“Stay alert, men,” I say, “Watch the grass!”

One minute, three minutes, five minutes. My “rhino” knee is aching, I have to adjust my position. I look at my watch. It has now been seven minutes. Seven anxious minutes, listening for sounds, watching for movements up ahead, and hoping for Makali’s whistle that all is safe. Nothing so far. In the distance I hear the song of robins and warblers. The wind seems to be swirling now. This could be very bad! Ten minutes. Nothing. Suddenly a sound of swift movement in the grass behind us. I turn, raising my rifle.

“Easy Cowboy. Careful with that thing. It could go off and hurt someone, Mate.”

“Damn, Myles.” I’ve never been so happy to see anyone before. “You made good time.”

“Felt the need to hurry, Mate.”

“Glad you two are here. Lock and load.”

Myles and Benga fall-in besides us, loaded and ready. In a low whisper I quickly update both as to the situation. The four of us re-assume our kneeled positions. Twelve minutes!

A whistle. Finally. I painfully stand and see Makali walking towards us at about 20 yards.

“Bwana! Bwana!” almost in a scream. “You no believe. No simba now. Yes, they here. Bwana you no believe!”

The four of us start walking swiftly toward Makali. “Stay alert, men,” I say, “Watch the grass!”

Makali continues to walk toward us. He is covered in mud from the crawling and I see blood dripping from a long scratch on his right arm.

“You ok?” asked Myles, reaching for his arm.

” Jambo Bwana Myles. Yes, many thorns.” His face turned cold again. “Bwana, no believe! Come see!”

Makali turns and leads the four of us toward the shadows under the trees. As we approach, from about 10 yards I see what looks like white branches or sticks laying all around the largest of the trees. At five yards I become aware of scattered pieces of clothing, a lone sandal, a badly ripped cap, and a human skull.

“Bones, Bwana. Man bones, Bwana!”

“Oh my God,” I exclaim.

“Holy shit,” utters Myles.

“Man-eaters,” says Benjamin.

Benga says nothing. He falls to his knees and begins praying.

“I’ve never seen, I’ve never even heard of anything like this,” Benjamin says.

“I count 3 skulls, so I guess were looking at the remains of as many victims,” Myles responds.

“This is their liar, their ‘trophy’ room,” I added. “I’ll use the camera in my phone, we must make a record this.” taking it out of my pocket. “Makali, what can you tell us from the tracks?”

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“I am hoping you will help us employ the aid of your ex-husband, Charles,….”

“Well, what can I do to help, Noah?” Meredith asked.

“Dr. Henley, your expertise in predator behavior and genetics disorder is well documented and highly respected. Quite honestly, you are regarded as the expert in the studies of lion and leopard and what turns them into a man-eater. We have consulted with you in the past. This time we’d like to ask you to be even more involved,” he said.

“How do you mean, Noah?” she asked

“Well, not only do we need to end the terror these man-eaters have started, but would like to learn more about what causes this behavior, so we can do our best to stop this from happening again. Meredith, you are the Chief Veterinarian and Director of one of the greatest zoos in the world. We’d like to capture these three lions, have them transported to California, and have you lead a study to understand the man-eaters behavior patterns,” Noah replied.

“Minister, I’m flattered, but I don’t have any experience in game capture.” Meredith answered.

“Oh yes, I know. This brings me to the second part of this phone call. I am hoping you will help us employ the aid of your ex-husband, Charles, to be in charge of the tracking and capture. He certainly has the expertise we need to make this happen. He and his staff are respected as the best in game capture. It is my understanding that he has more ‘big cat’ capture experience than anyone in East Africa,” Noah said.

“Oh my, Noah, I know you are aware that he and I don’t see each other too often. We have two children, and Charlie comes to see them usually twice a year. We talk by phone and email about once a month,” she answered.

“Well, Meredith, I’m sure you remember that Charles and I had some angry words with each other last time we saw each other. The three of us were at your fund-raiser at the San Diego Zoo three years ago,” Noah said.

“Yes, as I remember, you accused him of flirting with your date,” she said. “Same old Charlie,” she added.

“Well, I still say he was, even though he denied it. Well, anyway, I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t welcome a call from me,” Noah replied.

“You’re probably right, Noah, but you know Charlie, he can always be tempted by adventure. Adventure and pretty women have always been his weakness,” she said.

“You are certainly right on that point. What do you think, Meredith? Will you help us with this?” the Minister asked.

“Oh, Noah. You know I have a weakness for adventure too. It could be a fascinating study,” Meredith replied.

“It would be good press for your zoo, and Charlie could become even more of a ‘folk hero’ in East Africa. The Kenyan government will fund of the project,” Noah added.

“Yes, it would be good for my zoo, but I agree the study could be of great benefit to many,” she answered.

“Is that a yes?” he asked.

“Yes, I will contact Charlie and see if I can intrigue him with the promise of adventure and fame. Noah, you know he is a business man, and will ask about fees and expenses. How do you recommend I handle that?” she asked.

“I guess, just let him tell us what his offer is, and call me with that information. I’m just so pleased you will help,” Noah said.

“Well, I’ll call him. I can’t promise how he’ll react. I would like to help you and the country of Kenya. It would be an honor,” Meredith said.

“The honor will be ours, Dr. Henley. Can you call me back in a day or two?” Noah asked.

“Yes,” Meredith answered. “I need to call him anyway about our daughter Claire. She is finishing her masters in zoology and wants to work with me here at the San Diego Zoo. Charlie may not be very supportive of this, he wants her to teach. I was planning to call him today or tomorrow anyway to discuss it with him,” she added.

“That’s exciting news. I know you and Charles are very proud of her. Call me in a few days, please,” Noah said.

“Yes, I will Noah. Thanks for calling. It is a pleasure hearing from you,” Meredith answered.

“Asante sana. Kwa heri, Dr. Henley,” Noah said.

“Kirabu (Your welcome), Minister Mwangi, Kwa heri,” Meredith answered.

“Oh, what did I just get myself into?” she said to herself, hanging up the phone.

The call for help ..

It’s 7:30 Thursday morning. The phone is ringing as Dr. Meredith Henley walked into her office at the San Diego Zoo. It is the Minister of Forestry and Wildlife from Nairobi.

“Good morning. Meredith Henley, may I help you?” she said.

“Dr. Henley, good morning. Noah Mwangi, from Nairobi,” he answered. “How are you?” he asked.

“Oh, good morning, or I should say, good afternoon in Kenya. Good to hear from you, Minister. Hope you are well, and how can I help you?” Meredith answers.

“Meredith, you may have read that we have a bit of a lion problem in the southwest region. We have confirmed five deaths from lion attacks in the last three weeks. We believe it is the same pride of three lions that are responsible. The most recent mauling happened just two days ago. Two employees in my department who were doing some field work in the southwest sector were attacked and killed. One was a Field Veterinarian and friend of mine, Dr. William Apopo. He is survived by his wife and four children. What a horrible, horrible death. I can’t even imagine the horror. They are man-eaters,” he said.

“Oh my God, Noah. I know Bill Apopo. I’m stunned. I don’t know what to say. How horrible. I have heard only some general details about the attacks. Is it true they are all in the same area, just west of the Masai Mara Game Preserve?” she asked.

“That is true. We think the three lions have migrated over the border probably pushed north by poachers in northern Tanzania,” he answered.

“The story I read was not real clear. Is it reported to be two male and a female?” Meredith asked.

“No, eye witnesses have confirmed it to be one large male and two female. They are definitely hunting as a team and preying on humans,” he replied. The last attack has made this personal, Meredith. They must be stopped,” he added.

“Well, what can I do to help, Noah?” Meredith asked.

 

Big News…

The Chief and Makali squatted on the ground and began a very colorful discussion. At best, I was understanding about every third word. I did hear the word simba, or lion, about four times. The Chief was also pointing toward the cattle enclosure and toward one of his morans, or warriors. I could tell Makali was getting directions and also asking about tembo, or elephant. I also saw him smile as something was mentioned about the grevy’s zebra. After about 5 minutes, they stood and shook hands. Makali gave a bow to the Chief, and came over to explain the news to us.

I gave a nod to the Chief and offered, “Asante, Hakimu”.

“Big news, Bwana Charles”, Makali said to me and Bryce, who was next to me. “Ele were spotted this morning not far from here in dry river bed. Just like you thought Bwana.”

“Well, just like last hunt, Makali,” I answered.

“Oh, but more big news, Bwana. Last night, two simba jump fence and kill 2 cattle. Chief asked if we could follow tracks and save village. We would be shujaa (heroes). One of his sons chase simba away and saw which way they run. Chief is afraid simba come back. Son can go with us to show trail,” Makali said.

“Oh man, Bryce. What do you think?” I asked.

“We should probably ask our guests, but I’m feeling that we need to protect the village if we can,” Bryce said.

“I agree,” I said.

 

At first it seems like I am surrounded by nothing but silence …

It’s about 7:20 am and the balcony is still damp from the rain last night. The clear sky is providing the backdrop for a magnificent sunrise. There is dampness in the air, but the smell of lavender seems unusually strong. At first it seems like I am surrounded by nothing but silence, but then as my senses awaken, I become more and more aware of the “morning” sounds. I can hear warblers and canaries as they great the sunrise. From my left, in the distance, I hear the distinct cry of a forest hornbill. In the large tree just on the left of the balcony, several colobus monkeys were noisily chasing each other. There is a series of splashes and “grunting” noises from the area below. I now get to do one of my most favorite things in the world. Smiling, I walk over to the balcony edge and look down on my waterhole. My family of hippos are enjoying themselves in the morning sunshine. They are probably extra joyful this morning because the edges of the waterhole are muddy from the rains. They like to roll in the mud. As I look down, a “sounder” of warthogs snort and head into the bush. Later, after the mud has dried, I will go down there and check for tracks. I think I’ve got a leopard visiting my waterhole. After about 5 minutes of staring, I finish my coffee and head inside. I’ve got to get busy. The boys will be here.

“Six eyes watching from the darkness.”

After dinner, Dr. Apopo tries to use his satellite connect with his laptop, but can’t get a strong enough signal. His report will have to wait until tomorrow. For safety, the decision is made to build the fire much larger before they retire to the truck. In the darkness, without a flashlight, they walk together toward the acacia tree. There is no moon tonight, but the light from the fire provides enough light to see their way through the grass.

Six eyes watching from the darkness. Lured by the odor of cooking meat, waiting in the tall grass. Six hungry eyes, hunting as a team. One massive, full maned, male, and two female. Driven north out of Tanzania by poachers and civilization, they have learned that man is an easy meal. This will be their fourth ‘man kill’.

The pride silently moves through the grass. Stalking Dr. Apopo, the male and one female move slowly toward the fallen acacia tree. The male simba crawls about 5 yards past the tree to have a side angle at its’ prey. The third lion has moved around behind Ogwambi. The men approach the tree. Dr Apopo is three steps ahead and the first to reach for some firewood.

It is said, that a lion can move in total silence, but as it makes a close range charge, you can hear the chilling grunting sound as it leaps for its victim. Dr. Apopo had this 2 second warning as the female came from his front leaping toward his chest, knocking him down, locking her jaws on this midsection and thrusting downward with her hind claws. The male immediately was on him from his right grabbing him by the throat and breaking his neck.

Knocking him down, she threw him to one side by his shoulder. Trying to get up, the female was on his back. Ogwambi’s last vision was the massive male coming for his face. The huge simba tossed Ogwambi’s detached head into the bushes. It was quick. It was easy.

“I gave a frantic halt and backup signal. It was too late!”

We slowly walked our horses about 15 yards behind our trackers. Bryce and I had our open sight 375’s loaded and resting in our laps. A sudden gust of wind surprised us all and Makali suddenly dropped to his knees and gave a halt signal. I had everyone dismount and get behind Bryce and me. Makali was touching his nose to signal a smell. As I crouched next to Makali, I could smell it too. It appeared to be the strong musky smell of cat urine. It almost smells like a used litter box. Taking a few steps forward, we spotted the culprit. We were smelling the odor of a “cat-pee” bush. Good name, right? It smells just like it’s name, and due to the dampness from last night’s rain, the odor was even stronger. So, I gave the “all clear”, and we remounted and fell back into the same formation with Bryce and myself in front, following Makali. I lit another cigarette and felt a little less tense. The wind now seems to be swirling from several directions. This is even more dangerous. We can’t count on the possibility of us smelling them, and we can’t limit the chance of them smelling us. Bryce, still to my left, sighed and smiled. He understood our situation. Makali led us forward slowly. I looked over to Bryce to make some funny comment, when suddenly Makali fell to his knees and made a frantic signal.

I saw it at the same moment he signaled. About 15 yards to my right, four massive legs were showing under a thorn bush. We were too close and the wind was blowing in that direction. I gave a frantic halt and backup signal. It was too late!