A. Radclyffe (Arthur Radclyffe) Dugmore.

Camera adventures in the African wilds; being an account of a four months' expedition in British East Africa, for the purpose of securing photographs of the game from life online

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Online LibraryA. Radclyffe (Arthur Radclyffe) DugmoreCamera adventures in the African wilds; being an account of a four months' expedition in British East Africa, for the purpose of securing photographs of the game from life → online text (page 6 of 18)
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that one of the men had been off after honey, not knowing anything
about our lion hunt. As it happened, he came directly between the
lion and the two lionesses, and all three went off. During the rest
of the afternoon there was no further excitement.

We found that my shots had killed two cubs, which was most
unfortunate, as it greatly reduced the chances of seeing the old ones.
Had they been alive the parents would certainly have come to feed
them, and we should have been practically sure of an opportunity
to secure some photographs. As there seemed nothing better to do,
we finally decided to spend part of the night in the tree on the chance
of getting a shot or two, and so we sent the men away, and had some


supper brought to us about sunset. We were thoroughly tired and
extremely hungry, having had nothing to eat since six o'clock break-
fast, so we quickly settled ourselves as comfortably as possible on
the hard, thorny branches to eat our meal. Scarcely had we com-
menced when in the dim twilight we saw the lion and lioness coming
in our direction. Unfortunately they must have seen us move, for
they stopped when about one hundred and fifty yards away, and
remained there until darkness set in. Then we heard them coming
through the dry grass, a few steps at the time, and oh, so slowly!
It really seemed as though they would never reach the papyrus.
We could see nothing, for there was no moon, and a darker night
I have never known. Thinking that I might possibly be able to
distinguish the big animals if I were nearer the ground, I cautiously
descended to the lowest branch, which was not more than eight
feet from the ground. The lions were not far away, and we heard
their low purring as they crept through the papyrus. While I was
peering into the darkness, trying in vain to see something, I was
badly startled by a loaf of bread which I had left on a branch when
the meal had been so suddenly interrupted. It fell with a thud
directly beneath me, just as one of the lions was passing not more
than twelve or fourteen feet away. The sudden noise gave me such
a start that I nearly fell off the branch, and incidently it frightened
away the lions. We heard them going through the papyrus, stopping
once to drink, but unfortunately they did not come near us again,
and we had the mortification of realizing that though we had seen
lions we had lost every opportunity for both shooting and photo-
graphing, and had nothing at all to show for the extremely tiring
day. We had been very much surprised at their behavior. Many





times have I seen moose and deer, or even rabbits, display much
greater solicitude for their young than was shown by those lions.
I could scarcely believe that they would calmly allow their young
to be captured without making any attempt to rescue it, even after
listening to its cries for help.

As we were too tired to prolong our vigil we only waited for the
moon to rise before returning to camp, and even with its soft light
we did not feel particularly comfortable, knowing that at least three
lions were about, and that two of them were in anything but an
amiable frame of mind. In our excited and tired condition, bushes,
stones and ant-hills took on strange shapes, and many a time did
we hold our rifles ready to protect ourselves against enemies which
proved to be harmless shadows. Never did the camp look more
cheerful, or bed more alluring, and not all the lions in Africa could
have disturbed our night's sleep. Next day we built a boma over-
looking the water hole in which the lions had been heard to drink,
but though we spent the night in careful watching we neither saw
nor heard any lions. Our only visitor was a spotted hyena, and
even he did not wait long enough to be photographed.

As we had devoted most of our time to flashlight work since our
arrival at the Yata Plains, we had not had much opportunity for
seeing the country around us. So we took a day off to see what
might be found, I going in one direction and my companion in
another. For several hours I saw nothing but an occasional herd of
impala or hartebeest, and some fairly fresh tracks of buffalo. I
found that the country northwest of the Yata Plains was slightly
rolling, with many dry water-courses. There were the usual scattered
thorn trees to break the monotony; along the beds of the streams


these trees were in bloom, and the fragrance was very refreshing.
Swarms of bees were busy gathering honey. Here and there the
Wakamba beehives, consisting simply of hollow logs, partly closed
at both ends, were hung in the trees. Presumably these people must
make expeditions into the country periodically to collect the honey,
but we saw no natives of any kind during our stay.

In Nairobi we had been told we should find the Yata Plains fairly
alive with rhinoceros. Evidently we were there at the wrong season,
for up to this time we had seen only one. I had almost given up
looking for the queer beasts, so was much surprised when we nearly
ran on top of a big fellow who was standing in a drowsy sort of way
in the shade of a tree. Fortunately we were working up wind,
so were not discovered. The chance for a photograph was appar-
ently very good, so exchanging the rifle for the camera, and instructing
the man to stay close by, for, in the event of a charge, I might have
to shoot quickly, we moved toward the big beast, which had in the
meantime become suspicious. It was somewhat of a surprise to
find that, instead of one rhinoceros, there were no fewer than five.*
The prospect was anything but alluring, especially as we only had
a .275 rifle a weapon powerful enough for most work, but rather
small for stopping a charging rhinoceros. While I was debating
in my mind as to the best method of procedure, our big friend became
very uneasy and proceeded to inform the other four, which had been
asleep, that there was something wrong. They all stood up, then
walked about, trying to discover what and where the danger might
be. Once they all came together, and it was decidedly comical
to see the five ungainly animals actually rubbing noses. Apparently

*This experience clashes with that of a well-known hunter and writer, who declares that more than four rhinos
are never seen together.





they were discussing the situation, and it ended in the biggest one
being sent to reconnoitre. He was one of the finest specimens I
have ever seen, even though the horns were not large. His hide
was in splendid condition, and wonderfully clean and smooth, entirely
free from scars and blemishes. By good luck, instead of coming
directly toward us, he went to one side, and as he came slowly along
I very carefully approached to within less than forty yards. Then
I made an exposure, getting a good broadside view. At the sound
of the shutter he stopped, then walking a few steps ahead, stopped
again, and I made another exposure. This time he located the sound
of the shutter, and turned straight toward me, and I confess that I
felt uncomfortable as I changed plates, keeping one eye all the time
on the suspicious creature. If he should charge, the others would
probably come, too, and the situation would result in a tree-climbing
contest for us ; so, after making another exposure, I crawled to a con-
venient tree as rapidly as possible. Once there I felt more comfort-
able, and changed the telephoto lens for a more rapid one, in order
to be ready for a charge. We stood eyeing each other for some min-
utes, but as I found the tension anything but pleasant, I tried to
stalk him. He allowed me to come within about twenty-five yards,
and then, being unable to stand it any longer, he bolted toward the
other four, and away they all went, leaving me somewhat delighted,
but very much surprised at their behavior.

It is just as well for one's comfort that the poor old beasts are so
nearly blind, for if they were able to see as well as they hear and
smell, they would be extremely dangerous. As it is, anything
farther than about one hundred and fifty yards is practically beyond
their range of vision. Their sense of smell is very keen, however,


and their hearing fairly so. As already stated, the big creatures
have few, if any, enemies except man, and so have small need of
keenness. When anything disturbs or annoys them, they charge
in a lumbering sort of way that is very deceptive. It seems incredible
that such clumsy-looking creatures can attain the speed they do;
not only do they go fast, but their agility in turning is really remarkable.
When charging they usually lack the fiendish persistence of such
animals as the buffalo, and if they fail to strike the object of
their ponderous attention the first time, they are more than likely
to pass on. Frequently their so-called charges are not charges at
all. They see, hear, or smell something, and, to satisfy their curiosity,
come to see what it is. In such cases they usually trot, whereas
when they mean mischief, as they frequently do, they more often
gallop with tail erect. This at least has been my experience, though
it has been said that they never gallop unless wounded. The question
of how to avoid a charge is open to dispute, and I almost hesitate
to advise dodging, after a certain writer has declared it to be a practi-
cal impossibility. Yet I have seen it done with perfect success.
Of course it requires coolness and favorable conditions to begin
with, and no move must be made until the animal is within about
two or at most three yards, then a sudden jump to one side should
prove absolutely safe. If you move too soon the rhinoceros will
turn. It is of the utmost importance that the ground be examined
before any move is made, as in many places it is honey-combed with
holes, and to fall into one would prove decidedly disastrous. When
there is more than one of the big brutes it is unwise to trust to dodging.
Shooting is far more safe. Curiously enough the rhinoceros, not-
withstanding its size, is comparatively easily killed; but I do not


believe that it is often necessary to shoot to kill, as they will in most
cases turn if struck on the shoulder or the nose. A solid bullet of
about .450 calibre will kill instantly if properly placed, while a soft
point of the same size will usually cause the animal to turn. We
even tried buckshot with a twelve-bore shotgun with success, but it
can scarcely be relied upon, as we found to our cost when we tried
to turn the last one mentioned in the Olgerei trip.



THERE did not seem to be very much chance of doing any more
satisfactory work in the vicinity of the water hole, and as we were
anxious to be making our way farther north before the rains, we
decided to leave the Yata Plains and go toward the Tana and Thika
rivers, where we had been given to understand there was an abun-
dance of game of many kinds. So on the I4th of March we broke
camp and headed for the Thika River, at a point where it passed
Boulder Hill. Our guide told us that we should not reach the river
in less than seven or eight hours, but, like most of his information,
it proved incorrect, for in three and a half hours we heard the refresh-
ing sound of running water, and a halt was called so that we all
might enjoy a cool wash, as the day was hot. We found the river
more or less tropical in appearance. There were a few palms,
almost hidden in the thick overhanging trees, while here and there
masses of the beautiful feathery papyrus lined the shores, and many
kinds of brilliant flowering creepers covered every available bush
and branch. We were surprised to see no aquatic birds, for the
place seemed thoroughly suited to them.

The walk along the side of the river was thoroughly delightful;
for miles we followed animal paths which led through a fairly thick
growth of rather small thorn trees, all in full bloom, and anything



more untropical could scarcely be imagined. Under the shade
of the sweet-smelling trees the air was deliciously cool; it was really
more like a fine spring day at home than the so-called African
"jungle" a few miles south of the equator. There were not many
animals about, only a few impala and waterbuck, while here and
there a little duiker or dikdik would dart away in nervous haste,
and occasionally a big rhinoceros would go off with a petulant
grunt as he heard the sound of man. Then as we reached a suitable
fording place we were brought rather suddenly to a realization of
our whereabouts by the angry growl of a lion, not fifty yards away.
He had evidently come down to the river for a drink, after having
had his meal, and, finding the cool shade of the trees to his liking,
had lain down to enjoy his regular after-dinner sleep, when we,
coming along, disturbed his Royal Highness. So off he went after
loudly expressing his utter disapproval of us. We followed him
for some distance, but eventually lost the spoor in a dense, dry

It is usually considered unwise to wade rivers in tropical countries,
but we found the water so alluring that we could not resist the tempta-
tion. It was little more than waist deep, and so delightfully cool
that we both wanted to have a swim. On the north side of the river
we found the country more open, with larger and fewer trees, none
of which were in bloom. There were a good many waterbuck,
and occasionally a company of baboons could be seen in the distance.
Shortly after noon we came across a fair-sized rhinoceros in a clear
piece of ground which had evidently been a resting place for harte-
beest, or perhaps waterbuck or impala, as it was entirely devoid of
vegetation. Surrounding this clearing were many trees, so it was


in every way a good place for photographing. It is not often that
one sees a rhino clear of all grass or other obstruction, so I determined
to do what I could in the way of securing a good picture. My
companion had the heavy rifle to be used in case of emergency,
while my camera bearer, following close behind me, carried my
Mauser. My attention was so entirely concentrated on the suspicious
animal, which presumably had heard us, I had not noticed that
two askaris were following. We got within about eighteen yards
of the rhinoceros after a little careful stalking. Fully believing he
would run away, I was about to make an exposure when he suddenly
rushed toward us. Here then was a perfect chance to make a really
satisfactory photograph of a charge, as I could wait near a tree until
the last moment, and so make the picture at very close range. With
this idea in view I held the camera at the approaching animal,
focussing carefully. Just as I was going to press the button, the
rhino being but ten yards away, a regular cannonade was fired
right at my elbow, and down went the wretched brute. Both askaris,
as well as the gun and camera bearers, had lost their heads and
fired. It was indeed a wonder that they had not killed me, as I had
been almost directly between them and the rhinoceros. My indigna-
tion could neither bring back to life the poor old creature, nor give
me the photograph that I wanted so much. I could simply threaten
the men with the rigor of the law if ever they dared to fire again
without my orders.

We camped for the night on the banks of the Thika, and the men
made the most of the opportunity by spending hours in the water.
It is quite extraordinary how fond the Negroes are of bathing. Never
have I seen them miss a chance of washing, even when they have


to go a long distance to the water. They will do anything to get
hold of soap, stealing it without the slightest compunction if it is
not carefully locked up. Generally speaking, I found the natives,
including the porters, who are mostly Swahilis, cleanly in their
personal habits, according to their own ideas. They are particularly
careful of their teeth, and spend a great deal of time cleaning them
with a sort of soap wood. They even consider our custom of using
a toothbrush a most uncleanly habit.

The march to our next camp was along very dry country; in fact
we saw no sign of water in the sixteen miles or so that we covered.
We kept close to the foothills of the irregular range known as the
Ithanga Mountains, crossing innumerable dry water-courses, which
in the rainy season must be raging torrents. In some places, particu-
larly among the "sugar bushes," game was fairly numerous, especially
waterbuck. We also saw one herd of fifteen giraffe. They were
very wild, however, and though I tried hard I could not get within
photographing distance of them. One thing which surprised me
was the absence of hartebeest. We had walked perhaps twenty
miles before we saw any, though as a rule they are quite the common-
est of the animals. Our guide was taking us to where he said we
should find water in abundance, but when we arrived at the place
all we found was a very small pool of dark green substance which
could scarcely be called water. It was very disappointing, as the
march had been the hottest we had experienced and we were all
thoroughly tired. We had the choice of digging for water or continu-
ing our way till we reached the Tana, a couple of hours farther on.
In several places we had seen the footprints of lions in the dry sand,
so of course we were only too anxious to stay where we were. A


careful examination of the stream bed showed where some animals
had been digging for water; we followed their example, and soon had
the satisfaction of finding a very fair supply of clear cold water,
which filtered slowly through the coarse sand. While digging in
this sandy gravel we found a number of very small toads, scarcely
one and a half inches long, of a kind I had never seen before. They
burrowed with the greatest ease until they were below the upper
sand, which was dry and scorching hot.

Our first night in camp was made interesting by the roaring of
lions. From every direction came the gruesome sound, which was
music in our ears, for of all the animals in East Africa the lion was
the one which I wanted most to photograph, and if sounds meant
anything we should certainly find opportunities in the neighborhood.
The following day we built a thorn boma twelve yards away from
a freshly killed zebra. Near this two cameras and the flashlight
were placed, and when night came we entered the thorny shelter
with great hope in our hearts. Nothing happened, however, to
break the monotony of the long watch except the roars of lions,
which at one time were very near. The next night we were less
hopeful, notwithstanding the fact that the conditions seemed very
favorable. There was no moon, and dark heavy clouds hung low
in the sky, so that the darkness was almost overwhelming. It was
really just the sort of night for lions to be prowling about, according
to the popular idea. I took the first watch, and lay with my head
on the ground, in order that I might perhaps be able to see any
approaching animal against the very indistinct sky-line. There
was scarcely any wind, so I rather hoped that I should hear anything

For about two hours I had been straining both eyes and ears,
when suddenly to my astonishment a huge lion appeared. He
was standing close to the zebra when I first discovered him, and I
could not understand how he could possibly have come without
being seen or heard. Yet there he stood, the king of beasts, the
most feared animal in Africa, not twelve yards away. The thrill
of excitement was beyond all words. As far as I could judge the
big creature was staring at us, and I scarcely dared reach over to
my companion and whisper the word "lion." Fortunately he
awoke without making any noise, and leaning gently over me he
had his first look at the animal. Much as I wanted a photograph
I felt almost afraid to fire the flash, for what should we do if he
attacked us ? After a flashlight goes off one can see nothing for
several minutes, so that the lion might come without our knowing
anything until he was on top of us, when shooting would be too
late. We finally decided that the best plan would be for us both
to shoot as I pressed the electric button. While we were getting
ready for this the lion seized the zebra, and without the slightest
effort turned it round. Fearing that he would carry it off beyond
reach of the cameras, we hurriedly took aim, and as I pressed the
electric flash release we both fired. The two shots rang out simul-
taneously with the explosion of the powerful light, but whether or
not the lion was hit we could not tell. He only went about one
hundred yards away, and then began roaring in a manner that made
us most uncomfortable. It was not long before he was joined by
his mate, and the two kept up the most frightful roars I had ever
heard. Occasionally they moved farther away, but most of the
time they stayed within a hundred to two hundred yards, and each


time as the sounds would come closer we expected the brutes were

coming for us.

It is all very well to say that when a lion means mischief he keeps
quiet. In theory that is generally true, but it is hard to believe in
the theory when the conditions were such as we were experiencing.
We realized that the lions knew we were there. We also believed
one of them to be wounded. It was no wonder then that we did not
enjoy crawling out of the boma in order to reset the cameras and
flashlight. It was a thoroughly disagreeable job, and I for one was
only too glad when it was accomplished, and we were safely back
in the shelter of the thorns. Once there we could more comfortably
enjoy the continual roars which lasted during the greater part of
the night. So far as we could judge there were about five lions
altogether, but the sounds seemed to come from every direction.
No more came near the cameras, however, so we had to be content
with the two exposures which had been made simultaneously.

With the first gleam of dawn we started for camp, as I could scarcely
wait to develop the plates. My delight was unbounded when on
examining the negatives after they came out of the developer I found
that I had really secured two satisfactory photographs of a pretty
fair-sized lion at a distance of twelve yards. Not only had the pictures
been secured, but we had had a night of as great excitement as the
most ambitious might wish. Those who have not gone through
the experience cannot imagine the sensation of being at such very
close quarters with so powerful and determined a creature as a lion.
It would have been exciting enough by day, but in the awe-inspiring
darkness of night it was much more so, as one knows that for the
lion there is no night, his eyes being as good then as in the clear

sunshine. We found it difficult to wait for the day to pass, so eager
were we to be at the lion work again, but our luck was not to con-
tinue as it had begun. Instead of lions we had to be content with
watching a miserable hyena, which came several times. Constantly
afraid, he would come to the carcase after much hesitation, greedily
gulp down a lump of torn flesh or entrails, and vanish for some time
before venturing to return for another piece. If, when he stood
near the carcase, a lion roared, away would the sneaking creature
go. Everything frightened him. The whirr of the wings of some
nocturnal bird appeared to be as much dreaded as the sound of the
lions, and when we moved in any way the hyena simply melted into
the darkness. What a life such a creature must live ! Ever afraid of
his own shadow, shunned by all animals save the jackal, with whom
he sometimes associates in his filthy feasts. No one has a good
word for the carrion beast, and he appears to feel the world's attitude,
if we may judge by his hang-dog expression and skulking ways.

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Online LibraryA. Radclyffe (Arthur Radclyffe) DugmoreCamera adventures in the African wilds; being an account of a four months' expedition in British East Africa, for the purpose of securing photographs of the game from life → online text (page 6 of 18)