Login   Sign Up 


Wild Grass - 5

by BobCurby 

Posted: 12 May 2010
Word Count: 1934
Summary: LIONS!

Font Size

Printable Version
Print Double spaced

Wild Grass
By Bob Curby

Chapter 5

Many things gave me a great deal of satisfaction when I was growing up, but nothing ever could come anywhere near the joy I got from working with wild animals. There is nothing in Europe that has excited me quite in the same way as swimming with hippopotami in a pool fed by hot springs. I have been to zoos and safari parks, even worked in one for a season, yet in a way they left me cold, un-fulfilled. Can anyone imagine sitting on a grassy hillock a few yards away from a pride of lions eating a fresh kill? Sure, sitting in a car with the windows up and seeing the hot breath of a large male lion steam up the outside of the window is pretty exciting to most who visit Longleat or Woburn or any other Safari park. However, stop a moment, close your eyes; in your mind’s eye, conjure up an image of Africa. Go on, I want you try this – get someone to read out loud to you from here on. I’ll help you to get started, imagine flat, open land; flat topped trees every 200 to 300 yards, and in between tall yellowing reedy grass 6 to 8 feet high. Heat haze hovers over the scene, flies drone about your eyes and ears, and you hear the faint distant call of the savannah falcon. Are you there? Then imagine that RIGHT IN FRONT OF YOUR FACE a full grown 400 pound male lion appears out of the tall grass, his amber eyes fixed firmly upon yours, his foul smelling breath hot on your cheek. Lions are scared of nothing. Stare at most animals and they will drop their eyes, but not the lion, he just stares right back at you. What will your next move be?

Are you still alive? Did you get up and run? Did you shout at the lion in the hope you’d scare him off? Did you freeze and hope he didn’t know you were there? Are your clothes still nice and dry, or did you involuntarily fill them will bodily excretions? Go on; admit it, you shit yourself! Remember, that was just a dream. Do it in reality and you will never see a lion in a safari park in quite the same way! Let me tell you, if the lion chooses to put you down, you go down and stay down. I have seen a lion bite through the tough layers of a Landrover all-terrain tyre, so that it goes flat in seconds. I have seen a man with ten layers of clothing on have it shredded and his arm severely gashed by one swift swipe of a lion’s paw with claws extended. I have seen a lion crack open a coconut with one bite of his huge jaws. So, how have you fared with your un-protected encounter with the King of the Jungle? Well, let me tell you that when that happened to me, I put my hands over my head, dropped my head as far as it would go and closed my eyes. If that lion had wanted me dead, I wouldn’t be writing this now. The gestures I made were ones of recognition of the superiority of the lion; I placed my hands over my head showing I had no weapons. I dropped my head, in the same way one bows before a king, and I closed my eyes because the lion doesn’t like to be challenged by a stare. Besides, it was the best way to die; my eyes wouldn’t see the huge jaws descending on my head like it was a coconut.

Jimbo was a 5 year old lion; he had killed at least 20 of our Lechwe and two of our men. He had four wives and ten cubs and he really was king of all he surveyed. I was in his territory and I was very close to his family. Should I be dead? I think so. However, I am clearly not dead. Was that gesture of submission enough? It appears to have been. Jimbo went as suddenly as he came. I was aware of the lack of the lion smell and opened one eye to see only the long grass swaying as his huge body made its way back to the pride. Those amber eyes haunt me to this day. My job in a safari park brought me to close to the lions and tigers, but only within the protection of a Landrover, though I did open the window. I took a few pictures up close, but I never felt the excitement return, not even as the biggest lion stood up and was within striking range of my arm.

For many years in the savannah of Africa I had more encounters with the big cats, but nothing scared me half as much as the day I was charged by a wounded leopard. I briefly told that story in ‘Let Sleeping Lions Lie’ my first group of anecdotes from my childhood, and you may wish to read it there. In a nutshell, a wounded leopard charged me from out of the undergrowth as I was making my way to the Livingstone Game Park, now called Mosi O’A’Tunya Reserve, and if it hadn’t been for a keen and sharp witted ranger, I would have been badly mauled, possibly killed by the big cat. He stopped it in mid-charge with a heavy tranquiliser dart. Yes, it pays to have a healthy respect for these animals. They are not just ‘big pussycats’ as some people say. The lion is a skilled and ruthless killing machine and worthy of the same respect due a great white shark in the sea.

One day, when I was about 14, I was out and about as I frequently did after school. It was about 2:30 in the afternoon, our schooling ran from 07:40 to 12:45 each day and then, we played sports if we wanted to. Sometimes I did, sometimes not. This particular day I had chosen the ‘not’ option. I remember that it was very hot, the hottest driest month of the year, October, just before the rainy season of November to March. The savannah grass, over 6 feet high, was tinder dry and rustled as anyone pushed their way through it. Some people thought it was a kind of bamboo when they first saw it. I had my .22 ‘hornet’ rifle slung over my shoulder, barrel downwards to prevent grass seed from getting stuck in the end. To watch me anyone would have thought I was a seasoned ‘big game’ hunter. I laughed if anyone said that – “What with .22 bullets?” I would jibe. I couldn’t imagine shooting at a charging male lion with the .22; it would have been like a pea shooter. No, it wasn’t designed for serious hunting, and even though it had a telescopic sight and bullets that could kill up to a mile, I only used it to scare of animals and poachers. I rustled my way through about a mile of the tall grass – I never saw one member of the tiny Hellawee tribe that people claim live in there and keep jumping up and down shouting “where the hell are we”. I came out into a large cleared area, where we had occasionally grown a clover and alfalfa mix as fodder for Jersey cows.

The clearing totalled about 20 acres, a reasonable field in most farms in the UK, but to us, with around 12,000 acres, it was just a small clearing. I was about a hundred yards into the clearing when I heard a rustle behind me and I turned round, very slowly. Coming out of the grass and now just 90 yards away and closing, were three lionesses. I knew the pride; they had seven cubs to feed and a big male who would be the first to eat, Jimbo. Now, I knew one thing, prides of lions do not turn man-eater, old and disabled males do, but not healthy young lionesses. So why were they following me? Well, it was pointless asking them, they wouldn’t answer anyway. I stood my ground and faced them. They weren’t running, they were just ‘padding’ along, not quite three abreast, approaching me at about a yard a second. In just about a minute they would be within my ‘danger zone’. I took pride (pardon the pun) in the fact that I was a reasonably quick thinker and quite used to making snap decisions. This was a time I need that skill. Should I fire the rifle in the air, should I shout at them, or should I shoot something else? My eye caught a water buck, one of the larger antelope family, standing off to my left, if I shot that, maybe they’d be happy to have the meat. No, that went against my principles, and it would take away their hunting skill. I had to do something.

I raised the rifle and looked at the bigger lioness of the three through the telescopic sight. Her amber eyes were fixed on me. I was startled by the determined look in her eyes. Yet still, they only padded, no charge, now roar, no growl. Usually they would have broken formation by now, one to my left, one to my right and the other straight on, like the scientists believe the Veloceraptor of the dinosaur era hunted. There was no change as they came on, no hesitation, no change of focus. I didn’t want to fire on them. At that range, a forehead shot to the big lioness might have killed her on the spot, but I wouldn’t have re-loaded before the other two took me down. As I contemplated my dilemma, the gap shrunk rapidly. Then, without warning, they stopped, sniffed the air, and sat down. I looked at them in awe, I couldn’t believe that they had stopped just 20 yards from me and now appeared to totally disregard me. Then the biggest lioness made that strange sound that they use to communicate. It sounded like a deep voiced human saying something like “Aah-ooh.” We used to say that they had trod on something and were saying “owooh!” She repeated her call. What happened next made me jump. There was a strange high pitched “aah-eh” in a sort of chorus as seven cubs burst out of the grass in full charge. They were a little bigger than my ginger cat.

On they came; encouraged by their mother, on and on until they reached where I stood and pounced on me! They bit my boots and grabbed my legs with strong front paws. They had not extended their claws. I was really surprised. I looked at the mothers, the big lioness had an expression that I swear to this day was a grin. They had used me as hunting practise for the cubs! Then the big lioness stood back up, made a deep purring sound and the cubs retreated from me. The two smaller lionesses took them in tow and headed for the grass while the big one stood with her steely eyes looking deep into mine. I slung the rifle over my shoulder, and sat down cross-legged, facing her. She seemed satisfied with that gesture and with a few enormous bounds was alongside her sisters and the cubs. They disappeared into the grass and the water buck returned to munching the grass while I examined my apparel for damage.

FA©T Bob Curby/Steve Goodings 2010

Favourite this work Favourite This Author

Comments by other Members

Richard Brown at 12:29 on 14 May 2010  Report this post

Another entrancing tale! I liked the lion cubs bit (but then I guess most people will).

There are a rew inconsequential typos which no doubt will be edited out but one thing that caught my attention was the repetition of 'joy' in ther first line. Just an oversight no doubt.


BobCurby at 23:40 on 14 May 2010  Report this post
Richard - thanks - yes that was 'write as you think' stuff - so I have yet to hone and correct. Glad you liked the bit with the cubs...

BobCurby at 23:21 on 24 May 2010  Report this post
Richard - I re-read and actaully did so out loud to my wife - I decided to build that element into the 'imagine' sequence - my wife said it worked well - what do you think?


BobCurby at 23:27 on 24 May 2010  Report this post
Did that make sense? Hee hee must be getting tired...

What I meant by that slightly strange sentence above was:
I read the chapter out to my wife. She closed her eyes - and she told me she could imagine it - so I decided to do that with the reader - does it work...??

That's better!


Richard Brown at 16:01 on 25 May 2010  Report this post
Novel! - ie recruiting a reader...It will surely add immediacy. It had me trying to imagine wearing ten layers of clothing. One would need a big range of sizes!


BobCurby at 23:03 on 25 May 2010  Report this post
I thought so! Though I do think that I could say that they can open their eyes now, after I ask how they feel about what they've imagined...

Hmmm - food for thought.

Might do that again sometime, if I find the right subject..


Riff Raff at 20:24 on 26 May 2010  Report this post
Hi Bob

What I like about your work, is your unsentimental approach. However you also convey the deep affection and respect you have for these animals.

The experiences you've had are amazing and I think it's wonderful that you've recorded them for prospertity. Few people will ever see lions in their natural habitat.


BobCurby at 21:54 on 26 May 2010  Report this post
Fia, sadly your last comment is so true, and if it wasn't for really dedicated rangers, there wouldn't be any in their natural habitat, we'd be reduced to viewing them in zoos and safari parks. What a tragedy.

Thanks for your comments. I will be back with the lions, leopards, buffalo, elephants, and crocodiles a bit later in the book. If you haven't read the first book, you might find it interesting. 'Let Sleeping Lions Lie...' is available free in PDF format from Obooko.com - I have put the link in the comments section in the MEMOIRS forum group. It would be great for you to give me some feedback on that one...

Thanks again.


BobCurby at 21:28 on 28 May 2010  Report this post
I have the next chapter ready - have we finished with this one?

Richard Brown at 12:36 on 31 May 2010  Report this post
Go for it!


BobCurby at 22:57 on 02 June 2010  Report this post
Wild Grass chapter 6 COMING UP....

To post comments you need to become a member. If you are already a member, please log in .