“17 guides and a lioness”
Being 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 measure.
The 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 4×4 22-seater overland truck for the seventeen boys and a 4×4 Land Rover for me and my assistant
“Alright lads, let’s do this!” I shouted above the noise of the idling vehicles, jumped into my car and we set off.
Three 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 mighty 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 4×4 was good enough for me.
Having 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.
Since 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.
Before 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.
Everything 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 other way.
The 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.
We 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.
The 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 4×4, 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.
My eyes still adjusting to the darkness, I stepped back and leaned against the 4×4 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!”
I 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.
At 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 helpless me.
I 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 darkness.
One 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 4×4, 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.”
In unison, they said, “The fire will do, Sir.”
Jacob, 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.
What 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.
In the morning, during breakfast, they were ready to share with me what could have happened.
One 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.
Sadly, 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.
Lesson learned, never leave your tent open in the wilderness. Zip up and stay safe..🙂🙂
“My hand is stuck!”
“So lez,” the young bloke from New Zealand said when I was just about to say good night, “you ain’t got no other stories besides the lion ones?”
“What stories do you wanna hear?” I said, settling back in my chair. I had prayed that no one would request a story from me tonight. I just wanted to go to bed before midnight. Tomorrow would be an early start for us and the 320km waiting to be done was no joke. I checked my watch; the time was 8:45 pm. I could do another forty to sixty minutes.
“I don’t know,” he said, “maybe an elephant, hyena, hippo, or any other interesting stories.”
I cleared my throat and thought for a second; then I said, “Well, a few years ago, I was gonna catch an early morning bus to Victoria falls to prepare for a Vic to Cape trip that I was starting in five days.” I paused for a moment, then decided, this wasn’t the story for tonight. I had to think fast.
Then I smiled when I found the story I was looking for tucked away in the archives of my mind. A story that even I find hard to believe. A story a grade seven classmate of mine had shared with us many years back.
“Two marijuana traders crossed the Zambezi River from Zambia into Zimbabwe in the early hours of the day,” I began. “They could not use the Kariba-Siavonga border coz marijuana was very illegal those days. Because they couldn’t find somewhere shallow enough for them to cross below the dam wall, they had to walk 10km downstream before they could cross; which made their journey much longer than it was supposed to be. Once on the Zim side, they had to find food as soon as possible or they would collapse from hunger. From the river to the beginning of Nyamhunga township, where they could get food, it’s about 25km of thick forest and is also a game reserve with potentially dangerous animals; but these guys had lived in Kariba, where these animals are a common thing, all their life, they weren’t worried about that, it was the hunger they dreaded the most.”
There was total silence around the campfire at Twyfelfontain camp. All twenty-two clients were sitting with me around the fire. On arrival, from Spitzkop, they had all chosen to get beers and other drinks from the bar and bring them to the fire. This was also to avoid having to walk back from the bar, in the dark, drunk, and risk walking into desert elephants that had been spotted nearby just before sunset.
“Ey Lez,” one of the clients had asked me early on, “you say desert elephants are more temperamental than the other elephants, why is that? ”
“Well,” I had told him, “since these guys live in the desert, where water is very scarce, they have to walk long distances before they can find it; this makes them very angry and usually aggressive. Just like, a hungry man being an angry man, a thirsty elephant is an angry elephant.”
“I see.” He had nodded, before continuing to pitch his tent.
Back to the marijuana boys.
“After walking for about two hours up and down hills, occasionally stopping to rest under big trees, they struck it lucky. A dead rhino lay beside a big patch of acacia bushes. They looked at each other momentarily and smiled happily. How they concluded that the rhino was dead, I have no idea but I would like to think that it looked dead. This was mana from heaven right there. Meat on a silver plate, and am talking tons of it; over 1.5 tons of meat.” I paused and couldn’t help chuckling with the rest of the group as they started to assume where the story was going. They were wrong.
“Now,” I proceeded when the laughing subsided, “wild animals, especially rhinos, have an acute sense of hearing and smell. Their eyesight is bad, so in compensation, nature gave them excellent hearing and smell, such that you could never walk up to them without being detected unless you are downwind from them and extremely quiet.”
“Interesting.” Tanya, the quietest of them all spoke for the first time since we finished dinner. “Rhinos are part of the big five, aren’t they?”
“Yes, they are,” I answered her but felt the need to explain a bit more. “You see, rhinos can be very dangerous, they are huge, got sharp deadly horns that can drill a hole through you quite easily, but they aren’t as aggressive as they are often made out to be. Having had several encounters with them during walks, I have concluded that, more often than not, they either hear or smell you before they see you, and they react by just bolting in any direction, which could be where you are. Many a time a rhino has had to brake just a few meters from me, turn and scurry off in the opposite direction coz it only saw me when it was very close. Now imagine a situation where it doesn’t see you at all, wouldn’t it just run you over?”
There were silent murmurs of agreement.
.”So,” I continued, “the rhino wasn’t moving, it didn’t seem like it was breathing; the one eye that they could see was lifelessly open and white. Its rectum had slipped outside the open end of its digestive tract, a condition known as rectal prolapse, and this alone could have convinced the guys that the rhino was dead. They had matches, but they didn’t have a knife with which to cut the meat, so one of them climbed up on top of a nearby hill to see if they were anywhere near a village of some sort; they weren’t. In the distance, about five or so kilometers away, gleaming objects caught his eye and suddenly he knew what he was looking at. It was Barotseland, a huge dumping area close to the Kariba-Harare highway. He knew if he ran there he would find some sort of sharp object or piece of iron sheet that they could use as a knife. After giving a thumbs-up sign to his friend, he broke into a run towards the dumping site.”
“Excuse me guys,” Mr. Boombastic, our driver, who had heard this story several times before, called out from the bus door, “does anyone still need anything from the bus, I am about to lock it and go to bed, got a long drive tomorrow.”
“No, we good.” The clients answered in unison. “Good night Mr. Boombastic!”
I chuckled. They sometimes sounded like school kids, but we loved it. It always sent us to bed with a smile on our faces.
“What had seemed like a short distance to the dumpsite turned out to be much longer than expected.” I continued with the story. ” After about an hour, the guy who had stayed behind, watching over the rhino grew impatient. His hunger was suddenly unbearable. There was only one thing he could do; push his hand through the rhino’s anus and find soft organs like the liver and the lungs. If he managed to rip them out, by the time his friend got back, they would be roasting on the fire.”
There was a loud chuckle from the clients.
I laughed out loud too, rising to my feet coz this part needed me to demonstrate with my whole body for a better understanding.
“So without hesitating, the guy pushed his hand into the rhino’s backside, through the rectum, all the way up to his elbow, and started groping around. This must have tickled the rhino, which suddenly woke up, its whole body shaking violently, and leaped to its feet.”
I paused for a moment while they all laughed.
Some guests camping next to us, who had been following the story, couldn’t hold back their laughter as well. Before the laughing subsided totally, I continued. “The rhino did not take time to investigate the cause of its internal discomfort, it just knew it had to get away. Whatever was stuck in its backside had to be shaken off somehow and the best way would be to run as fast as possible through the bushes. So it ran. The guy on the other hand, could not pull his hand out coz upon waking up, the muscles around the rhino’s anus had tightened in an attempt to suck the rectum back in, resulting in making it impossible to free himself. So, as he was dragged around in the forest, he started yelling, “The animal is getting awaaaaaaay!”
His friend, who apparently was now near, heard the yelling and responded by yelling back. “Let it get awaaaay!”
Then the guy yelled, “How can I let it get away when I’ve got my hand stuck in its backside!”
“Hold onto a treeee or somethin!”
“How do I hold onto a tree when the animal is running so faaaast!”
Oh my God, now there was a chorus of laughter, best time for me to disappear without anyone noticing, or I would be coaxed into telling another story. I surreptitiously slid around the bus and tiptoed to my tent, got inside, and zipped up.
I could still hear them laughing long after I got into my sleeping bag.
The next day, as we drove to Etosha National Park, I told them what had caused the rhino to appear dead.
“Rhinos enjoy eating euphobia plants, sucking on the poisonous milk latex they produce. Now, although the poison has no deadly effect on the rhinos, it intoxicates them to the point of motionlessness, where they sleep for hours without moving a limb.
This rhino had helped himself to a lot of that drink.
“What happened to the guy eventually?” One client asked.
“His hand is still stuck, and the rhino is still running around trying to shake him off.”
We all chuckled as we drove through Henderson’s gate of Etosha. The real game drive had begun. Everyone went for their camera as I said, “Welcome to Etoshaaa!”
Goodnight, oh, or is it good morning or good afternoon wherever you reading this from?
I am an African storyteller and scriptwriter who has been guiding and leading international tourists across Africa for over a decade and have freelanced for big names in the travel industry. I write African campfire stories that I usually share with my clients on safari while sitting around the fire at night, and my dream is to share these stories with the rest of the world, to encourage more travelers from all over the world to visit our beautiful continent. My genre is mostly fiction with a few real-life experiences here and there to make the stories more exciting. These stories are also educational to those interested in wildlife habits and habitats, and also as tales for children in schools. Most of my clients who have had the privilege to hear my stories in the last decade have encouraged me to get in touch with you for publishing, as they found them very unique and entertaining.