. He came twice more but they were, by that time, too big for the Land Rover.

We used to spend a week or two every year in a game reserve, it was a cheap restful holiday. Often we went to Ngoma which was just down the road from Kalomo. It was a lonely road because it went through a tsetse fly belt which was deadly to humans and farm animals. Before we got to the tsetse area we passed through a horrible place of hot springs where the water came out of the ground boiling. The ground was yellow sulphur and there was stink of rotten eggs. It was like the mouth of hell.

At the entrance to the tsetse fly belt all vehicles had to drive into a shed where they were sprayed with DDT. We were told that we had to drive with all the windows shut and at a minimum of thirty miles an hour. This was so that we couldn’t pick up the tsetse which have top speeds of 25 mile per hour. At the other end the process was repeated.

On this occasion we arrived at Ngoma, booked in and were shown our rondaval, a round thatched hut. Inside were all that we needed beds, chairs and a cupboard. Outside was a table and some chairs with a kind of barbeque to cook on. The rondaval was lit by oil lamps though there was a generator for emergencies.

After we had settled in we went for a walk round the camp. There it was the humans who were caged in by a high strong fence while the animals roamed free outside. As we wandered we heard a Land Rover driving up to the camp. Suddenly two large lion cubs, about the size of Alsatians came dashing from among the huts. The Land Rover skidded to a halt and the driver jumped out and sat down on a tree stump.

Then the lions were on him, each fighting to sit on his lap, to lick his face or to rub against him. This was Johnny Uys who looked after the cubs most of the while. Norman Carr was a very busy man who had many calls on his time. The Kafui Game Reserve was three hundred mile long and much of his time was spent away from Ngoma. He was also a world expert in the running of Game reserves and was often called away for conferences. He could not look after the animals all the time and most of the care fell to Johnny Uis. ( You would not know this from Carr’s book as I cannot remember a single reference to Johnny in the whole book.)

The next morning we were preparing to set out for a day’s game watching. Elizabeth was getting Mark, our son, ready and I was filling the tank with petrol from a five gallon jerry can. I was bending over very carefully pouring in the petrol when I felt a sharp pinch on my bottom which made me jump and spill some petrol. I looked round and there, waiting to be chased was one of the lion cubs. It seems that this was one of his tricks to get attention and have a game. Elizabeth had seen the whole thing and was doubled up with laughter. She did not look where she was going and fell with Mark in her arms down a man hole whose cover was loose. Fortunately she was not badly hurt.

The next day as we prepared to go out Elizabeth was standing waiting for me to back the car out when one of the lions stalked her from behind, stood up and put his paws on her shoulders and forced her to the ground. Luckily it was only playing and the worst injury was caused by him licking her face all over.

That was the last we saw of Big Boy and Little Boy. Norman Carr kept them as pets until they were fully grown and then he released them into the wild in the Luanga valley, where I hope they lived long and happily.

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