Cat. 2, Philosophy 3 – BL-23 – How one bullet killed 25 lions

Cat. 2, Philosophy 3 – BL-23 – How one bullet killed 25 lions

Ch. 23 –  How 1 bullet killed 25 lions

 

My downhill trek was as uplifting as my uphill climb was downcasting. For one thing, there was none of the “anti-gravity” exertion. For another thing, rather than the rocks and stones in front of my face on my way up, I was facing the stunning panorama of the teaming savannah thousands of feet below.

But the difference was more spiritual than physical. As I descended through one ecological zone after another, from glacier to bare rock to alpine meadow to montane forest to the lush foothills, I was fascinated by the kaleidoscopic species of beauty capturing my eyes at every turn when, on my way up, they were blinded by the darkness within. Now, everything seemed aglow. I spend an entire week camping out on that mystical mountain, buying food wherever available.

The transformation in my perception was subtle yet profound. It could in part be explained in terms of Raminothna perceiving the physical world on planet Earth through my eyes and my other four physical senses. On the other hand, perceiving the Earth from her perspective, it was as if I was visiting a planet in a galaxy far far away. Every tree, every flower, every dragonfly I saw, I saw as if for the first time… Everything was a new wonder. I regained my childhood. With the smoke screens of my jaded adulthood lifted, I re-experienced the original magical wonderment of a child`s discovery.

Finally, I walked down to the rim of a cliff, and caught sight of the greyish-brown patch that was the parking area far below, and the bright beige dot that was my Rover, and reality flooded back into me. It caught me unawares. I walked on with a little foreboding. By the time I set foot in the parking lot, I had become somber. When I saw the Rover, I felt ashamed. Ashamed? By a Rover? But there it sat, waiting for my return with infinite patience, like an unconditionally forgiving dog, which I had abandoned in the withering sun to die and rot…

When I reached it, it did not glare at me in resentment as a human might have. When I opened the door, it welcomed me back with open arms. When I turned the key, the engine sprang back to life as if saying an eager “YESSIR!” I patted the dash and said as if to an ever faithful dog, “Good boy”. If ever it was possible for a human to be shamed by a machine, this was it.

I drove back to Arusha to restock on supplies. After sleeping in a sleeping bag on a thin piece of foam for the better part of a week, I luxuriated in the cool bed of an air-conditioned hotel room. The next morning, hard as it was to go back into the heat, I drove off due west towards my second objective after Kilimanjaro – Ngorongoro.

The Ngorongoro Crater is the crown jewel of the Ngorongoro  Conservation Area. It is the world’s largest inactive, intact, and unfilled volcanic caldera, formed when a large volcano exploded and collapsed on itself two to three million years ago. It is 610 metres (2,000 feet) deep and its floor covers 260 square kilometres (100 square miles).  The elevation of the crater floor is 1,800 metres (5,900 feet) above sea level. The Calder wall is high and steep, which contains the crater’s own ecosystem comprising approximately 25,000 large animals, including the black rhinoceros, the Cape buffalo , the hippopotamus , the blue wildebeestGrant’s zebra, the common elandGrant’s and Thomson’s gazelles, topis… There were about 60 lions in the crater.

The Ngorongoro Conservation Area is vast. It measures 8788 sq. km (1300 sq. mi), and is a key component of the wider Serengeti Ecosystem which supports the greatest large mammal migration on Earth, involving approximately 2 million wildebeest, zebra and Thomson’s gazelle, followed by 7,500 hyenas, 3,000 lions and other predators. The annual migration follows a 1,000 km circuit between key dry-season waterholes and grazing lands along the Mara River in Kenya’s Maasai Mara Reserve, and short-grass pastures of the Serengeti National Park to the southern calving grounds in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area.

 

I drove around the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, including the crater, more or less at random. Somewhere along the way, I found a pride of lions with three magnificent golden-maned males, nine lionesses and twenty two cubs of various ages. I named the three males Agamemnon, Achilles and Hector, of the “AAH” pride, and stayed with them for a while.

Prowling on the periphery of the AAH territory were four young dark-maned brothers who had recently been evicted from their own pride. Their main objective was to take over the AAH pride. I called this quartet GOF – the Gang of Four. At present, the GOF was no match against AAH, but they were circling.

I stayed around the AAH territory for a period, following them at a respectful distance wherever they went, observing with my naked eyes and through my binoculars whatever they did. For safety, I slept in the Rover. Within a day, they had totally grown on me, and apparently even more so on Raminothna. Within a week, my presence in their midst no longer caused suspicious behavior on their part. Their best way to welcome me was to ignore me. I had been accepted in their landscape and their universe.

One day, watching the lions watch a passing zebra herd, a strange set of parallels crossed my mind. I wrote: “How Raminothna relates to me is essentially how I relate to a lion, essentially a more intelligent being observing a member of a less intelligent species. Just as there is no way for a lion to fully understand what I’m doing and why I’m doing it, neither can I fully understand what Raminothna is doing and why she is doing it.”

She just smiled benignly within me, which in fact made me a little nervous. But the alternative would be that I was already dead by my own bullet from my own gun in my own hand, so the current situation was a chance with good odds worth taking. Or was it the pay-off of a good bet?

And then one day, a “Great White” trophy hunter did appear, with his entourage of guides and porters. They spent considerable time glassing the AAH pride. It was more than obvious that he was targeting Agamemnon, Achilles or Hector. I was considering intervening, and finally was about to, how, I had no idea, when the gunshot rang out. I raced to the source of the sound, but it was too late. One of AAH had fallen, later determined to be Achilles, my subconscious favourite. What was I to do? Shoot the hunter?!

After the hunting party had departed, with eight porters bearing the carcass of Achilles away suspended from a horizontal pole, my observation of AH resumed, but with a broken heart. Now it was Agamemnon and Hector versus the Gang of Four. While previously the AAH could more than hold their own, now there was no contest. The GOF moved in within three days, killing Hector and driving the wounded Agamemnon limping from the pride. Henceforth he was to wander the wilderness alone, to find whatever sustenance he could on his own, mostly by scavenging, until, inevitably, he would die of starvation, or else be killed and eaten by a pack of hyenas – in either case a sad fate for a one-time monarch of the Savannah. The victorious GOF then swatted aside whatever feeble protests the lionesses could muster and, one by one, killed each and every one of AAH’s cubs. This was the lion’s way, for the conquerors to terminate the AAH genetic line and substitute it with their own.

“So, a single bullet killed twenty-five lions. Nice work, Homo sapiens,” observed Raminothna bitterly.

I spent a couple of days following Agamemnon around. Since his eviction and exile from his own pride, he had become a nomad, alone, with no friend, no lioness, no territory to call his own. Wherever he roamed, he was in other lions’ territories, unwanted, unwelcomed, untolerated. He was ganged up on, brutalized, attacked, chased, caught up on and attacked again. He no longer had lionesses to bring food home. He was now homeless. Now he had to hunt for himself. Being heavy, though still powerful, he could not catch the smaller, fleet-footed prey like the gazelles and impalas, nor even the wildebeests and zebras, so that left the buffalo. Though previously he had taken down buffalo, it was nonetheless a group effort. It would be suicidal for a lone lion to take on a cape buffalo on his own. As far as I knew, he had not taken down a single prey since his ousting from his pride. I had seen him chasing away a few hyenas and confiscating their meal – the meager remains of a Thompson’s gazelle, which did little more than take the edge off his raving hunger. He had turned into a scavenger, and a solitary one at that. But worse was yet to come. Losing weight and getting weaker by the day, not only could he no longer attack his life-long enemy the hyenas, he could not even defend himself against their attacks. No, they did not want their dinner back. They wanted him for dinner. And in this inevitable end, he would likely be eaten alive. He would have been better off were he killed outright along with Hector by the Gang of Four.

He limped into the long grass, and was lost to view. He did not look sad nor in despair. He just looked gaunt and tired.

That night began with quietude. The dreaded laugh-fest of the hyenas did not start too early. I could not sleep, troubled by the thought of shooting a wildebeest to sustain Agamemnon, or shooting him instead to end his misery and give him a dignified exit, which I could not bring myself to act upon.

Neither could my mind stop wondering if he knew that his end was nigh, and a dreadful one at that. I hoped not. When it came to pain or dying, the expectation and fear could be worse than the pain and the dying themselves, of which, with the possible exception of the great ages, the elephants and the cetaceans, we humans seem so uniquely and sadly cursed.

“Which is why, being human requires more courage and forbearance than being a lion,” said Raminothna.

That was the last time I saw the once majestic Agamemnon with the mighty mane. With a great sadness I left this my own Valley of the Kings, and cursed the sender of the bullet that pierced Achilles’ lion-heart.

 

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