Ever since those men had shot her with their rifles, she had felt the pain. She moaned again. Her pride had run off after the cattle and she had slunk into the reeds by the river. She could walk but running was painful and difficult and her legs would not do what her brain told then to do.
Forty years ago a South African friend of mine and three of his young buddies were visiting his uncle’s ranch in the lowveld. They were all in their late teens. Three of them had been to the ranch on numerous occasions, but one had no “bush” experience and therefore had no knowledge of the large dangerous animals that lived in that area.
It was during this time that the owners of the ranches in that area were starting to form a protected nature reserve, yet some of the ranches still had cattle and when lion would raid these cattle, attempts were made to shoot these stock-killing cats. Yet as we’ll see, these big carnivores were being wounded and not followed up properly, creating a potential threat to human life.
It happened that these four young men arrived at the bush camp late on a Friday night and after a hasty meal went straight to bed. The next morning my friend who we will call Adam, and the fellow with no bush exposure, who we will call Tom, got up early to go collect firewood as they wanted to have a braai in the boma and the camp’s wood supply was low, so dressed in shorts and veldskoens they took one of the owner’s Jeeps, but due to its having sat for sometime, the battery was flat. After pushing, it started and off they went. Adam figured that if they kept the motor running they would not have a problem. One important item they neglected was a rifle. This was a major error and almost led to a fatal accident.
The firewood collecting was going well when Tom, who was not driving, started pestering Adam to drive. He said he wanted to experience the feel of driving an open Jeep in the bush. Finally, Adam, much against his better judgement, relinquished the wheel. They were by now 4km from camp and having collected a Jeep load of firewood started back. Tom was driving well when the road dipped and went through a steep-sided donga. Adam had told Tom to be careful at the bottom of the donga and not let the engine die. Sure enough, the engine quit and due to the steepness of the donga’s walls, they were unable to push it forward or backward.
The situation had now reached the point where they faced a 4km walk back to camp. So after a few chosen words, off they went. They had gone about half a kilometre when Adam heard a moan in the grass 100 metres to the rear of them. Tom hadn’t heard it and was still walking when Adam hissed and said, “Quiet!”
These humans were walking away from her. Past experience told her to stay away but she needed food, blood, anything to ease the ache in her stomach and to start the healing process in her hind legs. She raised her head and watched the two men walking away. Her face developed that intense slit-eyed look that all cats have when stalking prey and her ears flattened against her skull.
As Adam looked in the direction of the moan, he could see the ears and the top of the head of a lioness. He said she was staring at them with the yellow-eyed intensity that those big cats have when they look at prey. He kept his eyes on the lioness and whispered to Tom to slowly make his way to a huge knob-thorn Acacia tree in the middle of a field ahead of them and get up in it. Tom started slowly but upon seeing the lioness was soon bolting for the tree, whimpering as he ran. She started her stalk with a short rush, but her back legs wouldn’t respond and it hindered her movements.
In desperation, Adam soon passed Tom with the lioness coming fast but having difficulty with her hind-quarters. They made the tree with Adam up first and Tom hot on his heels. Adam then pulled Tom up into the tree and shoved him further up the tree above him.