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The call for help ..

February 22, 2015

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…

February 21, 2015

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 …

February 21, 2015

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.”

December 10, 2014

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!”

November 11, 2014

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!

 

“Man, I wonder how many she has killed?”

October 11, 2014

Benjamin is the first to reach the base camp, and parks the simba loaded pickup just behind the back of the camper. It is now about 7:00 and dark. What appears to be an almost full moon is rising behind the trees. I pull in and park to his right, Myles parks to his left. Getting out of my Rover, and using my flashlight, I join the others looking down at our captive lion secured in the back of the pickup. She is still out cold. I shine the light on its face.

“Man, I wonder how many she has killed? Look at those teeth. There is dried blood still around its mouth. Guys, let’s set up the holding cage, maybe off to this side,” pointing to the right side of the camp site. “It will be closer to the road, which will make it easier to load into Dr. Longo’s truck. We left it folded up and leaning next to the camper.”

“Copy that, Bwana. Benga, Makali, help me grab that cage,” Miles says as he turns to walk toward the motor home.

“Charles, Robert Thomas told me that there is an electricity connection in our campsite. It may be on that pole over there,” Benjamin says, pointing toward the other side of the camper. “He said we’d have outside lighting, and you can hook up your generator. I’ll go check it out.”

“That would be excellent,” I answer. “Here take my flashlight.”

From five yards away, Benga screams, “SIMBA! SIMBA!”

August 9, 2014

We are startled by a brilliant flash of lightning. A rumble of thunder rolls around us, as the wind begins to whip and swirl through the trees. Big cold raindrops, begin to fall. The lioness lets out another deafening roar, as the sprinkle instantly turns to a downpour. A clap of thunder booms from almost overhead. We turn to run for the camper. The light on the pole above us explodes from a lightning strike, momentarily blinding us and showering us with bits of glass and splintered wood. Now no light, total darkness. Makali trips and falls over someone. Another clap of thunder, followed by an instant flash of light. Jacob grabs Makali with one hand and carries him toward the motor home. Marble size hail stones are pelting us and sound like rocks slamming the camper. All but one of us reach the motor home.

From five yards away, Benga screams, “SIMBA! SIMBA!”

“Kukimbia (run), Benga!” Makali yells, turning to run back.

We all freeze in our tracks and look in the direction Benga is pointing.

“In the light flash, me see simba. Big male, Bwana!”

As Makali reaches Benga, I find that I have instinctively run back to help. His face is bleeding from several cuts and a large piece of glass is lodged in his left shoulder. The front of his shirt is turning red from the blood and spreading due to the drenching rain. As we both grab an arm and pull him toward safety, there is another lightning flash.

 

“There Bwana!” pointing toward the cage.

 

In the flash we catch a quick glimpse of the male man-eater about 30 yards away. Thunder… ¬†then darkness.

 

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