the head ranger at a fast-growing game reserve in Zimbabwe, I was
assigned the duty to take seventeen young aspiring newly recruited
guides and game scouts for a seven-day intense training program in
the Victoria falls national park, something I enjoyed and was very
good at. Something I was passionate about. I was excited beyond
seventeen young men were also just as excited as this would be their
first such experience and would certainly shape them into remarkable
safari guides, tour leaders, game rangers, and anti-poaching scouts.
We were all ready to get the show on the road. The company had given
us two vehicles for the trip into the heart of the park, a 4x4 22
seater overland truck for the seventeen boys and a 4x4 land Rover for
me and my assistant
lads, let's do this!" I shouted above the noise of the idling
vehicles, jumped into my car and we set off.
hours later, we arrived at our destination, a small opening deep in
the jungle about 80km off the Kazungula-Vic falls highway, and give
or take, 300 meters from the Might Zambezi river. This was going to
be our home for the next seven days; close to the river for water. We
quickly pitched the big tent that would accommodate the seventeen
trainees. It was a large tent with only one entrance closed by way of
a big zipper, the size of a wrestler's thumb. We also pitched a small
one to be used as our storeroom for our food and drinks; this would
also be where my assistant would sleep. I did not need a tent, my 4x4
was good enough for me.
arrived late already, there was not much else to do besides properly
setting up and making a big fire. This would also be the best night
for proper introductions as most guys did not know each other, having
come from all around the country. I remember enjoying every moment
and every introductory speech given by the boys. One thing was clear,
they were all eager to begin a new life of saving and preserving
nature: protecting our environment and making sure that our wildlife
would not suffer extinction, sharing our culture, history, and
knowledge with travelers from all over the world, and, as I looked at
them, and listened to them talk, I could not help but feel honored to
be the guy that would make that happen. Yes, and I was pretty damned
sure I was the right man for the job.
the next day would be an early busy one for us, we went to bed before
midnight. Everything was so peaceful except for the occasional hii
hii from some owl somewhere nearby and as sleep finally stole me, a
distant laugh from a hyena reminded me of the fact that we had
company all around us.
sunrise the next day, we were all up and having coffee, tea, and
rusks- some kind of South African sweet homemade biscuit. The program
for the day was clear, orientation walk, tree identification, and
learning how to find water, for example, if you ever find yourself in
an unfamiliar jungle with no knowledge of where the river might be,
what sort of animals to look out for. The guinea fowl has always been
my favorite most trusted guy. They forage in flocks and make
unmistakable noises easy to pick up. They always drink early in the
morning and late in the evening, so if you happen to see a flock
headed somewhere around those times and you follow them, they will
lead you to water.
went well the first half of the day and just as we were about to have
lunch, a vehicle from our main camp arrived. The driver came up to me
and said that he had been sent to take the overland truck back to the
main camp. One of our trucks in Botswana had broken down on tour and
had to be replaced. I did not like the sound of it because our main
fridge with all our perishables was in that truck, but there was no
truck left and everything went back to normal. Since we had no idea
how long we would be without our truck, we had to somehow preserve
our meat. I suggested we put the whole impala carcass we had on a
spit braai. The boys loved the idea.
made a big meal that night and ate the meat off the spit but we could
not finish it all in one day. Just like the previous night, we shared
jokes and other stories for a while before I decided it was time for
me to hit the hay. I went behind my car and watched the stars for a
while before getting into my car for the night. It would be a while
before the moon would rise and the darkness outside sent me to sleep
the moment I entered my sleeping bag.
sudden loud screaming from somewhere outside woke me up with a start,
my heart suddenly slamming hard against my ribs. I struggled out of
my sleeping bag, immediately fumbled for my 458 magnum that I had
placed on the front passenger seat, and snatched it up. There was no
time to think. There was only time to act. I opened the driver's side
passenger back door and jumped out, gun at the ready. The screams
were deafening as I frantically searched for their origin. Then a big
shock struck me. From where I was standing, because of where I had
parked my 4x4, with the tent in front of it, I was not supposed to
see the rising moon. This only meant one thing, the huge tent had
disappeared. Someone or something had snatched the tent and vanished
with it, with the seventeen guys inside of it.
eyes still adjusting to the darkness, I stepped back and leaned
against the 4x4 and suddenly comprehended. The screaming was coming
from the ground. I looked down and saw something that terrifies me up
until today. The tent was on the ground, shaking from everywhere.
Among the screams were distinct growling and grunting noises from
inside the same tent. Someone screamed, "Lions, please help!"
could not believe my eyes as I helplessly looked down at the tent,
ready to shoot. But how was I going to shoot a panicked lion trapped
in a tent with seventeen panicked guys, without seeing it? Random
shooting would result in accidentally shooting and killing one or
more people. Try to imagine what was going on inside the tent. The
lion thought it was trapped, and the screaming people meant to hurt
it. It could not find the exit. The guys were thinking that the lion
had come in to kill them and were also looking for an escape route;
which was nowhere to be found. It was dark in there, meaning the guys
could not see each other, and could not see the lion. Anything that
you touched, or that touched you, was the lion. The lion, on the
other hand, can see better than us at night and could see the people
but they were too many for it and all it wanted was to get away.
Mayhem at its best.
least, I had not heard the diminishing sound of a dying someone in
there, only occasional "mommy and daddy come help me" calls. And what
was disturbing was the fact that these were merely
young inexperienced boys, some of whom had never seen a lion in real
life. That was terrifying. Their only hope out here was me. Poor
was about to take the big risk of going to the door of the tent and
lifting it to try to help either them or the lion see the gap in the
canvas when suddenly, its head popped out through the door. I raised
my gun and aimed, ready to squeeze the trigger but pity got the best
of me. The lion fully emerged from the tent, turned to look at me with
its teeth showing in a grin that seemed to say,"Come on dude,
haven't I suffered enough?" before she disappeared into the
by one, the boys staggered out of the tent, some still crying. They
were so exhausted and terrified that the moment they made it out,
they collapsed onto the ground. I could not find words with which to
comfort them. I simply waited for them to recover naturally, which
seemed to take forever. And when I felt they were ready for my voice,
I said to them, " Guys, let's discuss this in the morning. Some
of you can sleep in the 4x4, the rest can squeeze into the kitchen
tent, or we can all make a big bonfire and sit around it until
daybreak. It's only two hours before that."
unison, they said, "The fire will do, Sir.'
my assistant who had heard everything from the safety of the kitchen
tent, and chose to stay put, came out and sat with us by the
fireplace till daybreak.
the hell had happened? I had never known lions or any other African
wild animal, especially cats, to enter inhabited tents or houses,
unless they were fleeing danger themselves.
the morning, during breakfast, they were ready to share with me what
could have happened.
of the guys had decided to hang the remaining carcass of the roasted
impala from the roof poles supporting the tent overhead, by way of a
piece of wire, right at the head of the tent, to which they had all
agreed. Now, because it was hot, they had left the tent door open and
had fallen asleep. The lioness must have been hunting nearby and had
picked up the sweet smell of roasted meat. Realizing it was coming
from inside the tent, she had looked for the door, found it, and
walked right up the aisle to where the meat was hung, not minding the
sleeping humans on either side of the aisle. When she sprang up and
grabbed the impala cacass, her weight had pulled down the whole tent
over it, and the boys and all hell had broken loose.
all seventeen of them did not recover from the shock. We had to break
camp, find a high spot with a cell phone signal. I called the main
camp and requested two extra vehicles to come to take everyone back
home. The tent, full of lion and human waste, we had to burn.
learned, never leave your tent open in the wilderness. Zip up and
author's name in
of the message we
won't know where to send it.)