Sunday, July 30, 2006

More about lions and people-munching

A while back I posted some of a e-mail I received on the subject of lions developing bad table manners. The subject of what happened to Joy Adamson of 'Born Free' fame came up, and I finally remembered to dig up what I'd read before.

It's in Peter Capstick's book Maneaters. He mentions that he'd first heard of it in a news article in the Miami Herald of January 5, 1980, which I'll excerpt:
NAIROBI, Kenya- Joy Adamson, who's born free awakened millions to her beliefs that "once wildlife is gone, it is gone forever," was mauled to death by a lion, it was reported Friday.

Friends said that Mrs. Adamson, 69, had taken her customary evening stroll tThursday night in the bush outside her tent camp in a remote area of northeast Kenya, and came across a lion chasing a buffalo.

The lion turned and killed her.
"The lion is still at large, but we have tracker teams out looking for it," a police spokesman said.

Pretty cut & dried. Except:
"...Seems that all those tracker teams spooring up the lion that killed Mrs. Adamson must have been mistaken. Apparently, the mention of a buffalo was all wrong, too? From an apparently confirmed story of death by lion, the "official" verdict was now that Mrs. Adamson had been murdered by a human since some of her belongings were missing.

You may have noticed that you never heard much more- if anything- about the matter. That, in itself, is as weird to me as the abrupt change of cause of death....I guess the murder of a famous authoress in the midst of the African bush just wasn't interesting enough for the press to pursue. Don't you think?"

Capstick specifically says he didn't know, but he suspected that there was something of an agreement among various news types and officials to let the story go away, because it might be seen as a bit embarrassing for such a famous saviour of beasts to have been whacked by one of the big cats. It wouldn't surprise me.

In other of his books Capstick noted various incidents of people-munching by various African critters that were noted in local papers, but never made big news. Including the lion that jumped into a photo safari tour bus and dragged a man out. Or the leopard that snuck up on a bunch of people taking pictures at a watering hole at night and killed the guard and dragged him away without anyone noticing the kill; someone heard a slight clatter that turned out to be the guards rifle hitting the ground, but it was a minute before he wondered what it was(happily, that man had a rush of intelligence and herded everyone back into the bus and straight back to the lodge to report it).

Ref that last; I've always wondered, did the guard just happen to be a bit away from the others and the lights so he could see better? Or did the cat recognize him as the only threat in the group?

Simple fact is, there are a lot of critters in the world that will happily have you for dinner if you cross their path at the right time. Or they're hungry and you look easier to kill than their usual prey. Or you just happen to irritate them by your presence so they kill you.

On the last, years ago I read an article in an old magazine of my grandfathers'(Sports Afield I think) about a group visiting Yellowstone. They'd been having an argument about whether grizzly bears attack unprovoked, ever. They found an old ranger who'd been in the park for many years and asked him. "Never unprovoked" he said. But when one of the group said "I told you so!" the ranger added "One thing you have to remember; YOU don't decide what 'provocation' is, the bear does. And you being there might be it."

I've mentioned him before, but you can't mention him too much: if you like stories about hunting and fishing in various places in the world, go to the library and find any of Peter Hathaway Capstick's books. Death in the Long Grass was the first, followed by Maneaters, Death in the Silent Places and a bunch of others. Then you'll need some money, because you'll want to buy them. How could you not like a man who wrote that elephants and Cape buffalo voted him "the one who got away"?

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