“The Illusive King”
By Peter E. Gibbons
In the late 1950’s, Africa didn’t have Safari Parks. To see and hunt game, the services of a “White Hunter” was required. Usually he was a man with years of successful jungle experience exposing animals his clients wished to see, or in those days, kill! His stained bush hat with a leopard puggree would attest to his claims. Also his liking for a cocktail or three!
I wanted to see, not kill, a male lion, and so together with Alfred we left Khartoum in the Sudan and set out south to the savannas and rain forests where he and his pride lived and hunted.
It took us three days to reach the area where we would pick up trackers, beaters and the camels we would ride to get closer to wild life.
All of our nights were spent sleeping under canvas and the only similarity with Boy Scouting was the tent itself. The rest, terrifying. As I lay on my camp bed bathed with sweat in total darkness and a .375 Mannlicher rifle by my right hand and a long sharp hunting knife by my left, I wondered what I would do with either if claws ripped open the canvass. I heard snarls, squeals, squeaks, scurryings, slitherings and rustlings accompanied by vile smells, probably by hyenas. I also heard Alfred snoring peacefully in his tent which offered no comfort.
The village which was to be our base camp, was quite large and the tall inhabitants naked. As they relied on spears to bring down game, we gave them a break by shooting deer. We would have the fillet for ourselves leaving the rest for them.
It took a while to learn how to lower a camel enabling me to get into the saddle. And then amid grunts of protest and attempts to bite my feet with its large yellow teeth, get the tawny beast up to its large padded feet. From my elevated position way above the tall grass, I was able to see perfectly in all directions. Also the camel could get up very close to other animals with its khaki-clad rider arousing no suspicion.
Taking advice from the trackers, we had them build a “Blind” overlooking a waterhole where most animals came to drink in the evening we were told. During the day we’d already seen rhino, elephants, giraffe and an assortment of deer and had optimism that “The King” would make an appearance.
As a safeguard, because wild creatures are totally unpredictable, we were both armed to defend ourselves only if attacked. No other reason. Our motionless patience was rewarded as the sun began to set when other animals made way for a small pride of lionesses with their cubs arrived at the water’s edge. Occasionally one would look up in our direction and I feared that perhaps she’d seen the male behind us and I had to control my desire to look in that direction causing movement and detection.
That was not the case, and “The King” remained illusive.
P.S. Antelope would be more accurate than “deer.”