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!”

 

 

 

 

 

 

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“Man-eaters of Masai Mara”

Walking back over to his table near the window, he opens his laptop and lets it “awaken” itself. While all of his thoughts are still fresh on his mind, he wants to outline a few details and ideas.

“Think I’ll set-up a new folder in my documents named ‘ Man-eaters’,” to himself, as he types. “Just some notes, so I don’t forget.”

Man-eaters of Masai Mara

*Dr. William Opopo.. visit location .. find a track for comparing

*Location of most recent kill .. find track

*Visit village of 1st reported attack. Ask if anyone remembers any distinguishing features or appearance of simba

*Need: Myles, Makali, Benga.. think no Modjaji. Do own cooking. Benga is a decent cook.

*2 vehicles. My Land Rover, Myles..Land Cruiser. No big truck… be able to move quickly. If need a ‘capture’ cage, might be a problem

*Might consider 2 teams.. Myles & Benga, Me & Makali. Divide and cover more area.

*Ask Myles: capturing techniques

supplies needed:

*My ‘375 and Judge

*Research shipping and transport options and costs to San Diego

“Your coffee, Bwana K,” Mohammad said, placing the cup and saucer on the table. “I made a fresh pot.”

“Thank you. Don’t think I’ll be much longer.”

“No worries, Sir. We are here late,” Mohammad said.

“Oh, I know. I’ve got to drive to the city, and I need my beauty sleep ya’ know,” Charles said with a smile.

“Yes, Bwana. I’ll check on you in a few minutes,” he replied, turning to walk back to the bar.

“Thanks again, Mohammad.”

Taking a sip, he stirs in some extra cream. To himself, “close Mohammad, close to perfect.”

Setting down the cup, he types again:

*Coffee and tea bags

*No alcohol. Not this trip.

*Video equipment

*USE MINISTER NOAH MWANGI FOR BAIT!! no, guess can’t do that..

“That’s a good start,” he says to himself.

He hits ‘save document’, finishes his last sip of coffee, and closes his laptop. He reaches for his cell phone and takes it from his belt holster. He starts dialing Miles’ number as he walks again through the doorway to the outside balcony.

“Good, a strong signal,” to himself.

“Jambo, B. K.” on the third ring.

“Wow, the magic of ‘caller ID’,” Charles replied. “Glad I caught you. You at home, or out on the town?”

“A little of both, Mate. At home now, but just leaving to meet Sheila at the Hilton,” Miles answered.

“Sheila? Do I know Sheila?” Charles asked.

“Well, you’ve met. She’s the feisty red-head I took to that banquet you talked me into last month here in Nairobi. Remember?” he asked.

“Oh, yeah. The one with the so-called gorgeous sister that never seemed to make an appearance that night, or any other night, I might add,” Charles said.

“Bwana K, always with that attention to detail, and the memory of an elephant,” Myles responded with a chuckle.

“Yeah, I guess a memory for the important details. Anyway, I know you’ve got to go, but got a quick one to run by ya’, Myles. I think it will ‘tickle your

fancy’,” Charles said.

“Well, tickle me,” he responded eagerly. “By the way, where are you?” he added.

“Mount Kenya Safari Club. I was meeting with a new client of ours,” Charles answered.

“Sweet, Chuck. It’s getting late. You staying the night?” he asked.

“Well, I actually just changed my plans. Was headin’ back to Nairobi, now I’m headed to the ‘Lodge’,” Charles said.

“Ok, I’ll bite. What’s up, Bwana?” Myles asked.

“During dinner, about 2 hours ago, Meredith called me from San Diego. I was just finishing my meeting, so I asked to call her back when I was through, about 30 minutes later. Anyway, she had a call today from a dear friend of ours, Noah Mwangi,” Charles said.

“The Minister of Wildlife?” Miles interrupted. “That son-of-a-bitch. Of course, I think I only dislike him because you do. What’s up, Mate?”

“He called her regarding the man-eaters we’ve been hearing about,” Charles answered.

“Why did he call her?” he asked.

“Kenya wants her and the San Diego Zoo to do a behavior study on the lion pride, and hopefully learn how to avoid future lion attacks,” Charles replied.

“Oh baby! I should have seen this one comin’ a mile away. I smell a lion capture. Am I right, Boss? And three? Three man-eaters? Damn, Chuck!”

Myles exclaimed.

“I know, Myles. I obligated myself. I couldn’t speak for you. It does have a hint of danger to it, doesn’t it?” Charles added.

“A hint, we’re talkin’ major ‘hatari’ (danger) here, Bwana. This is the pride that killed William Opopo. What, two male and one female?” he asked.

“The report now is one male and two lioness. There has been at least one more confirmed attack,” Charles answered. “I sure do need your expertise, Myles.”

“Oh, you bet. Put me in, Coach. It’s been at least a week since I’ve had some good danger, Bwana,” Myles answered.

“Kenya is footing the tab, and Noah wants me to put together an estimate of expenses and a basic game plan. I told Meredith I’d get it to her in a couple of days. Any chance you could meet me at the Lodge tomorrow? These lions may be killing daily,” Charles asked.

“We’ve got hunt scheduled for next week, don’t we? he asked.

“I’ve already canceled, and they are willing to let us reschedule the dates. What do ya’ think, can you come to the Lodge? I could use your help with the planning?”

“Yes. Alright, I’ll head your way in the morning. I should be there by noon,” Myles answered.

“Good. Great news. I will contact Makali. I want his input on some of this,” Charles added.

“Hey, why don’t I pick him up on the way tomorrow. I’ll go right by his village,” Myles asked.

“That will be great. Good thinking. I’ll ask him to be ready about 11:00,” he said.

“I think I’d also like Benga along, Charles,” Myles said,

“Yep. Planning on that,” he said.

“Help track and also carry some of the capture gear. He has been with me on two other ‘big cat’ captures,” Myles said.

“Again, planning on it, but I don’t think we need him in on the planning, do we?” Charles asked.

“No, I don’t think so. I tell ya’, he is fearless, and he follows directions,” Myles said.

“Yes, he sure does. You and I really need to protect him. He rarely carries a weapon.” Charles added.

“Yeah, I agree. With three lion, three killers, we’ll have to be on our game, Chuck,” Myles stated in a serious, quiet tone.

“Myles, am I crazy? Did I put us in over our heads? Can we find and capture three man-eaters?” Charles asked, solemnly.

“Bwana K, we got this! You drive safely tonight. I’ll see you by noon tomorrow,” Myles answered assuringly.

“Thanks. Ok, see ya’ tomorrow,” hanging up the phone.

Putting his phone back in his belt case, Charles takes a long final gaze at Mount Kenya bathed in moonlight, then turns to head back inside. Mohammad is clearing the empty glasses and the coffee cup from his table.

“Headed for the city, Bwana Charles?” Mohammad asks.

“No, Mohammad, there’s been a change in plans. Headin’ for my lodge north of Thomson’s Falls. Big cat problems near Masai Mara. Duty calls,” he answered.

“Oh, I heard some rumor of a lion problem,” Mohammad said.

“Well, ‘Mo’, the rumor just got personal. I’m about to put an end to it,” Bwana K answered. “Check, please!”

“Yes, Bwana. I’ll bring you a coffee to go for your drive,” he replied. “Be right back, Charles.”

“Thanks, Mo.”

“One more call,” to himself, still standing. “I’ll wait ’til I’m in the ‘Rover’.”

“Here you go Bwana Charles. The dinner is on that ticket, too,” Mohammad said.

“Fine, no worries,” handing him his credit card.

“Thank you. Be right back.”

I take a sip from the water glass still on his table, Mohammad returns.

“Your copy, Bwana K, and your coffee.”

“Thank you Mohammad. Thanks for the coffee, thanks for everything. All great as usual. Asante sana rafiki (thank you friend).”

“Karibu (you’re welcome), Bwana Kifaru. Salaam safari (safe hunt).”

“Thank you, friend,” zipping his computer bag. “See you soon,” turning and walking away.

Carrying my planner and computer bag, I leave the Tusk lounge, walk past ‘Duma’s Corner’, through the lobby and into the front parking area. I had not valet parked, this time. With firearms in the Rover, it is never a good idea to let someone unknown have access to the vehicle. Too dangerous and too valuable.

I walk to the far left side of the parking area. Today I am in my 2009 Land Rover Sport. It is gun barrel silver (how appropriate), and way too nice for where I’m about to go. I usually drive my older ‘Discovery’ into the bush, but it is parked at my office in Nairobi. Using the remote key, I unlock the doors, place my computer bag on the floor behind the driver seat, and close the door. Starting the car, the ‘Eagles’ cd I was playing when I shut off the engine almost three hours ago, starts again.

“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.

 

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!