Bush Encounters of a Close Kind
Bush Encounters of a Close Kind
by Kevin Thomas
Some years back we were sitting round a campfire after a hard day’s hunting. It was already quite late, the mopane embers covered in a dusting of grey ash. Our chairs had been pulled close to the dying fire – Zimbabwe’s Matetsi mid-winter nights can be cold – a few wine glasses stood empty, testimony to good post dinner Pinotage, although prior to heading for bed we had our hands cupped around a warming mug of tea. The clients were already in bed. Every now and then one of us would kick a bit of life into the remaining log, using a veldskoen clad foot. Its pointless replenishing the logs on a fire when you’re about to go to bed.
High above us the inky black sky was studded with stars shimmering like diamonds; African skies at night are so much part of the safari experience. Off to our south the Southern Cross hung suspended, the two pointers brightly indicating the kite shaped frame above them. Out in the dark near the skinning shed a hyena mournfully lamented his hunger filled woes to the night. Closer to our fire but unseen in a high tree, an African Scops Owl gave his repetitive call, the soft ‘prrrup’ ‘prrrup’. The night was pure Africa, my Africa.
Listening to my colleague chatting I gave an involuntary shudder and felt the hair on my forearms prickle. He was talking about being underneath an enraged and wounded buffalo some months before. Being that close to 600kg (1400lbs) of a wild bovine gone mad is not a pleasant thought, and for those who’ve unwittingly been there, it can’t be a very nice experience. Over the years, I’ve been close to being there on one or two occasions – but touch wood – it hasn’t yet happened and I sincerely hope never happens, because the older you get the less pounding your body can take, and particularly so if the one dishing out the pounding weighs a ton, and likes to chop you with his soup-plate sized hooves, followed up by some serious hooking with horns that have stiletto sharp tips, or rolling you along the ground beneath gnarled ironwood hard 16” horn bosses.
My colleague John was lucky – he’s a good PH – but like they say, ‘Sh*t happens’. He’d run into a clump of elephant grass after a wounded buffalo, grass that grows so high you have to stand on a vehicle cab to look over it. The buffalo was waiting for him and charged from close quarters, despite putting his .505 Gibbs to good use, John got hit by a bellowing, growling, black mass of seething anger, not helped any by the pain it was suffering from its wounds – inflicted earlier by the client.
John’s later recall of the event was that once he was underneath the buffalo it chopped at him with its front hooves, bellowing all the while. He said the pain caused by this form of punishment was a dull sort of pain, but he could live with it whilst he mentally tried to make a plan. His trying to make a plan didn’t happen because after tiring of front hoof action, the buffalo decided to stick a horn into John’s groin. When that happened, followed by the excruciating pain that went with it, John realised he was in serious trouble.
There is little doubt that John would’ve been killed were it not for the sheer bravery of Kontela Banda, an experienced black Zimbabwean PH who was there when the mishap occurred. Until he was licensed and had turned professional, Kontela spent 18 years tracking for Piers Taylor another veteran Zimbabwean PH and safari operator. Over the years I shared a lot of campfire time with Kontela, doing a number of 2:2 (two clients & two PHs) safaris with him.
Not big on campfire and dining table conversation – purely because his command of the English language was limited – Kontela had vast experience and an uncanny knowledge of wildlife, and more particularly dangerous game habits. He only ever owned one rifle – a .458 Winchester and swore by it, his ammunition invariably a collected medley of different brands left him by departing clients.
Seeing John pinned beneath the buffalo, Kontela didn’t hesitate – he ran straight in and kneeling down placed his .458 muzzle near the base of the buffalo’s ear and fed its brain 500gns of solid. As the buffalo collapsed Banda threw his weight against the animal’s neck and shoulders, pushing it off John so that he wouldn’t be crushed beneath the buffalo’s dead weight. His act was a brave one, yet it is only one of many that play themselves out annually across Africa’s remote areas when black hunting staff or game department game scouts carry out courageous acts in order to save the lives of their colleagues.
When I was a young 17-year old cadet game ranger in the then Rhodesia back in 1968, we tried to re-arrest a notorious Shangaan poacher in the Gonarezhou National Parks far south eastern corner. My game scouts – all two of them – decided to try and affect the arrest under cover of darkness. They crossed the Sabi River and ambushed the poacher’s kraal but when Game Scout Tivani tried to grab the poacher, both the poacher and his wife severely assaulted Tivani using a burning log and a traditional axe. Sgt Hlupo was forced to flee the scene by an angry mob of Shangaans and their dogs; he had no option but to leave his severely injured colleague at their mercy.
During that era the Gonarezhou National Park elephants had a well-deserved reputation for being extremely aggressive, yet in the pitch dark on that moonless night, the unarmed Sgt Hlupo chose to brave the elephant herds, grazing hippo, and herds of buffalo not to mention lion and hyena that inhabited the area. After crossing the Sabi River back into the Gonarezhou he worked his way through the Tomboharta Pan area and by shouting and beating stones against dead tree trunks to warn off elephant eventually attracted our attention and found his way to our position. Without doubt his brave actions saved Game Scout Tivani’s life although he had to be medically boarded out of National Parks due to his injuries.
Game Scout Sgt Hlupo was a plucky if not lucky individual, on another occasion I had some family friends stay with me in the Gonarezhou and one afternoon we were driving round in the Benji Springs area looking for elephant to photograph. As I drove down into a steeply sided heavily vegetated, narrow but dry riverbed, an elephant cow with a very young calf charged the Land Rover from extremely close quarters. She had been standing in the riverbed.
Despite being in low gear, I immediately accelerated up the steep track leading out of the riverbed. In the cab with me were the mother and daughter, whilst the father and son were standing on the back of the pick-up leaning against the cab and looking over the top. Sgt Hlupo and one other game scout were sat right at the back of the vehicle, facing forward, with their butts on top of the tailgate – not a good place to be sitting.
Unbeknown to me and as we reached level ground at the top of the riverbank, Sgt Hlupo lost his balance and toppled backwards out of the vehicle. The elephant cow was still chasing us and screaming blue murder. Either side of the road was scrub mopane about eight feet in height and still in leaf. As I attempted to accelerate away, I heard my friend John and his father pummelling the roof and shouting that Hlupo had fallen out of the vehicle.
Going cold at the thought of the game scout sergeant being killed, I hit the brakes, killed the engine, and grabbing the .425 Westley Richards that I was carrying, ducked into the scrub mopane and ran back to the point where the bush track exited the riverbed. It was there that a strange sight met my eyes – on the ground was Sgt Hlupo, kneeling on all fours and looking up over his shoulder at a rather befuddled elephant cow who loomed over him with ears outspread. Off to one side lay Hlupo’s issue kepi. Due to the proximity of the elephant to Hlupo, there was little that I could do but in those few seconds, that seemed like ages, Hlupo suddenly scrambled forward, grabbed his kepi and took off like a greyhound through the scrub. No sooner was he lost to view than the elephant cow spun round and went back down into the riverbed.
He was lucky although he blamed me for his mishap, and in the true African way sulked for about a week, despite his colleagues teasing him unmercifully. I did notice though, he never again, sat with his butt hanging over the tailgate.
Another one of the game scout characters who served with me was a Malawian (as was PH Kontela Banda, who sadly died some years ago) called Damson Ngumbalo who started working for us as a casual labourer on a road gang in the Zambezi Valley. When he graduated to game scout status he worked as my personal scout and went everywhere with me. Damson was given to getting quite excited but he didn’t lack ‘bottle’ when it was needed. On one occasion in thick jesse bush below the Marongora HQ near Chimutsi Dam, a cadet ranger and I were following a buffalo bull that earlier on I’d rather stupidly wounded with a gut shot. It was part of a herd of about 60 buffalo and with it being the rainy season, the noise of the shot had hardly drifted off than the dense green jesse bush completely swallowed the fleeing herd.
I don’t come from that school of hunters who run after wounded dangerous game – over many decades the statistics alone tell of what has happened to a number of hunters who prescribe to running after wounded dangerous game, they invariably end up in a body bag or Intensive Care.
After waiting for 30 minutes we proceeded to quietly follow the watery blood and gut fluid trail into the gloom under the jesse canopy. We didn’t get very far because the buffalo had been waiting for us within hearing distance. He took some stopping – combined .375 H&H and .458 Winchester stopping – during the charge my buddy Ian suffered a slight glitch with a jammed round in his .375 H&H so had no option but to get out of Dodge, which he did with alacrity. I eventually anchored the buffalo with my last round, but what impressed was Game Scout Damson Ngumbalo standing alongside of me with his upraised demo (traditional axe), he wasn’t going anywhere so long as I was standing my ground - bravery, loyalty or stupidity? I don’t know but he earned my respect, if it’d been me standing there with a puny axe, watching my ‘boss’ failing to stop the inbound juggernaut I would have exited the scene.
On another occasion also in the Valley, we were culling elephant which were being driven onto us by a helicopter with a siren blaring periodically to chivvy the reluctant beasts on. It was on the fringe of the jesse just above the flood plain. Doyen warden and elephant hunter par excellence Clem Coetsee was standing to my left controlling the cull. Suddenly with a huge cow looming in front of me I had a misfire – or should I say when I pulled the trigger nothing happened – just as the cow moved determinedly towards my position, her head at an angle so she could watch the helicopter and me, Clem noticed my predicament and downed her.
With elephant still bellowing and trumpeting, gunshots, helicopter noise and rotor wash churning up the dust and leaves, I suddenly became aware of my trouser leg being tugged hard. Looking down I noticed Damson on his knees at my feet, offering me a few loose rounds – quite simply my .458 magazine floor plate had been blown out from recoil and dumped my rounds onto the ground. Damson had once more shown he had ample ‘bottle’ when needed.
Another Rhodesian game scout who earned high accolades for pluckiness and bravery was Sgt Kuveya, who during Operation Noah when Lake Kariba was filling up was named California by the foreign media hordes covering the event. The name stuck and thereafter he was known as Sgt California. During Operation Noah he was gored by a buffalo they were trying to chase off an island that would soon disappear underwater. It gored him in the shallows at the edge of the island but he survived and continued to do good work.
When I was at Marongora during the early 1970s, Sgt California got gored by an elephant; it stuck a tusk into him just above his pelvis, narrowly missing his spine. He’d been hunting with a Doctor who after California had taken him up to the elephant, decided not to shoot it and quietly backed off without California knowing – he was standing facing the elephant and waiting for the shot. Suddenly the wind shifted and the bull caught California’s scent, immediately attacking him but the game scout lingered until the last moment thinking a shot would come from behind him. When it never came he turned to run but it was too late, the elephant snaked its trunk out and grabbed his one leg.
After the bull had tusked California, it turned around and disappeared leaving the game scout lying on the ground in agony. Luckily for him he was hunting with a medical man who stabilised him and got him out of the bush and to hospital. Within about six weeks, the sergeant was back at Marongora and keen to get hunting once more. It takes courage to guide on dangerous game unarmed and with a hunter who you know nothing about. Those game scouts on Rhodesia’s hunting blocks had that courage.
During mid-2006 I had a tracker James Hlongane washed overboard on Lake Kariba by a freak wave. PH Pierre van Wyk and I were returning to Sijarira from Chete, and after exiting Chete gorge we hit horrific waves and before we knew it the boat was flung side ways and a wave washing over the boat threw James into the drink. He wasn’t wearing a life-jacket but he did have on full overalls, an anorak and heavy leather boots.
Getting him back into the boat before he drowned was a mission, particularly after a rope we were trying to throw to him got snagged around the prop and stalled the motor. We eventually managed to get him alongside, and whilst we were pulling him back onboard I noticed he couldn’t give us his left hand, it remained beneath the water. It was only when we had him half into the boat, puking water that I saw why he couldn’t use his left arm – it was clutching my daypack – he had been holding it on his lap when he went overboard.
In our world of red tape in this day and age, it could be said that I was inside the daypack: ID, driver’s license, PH License, credit cards, gun licenses, handheld GPS, ammo belt and a few other sundry belongings. When I asked James why he hadn’t just let the daypack go in order to increase his survival chances, and believe me, he very nearly drowned, he answered; “Because you are my Baas” I was somewhat embarrassed because I thought colonial thinking in Zimbabwe went out of the back door over 30 years ago. Apparently not. Even if I worked for the Queen, and it had been me in the waves the daypack would’ve gone to the bottom of the lake.
Although James’s experience probably doesn’t rank with the bravery of the individuals mentioned earlier in the story, it does show the loyalty of black African hunting staff – a truly admirable loyalty.
Up until 2007 the ZPHGA (Zimbabwe Professional Hunters & Guides Association) have given their award for bravery seven times to various trackers’ who’ve rescued their PHs from a lion, leopard or buffalo.
Another story that has been doing the campfire rounds for years in Zimbabwe is the one about PH Derek ‘Gomez’ Adams who at the time of the incident was a National Parks game ranger, who with his game scouts was doing PAC lion control. After a series of inexplicable mishaps with their firearms, Adams was mauled before being rescued by Game Scout Petros.
This incident took place during June 1982, a dry cold month in Zimbabwe. Ranger Adams and his game scout team of three were tasked with going to Mandiboni Pan to deal with some persistent cattle killing lion.
On the morning after basing up near the pan, they’d scouted around and located day-old lion spoor and then visited a local tribal village, where after casting around, they found fresh lion spoor from the night before so conducted a follow-up and by mid-morning found them asleep. Ranger Adams shot the biggest using his .375 H&H but unfortunately hit the cat on a front leg; after it had absconded they followed the blood spoor and then found the wounded lion lying under a tree.
Adams managed to get in two more quick shots but then as the lion charged, had a stoppage of some sort with a round. Ditching his .375 H&H he quickly grabbed a shot gun from Game Scout Wilson but when he tried to use it the gun also jammed. He then grabbed Game Scout Petros’s .270 but it also unbelievably jammed before he could use it. Game Scout Petros in his later written report of the incident wrote that with the lion only about 20m from them, Adam’s and Game Scout Wilson had no choice but to decamp with the jammed rifles. Petros meantime was trying to clear the .375 H&H stoppage and when the lion sprang at him he jumped out of the way so it bypassed him and proceeded to chase Ranger Adams and another Game Scout called Nemangwe.
Closing with them it smashed Nemangwe to the ground and then caught Adams who attempted to hit it on the back with the .270. Undeterred, the lion knocked Adams to the ground but he managed to get up and run towards a tree. Game Scout Petros relates in his written report how Ranger Adams was running round the tree with the enraged lion chasing him. Whilst doing this he was shouting: ‘Petros shoot it. Petros, shoot it!’ To which Game Scout Petros replied: ‘The rifle has jammed!’
By then the lion had managed to once more grab Adams and hold him down on the ground whilst he frantically flayed at it with his arms trying to stop it from mauling his head. Game Scout Petros explained this in his report as Adams ‘trying to catch the tongue with both hands’. Petros kept his cool and after noticing that Game Scout Wilson was too far away from the lion to be of any help, shouted to him not to shoot, before running across to him and grabbing the rifle Game Scout Wilson was holding. He then ran back to where Adam’s was fighting for his life with the lion and with the lion holding Adam’s by the leg shot it, causing it to fall down.
Derek Adams then jumped up and tried to once more get away from the lion but it too leapt up, and the two of them ended up facing each other, before Adam’s again went down and the lion grabbed his head in its open mouth. Game Scout Petros once again shot at the lion but his bullet only grazed its head.
At this stage all that Petros could hear was what he later described as Ranger Adams voice shouting from deep inside the mouth of the lion “Shoot the fucking thing!” Petros managed to grab Adams and pull him free of the lion, but no sooner had he done this than two other lion charged them although they managed to frighten them off with one of the previously jammed weapons, which had been cleared.
With the one lion dead and the others having moved off, Game Scout Petros administered first aid to Derek Adams and used Game Scout Wilson’s shirt as a bandage. He then attempted to drive back to base to collect the radio but had a vehicle break-down. Eventually after making his way back to the badly injured ranger, and using the radio he managed to make communication with Hwange National Park main camp, and got them to contact Warden Tony Conway in the Chirisa Safari Area.
The game scouts then carried Derek Adams 7km to the nearest tribal kraal where Warden Conway met them and transported Adams to Chirisa from where he was evacuated by air. Amazingly there were no deaths in this incident which was a litany of bad luck, a string of jammed weapons, repeated lion attacks, and a broken down vehicle, communication problems and a 7km walk to the nearest village followed by a wait of a several more hours before help reached them.
Derek Adams suffered wounds to his legs, arms and head including a bad laceration on his back. His one shoulder was also dislocated and his head suffered numerous bite wounds. After four weeks in hospital he was released and upon leaving National Parks spent six years hunting in East Africa before returning to Zimbabwe where he still hunts as a respected PH, and has a passionate interest in falconry.
Over the years and due to popular demand, this story has appeared twice in African Hunter magazine and I have acknowledged and used their story as the original source for this one.
In his book Inside Safari Hunting (G.P. Putnam’s Sons-New York 1970) author Dennis Holman relates how in the 1950s well known East African PH the late Eric Rundgren got clobbered by a wounded leopard whilst guiding two Mexicans on safari. He was new to the business of dealing with safari clients having only recently left the game department. On this occasion he was a bit late for the departure to the blind and he overlooked a few issues which may have indirectly contributed to his scrimmage with a wounded and angry leopard.
Firstly, Rundgren couldn’t find his rifle and thinking his tracker and gun bearer Legaria had taken it to clean, picked up the first weapon he could find in the mess tent. It was a .475 Jeffery, and loaded with solids, totally unsuited for leopard. Despite shouting for his gun bearer Legaria, they could not find him, so Rundgren instructed a camp porter Nyemai to go with them – a keen and jovial worker around camp – he readily admitted to being terrified of wild animals.
Stopping the rig about a half mile from the blind, Rundgren left Nyemai at the vehicle and went forward with his two Mexican clients. The bait was in a forked tree, alongside of which there was a donga (dry wash) filled with rocks and scrub. Having moved quietly into the blind the trio did not have long to wait before a leopard popped out of the donga and leapt up into the tree-fork.
Prior to going into the blind, the Mexicans had decided to both shoot at the leopard at the same time, Rundgren agreed to their request and waited for the cat to turn broadside on and settle on the bait. Looking through their scoped rifles the clients waited for the signal from Rundgren before firing together. Following on the noise of the shots the leopard immediately decamped into the donga. Rundgren in his normal abrasive manner snapped, ‘You’ve missed him!’
Worried about the nervous clients and a wounded leopard, Rundgren instructed them to stay in the blind whilst he walked back to get the rig. When he got back to the blind he drove up to the bait tree and instructed Nyemai to climb into the tree and check for blood and bullet holes. A very nervous Nyemai did as told and found one bullet hole in a branch but no blood. This indicated that the one client at least had missed the leopard. Calling Nyemai out of the tree Rundgren cast around for blood but found nothing.
Still not feeling relaxed about the whole thing Rundgren started to widen his search, although he was already mentally leaning toward the possibility that both clients had missed the leopard. At this point the Mexicans in the blind started yodelling that they could see something. On his earlier walk out to the rig, Rundgren had seen a hyena run out of the donga so merely retorted, ‘It’s probably a hyena I saw’. Moving over to the spot they’d indicated he found hyena spoor and called out, ‘Yes, it was a hyena’.
Still moving in the direction he’d seen the leopard disappear, he was approaching the donga in knee high grass when he heard a terrifying grunt and out the corner of his eye noticed Nyemai, who was at least twenty-five yards away turn and run for his life. In that same instant Rundgren caught a glimpse of the leopard and quickly shot at it with the .475 Jeffery, but the cat, just like Nyemai, had disappeared from sight. Whilst standing wondering whether he’d hit the cat or not, Rundgren opened the double, forgetting it had ejectors, and no sooner had the click of the expended shell sounded than there was another terrifying roar and an extremely annoyed leopard charged Rundgren.
Coming at him from close quarters like a spotted streak through the grass, Rundgren could do little but try and break the leopard’s charge using the open double rifle as a club. Slamming into him, Rundgren who was a big man was knocked to the ground by the leopard and later recalled that such was the impact, he’d momentarily seen stars. His next recall was of lying flat on his back and the leopard standing over him staring at the wide-eyed Mexicans in the blind.
With an instinctive surge of adrenaline Rundgren grabbed the leopard by the throat but it promptly bit through both of his upper arms and they ended up rolling around in the dust. One contestant a human being and the other what can at best be described as an out of control chain saw. This joust lasted for some time with Rundgren doing all he could to stop the leopard from disembowelling him, at one stage he tried to shove his hand into the leopard’s mouth and grab its tongue but it bit down so hard and the pain was so great, he thought the cat had bitten his hand off.
With the battle still raging between the badly mauled PH and the wounded leopard, Nyemai, the camp porter who was so scared of wild animals encouraged one of the Mexican clients to approach the leopard with him – and then holding the clients rifle muzzle close to the leopards head but ensuring the bullet trajectory wouldn’t hit Rundgren, the plucky porter got the client to fire, killing the leopard instantly.
After some rudimentary field treatment and a lengthy nightmare drive to Narok, Rundgren was eventually evacuated by DC3 to hospital in Nairobi and thereafter followed a lengthy recovery.
It isn’t always the tracker(s) or gun bearers who come to the aid of a PH in trouble, quite often it is the client who saves the day and at times both the PH and client can also end up getting a mauling or stomping, yet still manage to help each other neutralise the threat. The following story as related by the client involved, Larry Wehrkamp, in Zimbabwe Hunter (June/July 1995 Volume 1 Number 2) took place in Zimbabwe during June 1994 when he was hunting with PH Ian Gloss. Larry had wounded his lion from a tree blind the evening before and the following morning they followed up. In his words:
‘As the sun rose we started searching for tracks. After about three hours, the tracks gave us no certain clue as to where the lion could be. I was sick, no blood trail or indication the lion was mortally injured. I just knew I’d hit him hard – what was going on?
Ian and the trackers finally decided he must have taken refuge on a thick, bushy side hill not three hundred metres from the bait. We spread out and cautiously started up the hill. Suddenly, ahead and to my right, came the most earth shattering, frightening roar I could imagine. Fear overcame me like I hadn’t experienced since my first wedding! Something bad was going to happen, but when, and from where? I could see no more than 10 to 15 metres in the thick bush. Clifford, a tracker, motioned he could see the lion lying just ahead of us. By this time, Ian was trying to pick out the lion so I backed off. Something told me I was out of my league at this point.
The next few moments seemed like an eternity because so much happened. Ian took a shot at the lion as it lay behind a small tree, only to hit a branch. All hell then broke loose! “He’s coming” Ian yelled. My immediate response was to look for a mopane tree to break the charge. I knew one of us would get hit, and as I looked I anticipated getting smacked. At least one more shot was fired during my panic and then came Ian’s resounding command, “Shoot him, the bloody thing is killing me!”
I turned to witness a 550 pound lion and a 250 pound man in a fight that moved as fast and as furiously as a dog fight. Ian lay on his back, with the lion standing over him. His huge fore paws wrapped around Ian’s back. The lion repeatedly tried to engulf Ian’s head in his gaping mouth. Ian grappled with the cat keeping his gun and forearm stuffed into the lion’s mouth. From my angle I could not shoot without serious risk of shooting Ian in the process. I remember explaining to myself “Oh shit!” as I ran to Ian and the lion. My best shot was head on and as I got within about 10 – 15 feet, Ian pushed the lion’s head up and the lion seemed to lurch as though I was desert! Reflex took over and I put a .416 solid above his right eye. It was over – except for pulling Ian from the lion’s grasp.
PH Ian Gloss had taken a reasonable beating with cuts and claw marks spread across his chest, left arm, back and leg. During the initial charge Gloss had hit the lion in the chest and jaw but upon impact it had knocked him at least three metres, and turned his hardwood gunstock to matchwood.
Larry Wehrkamp’s first shot had gone where he’d wanted it to but in his words, ‘The soft-nosed bullet had shattered like shot shell’. He doesn’t mention what make and weight the bullet was.
In Africa, when PHs share a camp they are ethically bound to offer assistance to each other if there is an incident of a wounded dangerous animal at large. This happens more often than is generally known and particularly so with lion and leopard, an incident report illustrating this team effort when following a wounded leopard was written up in African Hunter (Tau Issue Number 6 of 2006).
Zimbabwean PH Wayne Williamson who was hunting for Simon Rodger’s of Safaris de Mozambique offered another PH known as Yann his assistance in trying to locate a leopard wounded the previous Saturday evening by a client of PH Yann’s.
By 06:00hrs on the Sunday morning, they were on spoor and although it was difficult to follow they had managed to ascertain that the leopard had been wounded in a leg, but which leg they couldn’t determine. PHs, Williamson and Yann were carrying shotguns whilst their trackers were carrying the heavy calibre rifles. Eventually at about 15:00hrs a noisy troop of baboons alerted them to the wounded leopard’s presence.
Moving in cautiously to try and get a shot in whilst also hoping that the baboon troop was distracting the leopard, they were suddenly charged but due to the bush and grass density couldn’t see the leopard, and nor could it get to them in one fluid motion, so it ducked off into a donga where a tracker could hear it. Williamson and Yann then attempted to try and get ahead of it and cut it off, but before they could achieve this they were once more confronted with an extremely aggressive and vocal charge.
PH Wayne Williamson immediately dropped to his haunches to try and see through the dense brush and under the overhanging branches. This was just as the leopard broke out of the cover, but due to the speed at which it was moving neither PH was in a position to get a killing shot in although they both fired at the inbound streak of spotted fury hurtling towards them. It later transpired that at least one of them had hit it during the charge.
By the time Williamson had reloaded the leopard was onto him and hooking its paw around the right side of his head and jaw, threw him off balance, and then started to maul and bite his head. Prior to making contact with the leopard, Williamson had wrapped padding around his left arm and was also wearing a glove on his left hand – a not unusual practise amongst PHs when following a wounded Mr. Spots. Forcing his padded left arm into the leopard’s mouth to stop it from mauling his head, Williamson then managed to roll the leopard off of him and as soon as it was free of his body, PH Yann quickly shot it – in fact it was shot twice just to be sure.
PH Wayne Williamson didn’t get off too lightly from his encounter with the wounded leopard; his scalp had been torn loose and hung down over his eyes but he placed it back in position then applied a trauma dressing over the wound. Prior to the follow-up, Williamson had wisely keyed the closest point on the road into his GPS so whilst Yann and a tracker ran to retrieve the vehicle in order to try and drive it to the closest point on the road, Williamson slowly made his way to the same place on the road using the GPS.
The remaining tracker and government game scout then recovered the leopard and other scuffle debris, before following Williamson to the road which was about 1.5km away. The injured PH was then driven to camp where they used copious amounts of antiseptic to irrigate his wounds in order to try and prevent septicaemia setting in – the dread of any cat mauling aftermath – more antiseptic was placed on a field dressing which was in turn used as a pressure bandage to stop the bleeding.
Simon Rodger’s had meantime landed his aircraft at Kanyemba on the Zimbabwean side of the border and having listened to the radio traffic about the mauling, immediately began to organise for airports to be kept open so that he could get Williamson through to proper medical care in Bulawayo. He also managed to get Kariba Airport to remain open so that they could refuel en-route Bulawayo.
Despite Simon Rodger’s arrival by air at Kanyemba, PH Williamson’s woes were not quite over, as he still had to be taken there from the camp in Mozambique, a fifty-minute boat ride up the Zambezi River, which was done with the camp manageress in attendance to ensure the bleeding was kept under control. Rodger’s and Williamson got airborne from Kanyemba at about 17:30hrs and after re-fuelling in Kariba at last light, took off with the use of flare pots, making it into Bulawayo by 20:00hrs. Williamson’s wife was waiting with the MARS (Medical Air Rescue Ambulance), and by 20:30hrs the injured PH was in hospital where he underwent surgery to his head wounds and left hand.
No doubt there are plenty of incidents with dangerous game across Africa that aren’t even heard about and don’t get newspaper or any form of media coverage.
Another close encounter with a lion that’s worth mentioning was also written up by the client involved, Mark A Metzger, in African Hunter (River Issue - Number 3 of 2008). The action took place in Ethiopia but the PH was Zimbabwean Cliff Walker who at the time was contract hunting for Swanepoel & Scandrol. Metzger had arrived in Ethiopia to hunt a variety of antelope and other species unique to that country.
After being met by PH Walker and checking into a hotel and getting settled, Metzger later linked up in the bar with Cliff Walker and an Ethiopian PH, Sisay. It was there that he first learned of an opportunity to travel south the following day, to the town of Nazret and from there on to a major sugarcane plantation – the reason –a lion that had turned rogue, and although only killing villagers’ cattle, there was concern that it would soon turn man-eater.
On the morning of their departure for Nazret they borrowed a .458 Winchester for PH Walker who didn’t have a heavy calibre with him given that the hunt was originally only for antelope. Metzger was carrying a .300 Win Mag and the Ethiopian PH Sisay, a .300 Weatherby Mag.
After checking into the Nazret hotel, the hunters went out to the cane plantation to glean as much information as they could about the rogue lion. Management assigned them a security guard and also gave them carte blanche to solve the lion problem in any way they thought fit so after sighting in all of their rifles, they went off and spoke to the villagers.
Given that most of the sightings had been taking place after midnight it was decided that they’d cross grain the management tracks on the plantation by vehicle, and use a spot-light to try and find the lion. The first night they traversed the plantation tracks until 03:00hrs but coming up with nothing returned to their hotel for some much needed sleep.
On the following afternoon they returned to the plantation and once more readied themselves for another night of searching. It started off much the same as the first night and Mark Metzger writes that after midnight they were all wondering what they were doing out there. Everyone they spoke to had seen the lion some nights or even weeks prior. With weariness setting in and their initial enthusiasm going on the wane, they once more drove along a track they’d already traversed a number of times when suddenly just after 02:30hrs in the morning, the spot-light beam illuminated the elusive lion moving along an irrigation ditch.
Metzger quickly chambered a round and with a good rest got a shot off at the lion from about 50m, its reaction to being hit was to immediately jump straight up, roll forward then stumble before darting into the sugarcane.
Thereafter they cautiously tracked the blood trail through a cane block (a tense situation at night time in anyone’s book), and then into a cleared irrigation ditch before the trail once more led them back into a mature cane block. PH Walker then shone the light down a cane row and seeing the lion managed to get a quick shot off. After vocalising loudly, the lion crashed off through the cane and was heard crossing what sounded like water.
Returning to the rig the hunters crossed a small stream and drove to the outside of the cane block in an attempt to cut the lion off. Seeing eyes reflecting in the distance they made their way towards them and unbelievingly once more picked up blood spoor where they’d previously seen the eye reflection in the light beam. When they found that the tracks had again gone into a thick stand of sugar cane, they wisely decided to call the follow-up off until first light, and try to catch up on some much needed, although due to the circumstances, fitful sleep.
After returning to the scene at first light, they initially tried to locate any possible escape routes leaving PH Sisay watching a wide irrigation ditch lying to the west and bordering the cane block. The skinner and a tracker were left to watch the track to the north, and Metzger then makes mention that the AK-47 toting security guard was so terrified he was worthless. PH Walker and Mark Metzger then entered the dense fully mature sugarcane.
As an aside, I’ve hunted crop raiding hippo and bush pig in sugarcane blocks, both at night time, and during the day. That is exciting but I can’t think of anything more attention grabbing, than hunting a pissed off wounded lion in a mature cane block.
After entering the cane, Cliff and Mark found the growth so thick they had to belly-crawl. Visibility too, was restricted to about one or two feet to their front. With hindsight, it would seem obvious that the waiting lion had by then heard the two hunters on his trail; sugarcane is difficult and noisy stuff to move through. Even cane cutters only go into the block to cut it after the leaf cover has been burnt off.
Eventually after what seemed like an eternity, the two hunters came to a narrow opening, described by Metzger in his written account as ‘an old drainage ditch about five feet wide’. It was here that the lion decided to make his stand and as PH Cliff Walker broke into the open, the lion launched its attack from the opposite side of the ditch. Walker managed to roll left and the lion sailed straight over his shoulder and landed on Metzger, who recalls that there was ‘No sound, no warning, he’s just there!’.
Mark Metzger was in a fight for his life, the lion initially grabbed his leg just above the knee, then bit into it a couple of times before shifting its grip and picking him up, shook him like a rag. Knowing he had to get the lion off his leg, Metzger pushed his rifle into its face and although he managed to get the barrel into the cat’s mouth, it also grabbed him on his forearm. With the barrel in the lion’s mouth, Metzger managed to push the head away from him just as PH Walker put a bullet into the lion. Immediately after the shot, the lion released Metzger and attacked Walker, knocking him to the ground. At this stage, all that Metzger could see was the lion’s back half as it stood over Walker, but he managed to put a bullet into the spine and as it stepped away from Walker, the PH rolled to one side and moved towards Metzger, grabbing his shirt collar in an attempt to pull him away from where the lion was lying.
Although both hunters had been horrifically mauled, Walker’s broadside shot into the lion had saved their lives, despite his initially having had a stoppage with the borrowed .458. Metzger had a broken leg in addition to his other injuries and as they lay there the lion eventually expired with a fair amount of moaning and coughing. It still took about ten minutes of hollering assurances to the hunting crew that the lion was truly dead. Given the gun shots and noise that’d been coming out of the sugarcane they weren’t that keen to venture into it.
Getting badly injured in Third World Africa is not a good thing. First Aid – and that is exactly what it is, is extremely basic to say the least and good health facilities almost non-existent in outlying rural areas. Walker and Metzger not only faced an excruciatingly painful and uncomfortable drive to the plantation infirmary, which couldn’t help them, they spent another two-and-a-half hours on a flatbed type truck travelling horrific roads to Addis Ababa. Even there, at the supposed best hospital in Ethiopia the two injured hunters didn’t feel much confidence and the medical staff could do little for them.
Eventually though, they managed to organise Medjet, an emergency medical evacuation insurance company to route a jet from Egypt – but only after a Doctor in Addis had confirmed Metzger’s leg was indeed broken. Following a lengthy and uncomfortable wait the plane finally arrived with professional medical staff on board and flew the hunters to Johannesburg, South Africa, where at 08:30hrs and after seven hours in the air, they were admitted to the Milpark Private Hospital. Even after eventually being flown back to the USA from South Africa it was a long road to full recovery for Mark Metzger.