Surrounded (trapped in camper)

The lightning has knocked out our electricity, there is no light. Myles uses his flashlight and finds the switch to turn on the interior lights. We have light. Using battery power we probably have 3 – 4 hours before it is dead. To switch to generator power, I’d have to go outside and remove it from the storage hatch and fire it up. Not a very safe idea right now. Jacob helps Benga to a seat at the dining table. He is shivering and visibly shaken-up. The sound of hail hammering the camper is deafening.
“Watch your head, Jacob. This thing only has a 6 1/2 foot ceiling. It is too small for five people.”
“Well, thank goodness we could get inside as quickly as we did. Crowded or not, it’s all we have to protect us,” Jacob answers. He starts helping Benga.
In a whisper, “Awabariki, Makali (bless you). Shukrani, (thank you) Bwana Kifaru.”
I reach out and touch his hand, “Wewe ni kuwakaribisha rafiki yangu (you are welcome, my friend).”
Makali simply lays his hand on Bengas’ face and smiles into his eyes.
“Hold still, Benga. I’m afraid this is going to hurt.” Jacob, wrapping his hand in a towel, pulls the glass from his shoulder. It is deeper than it first appeared and is bleeding badly.
“Chuck, where is your first aid kit?”
“In my black duffel bag in the front seat. I’ll get it.” I glance out the side window and don’t see the simba. I hand the bag to Jacob.
“Miles, put pressure on this while I get some bandages ready.”
Jacob rips open a package of gauze and finds the surgical tape. A mighty thunder blast rattles the camper. The cabinet over the refrigerator opens from the shaking and a cup shatters on the floor. We all jump from the noise.
“Sorry, I need to tear your shirt.”
“Ok, Bwana. Asante.”
“You’re welcome. Looks like the bleeding is stopping. Let me clean it first with this antiseptic. You may need some stitches, it’s pretty deep. Benga, I’m making a large gauze patch – now taping it down. Here, use this towel to clean your face. There ya’ go. Good job being prepared Chuck.”
“We always carry a first aid kit. It’s come in handy more than once.”
The continuous illuminating by lightning strikes is like constant flashbulbs going off all around us. This 25′ Iveco Discoverer 4 camper is only 7 ft wide and has windows on all four sides. The windows are 5 feet off the ground. The largest is a double window over the table and chairs where Jacob is tending to Benga. It is facing the wind and is taking some direct hits from the hail stones that are now noticeably larger. The light flashes are almost blinding and the power of the wind is rocking the camper.
“Watch out for the big window, it may explode! Myles and Makali, pick a smaller window and look for the killers.”
“I’ve got this back window, Makali.”
“Me take this one.”
“I’ll take the front windshield,” as I slide into the passenger seat in the cab.
The lightning flashes have slowed to one about every 6 seconds. The rain continues to fall in sheets. Between the flashes, I see nothing from my vantage point but the flooding ground in front of the camper.

“Bwana, big male simba near cage! Cage have much water around, but she simba ok. Now he gone Bwana.”
“Miles, watch for that big male. Do you see “one-eyed” female?”
“No, Chuck. I’ve got nothing.”
“There he is! He’s coming around camper toward you, Miles!”
“Ok. I’m watching. Nothing yet!”
“Bwana, one eye simba! There is one eye simba! She run toward you, Bwana Miles.”
“Yeah, see ’em both. They both just ran by my back window.”
“Got them up here! Now they’re heading back toward you Miles. What are they doing?”
Makali stands and steps away from his side window vantage point. He looks directly at me. (This is only the second time that I have witnessed fear in his eyes.) In a soft but firm voice, “Bwana, simba are circling us. They surround us, Bwana.”
Benga jumps to his feet and yells, “They attack us, Bwana! They prepare attack, Bwana.”
“Oh my God, Chuck. They are searching for a way to get to us!”
“Jacob, my friend, did you bring a weapon?”
“It’s in my truck. I’m sorry!”
“Here, Mate. Take my .375. I’ve got my 12 gauge. If anything happens, it will be at close range.”
“Thanks, Myles,” taking the rifle and facing the other side window.
“Good idea for all of us to lock and load! Benjamin, do you have your rifle?”
“Yes Charles, right here – and it’s loaded.”
“Tranquilizer gun?”
“It’s leaning against the wall, right here.”
“Loaded?”
“Yes, Charles.”
“Benga – do you feel well enough to hold your rifle?”
“Yes, Bwana K. Me stay near this window.”
“Everyone, we are in tight quarters. Stay alert and watch all sides. Point those guns always toward the windows – away from each other,” screaming to be heard over the sound of the hail hammering the camper.

Turning to return to my post at the front window, there is another booming thunder clap, and the camper seems to almost elevate from a powerful wind gust. There is a deafening explosion from near overhead. I am knocked off my feet and thrown against the wall close to the driver compartment. Benga falls out of his seat and yells in pain. I see Jacob slam into the refrigerator. His impact shakes open the cabinet and a whole stack of plates hit the floor. The interior lights flash off momentarily, then back on. The explosion is followed by a blinding flash of light. The air is filled with sparks and flying debris. Through the front window, I see a large acacia tree engulfed in flames and falling toward the camper.

“Watch out!” is all I have time to scream.

There is a violent crash and a sound similar to a bomb detonating over our heads. The flaming tree slams into the roof of the camper throwing us all to the floor. The three ceiling lights in the front and mid section of camper flash and short-out. A giant limb extending from the tree trunk like a sword, stabs through the ceiling as if it were made of paper, barely missing Benga, breaking the table in half, and planting its jagged point 6 inches into the floor. The large limb must be a foot around and is blocking a clear path to the door. The ceiling has been ripped open and the large acacia limb, still smoldering, is steaming and filling the camper with musty smelling smoke. Rain water is pouring in. The gash is about five feet long and at least a foot wide. I jump to my feet. There are two small lights still providing a small amount of light in the back window area. Remarkably, no one seems to be hurt. Benjamin is standing and helping Makali to his feet. There are several other gashes in the ceiling from the impact, and large amounts of rain are beginning to flow into the camper from these holes. The roof has been crushed down about a foot from the trees’ weight, and the floor is covered with pieces of shattered branches, wet leaves, and chips of still sizzling tree bark. The continuous flood of rain instantly extinguished the flame engulfed tree. I take a step forward and offer my hand to help Myles stand. Before I can reach him, there is a violent collision against the right side of the camper near the door. Myles jumps to his feet and moves toward the side window. “I can’t see! I can’t see! Throw me that flashlight..” – another booming impact to the side of the camper.
“Chuck, Chuck, it’s the big male! He’s trying to get in!” he yells.
“Myles, make sure that door is secure! Jacob, you ok?” I asked.
“Yeah. One of those limbs gave my arm a pretty good cut, but we’re ok.”
“Where’s the female, Myles?” Benjamin screams, pointing his flashlight out the side window.
“Don’t see it – here comes the male again. Oh shit – he just spotted me! Oh my God! Oh my God! Look out!”

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Help Benga

With all the insanity that has occurred in the last 25 minutes, none of us has noticed that the rain has stopped and now a full moon illuminates the entire camp. From my vantage point, standing in the open side door, I can clearly see our fallen and unconscious adversary only yards away from our RV. I step out of the camper and into at least an inch of standing rain water. Benjamin is next. Then Jacob. I reach up and help Makali as he steps down the ladder into a bloody puddle next to the giant fallen simba. He moves next to Jacob and we all look up at Myles. (lion roar..)

“I’ll help Benga get to the door. You Mates help him out of here.”

“You got it,” Benjamin answers. “Gently.”

Myles turns and walks back to Benga. “Kuweka mikono yako karibu na shingo yangu. (put your hands around my neck). Mimi nimepata wewe. (I’ve got you).”

With a grimace and a soft moan Benga reaches up and folds his hands around Myles’ neck. Being extremely careful with his injured leg, Myles lifts him carefully and carries him “craddle-style” to the door, being extra cautious around the uninvited intrusive acacia limb. As he approaches the door, Makali makes a move to reach up for his friend. I gently hold him back. Placing my hand on his shoulder,

“I’ve got him, Amigo. You sit this one out.” I take two steps up the camper steps and take Benga in my arms. “Benga, you are going to be alright. I’ve got you.” Benjamin helps me carry him to Myles’ Land Cruiser. Makali is supporting Bengas’ leg as we carefully walk in the golden-yellow moonlight.

“Benjamin, let’s put him in the back area of the Cruiser until we make a bed for him in the back seat. He has to be able to extend and elevate his leg. It’s going to be a long and uncomfortable ride to town. I’ll go grab some blankets and pillows. You can help by supporting his head and helping him keep his leg still, I’ll be right back.” I squeeze Bengas’ right hand. “Stay brave, soldier.” Benga squeezes my hand in return and smiles up at me.

“I’ve got him Charles,” Benjamin replies.

“Me stay, Bwana”, Makali adds.

“Yes, thought you would.”

Turning to walk back to the camper, I become aware of our now visible surroundings. In the welcomed bright moonlight  I can see the exploded and charred light pole, the devastation to the camper from the fallen acacia tree, and the damage to the door and side from the maddened male lion. I turn and look back at Benjamin.

“Oh man! Benjamin, have you ever seen anything like this?”

“No, Charles. In the daylight I’ll take some photos. No one will ever believe this.” (lioness roar)

To my left, I see that Myles and Jacob have sloshed their way over to the one-eyed female and are admiring the 2nd darted trophy.

“Chuck, ok if we drag Ms. Pop-eye over to the cage?” Jacob yells.

“Yeah, just a second. I’ll be right there. I can help.”

As I walk toward the camper, I make a quick detour and walk over to check on our caged captive. As I approach, the rain-soaked lioness crouches, growls, and leaps at me slamming into the side of the cage. She rebounds off the cage and splashes muddy water toward me as she falls backwards. I step back. The lioness stands and doesn’t retreat. I take a step closer. In a low voice, “Well, it’s almost over, Missy. Oh and, by the way, your boyfriend didn’t make it!” As I turn to walk back toward the camper, the lioness rumbles a low refrain. I’m pretty sure I just got cussed-out by a homicidal, mud caked carnivore. I mumble back, “Yeah, well up yours too!”

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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

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!”

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.