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 7 of 18)
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The next night we were again on duty in the boma. The proxim-
ity of the zebra was anything but agreeable. When at times the
breeze veered round, and carried the offensive odor toward us,
it was all we could do to stand it, and we wondered if lions would
deign to touch meat that was in such a state. We knew that both
hyenas and jackals prefer, or appear to prefer, putrid meat to that
which is fresh, but we had been told that lions were more particular,
and that, as a rule, they would disdain anything which was not of
their own killing. For the benefit of those who wish to try baiting
lions, I can say that from our experience it would seem that the
lion's own kill, be it fresh or old, is unquestionably preferred, but
they will not refuse to come to an animal killed by man, whether


it has been handled or not. It should not be forgotten that they
show marked preference for certain flesh, zebra, rhinoceros and,
I am told, buffalo being their favorites, while hartebeest is perhaps
the least desired. The hour at which food is taken is absolutely
irregular and uncertain, any time from sunset till dawn being far
more common than during the day, and I believe the earlier half
of the night to be preferred to the later half.

I was, as usual, taking the first watch, and was lying with my
head on the ground, as I had done on the previous nights. Scarcely
anything could be distinguished in the darkness, and I was trying
to decide whether a dark object some distance away was an animal
or a bush when I felt, rather than heard, some creature moving
near the dead zebra. With the aid of the night glass I made out the
forms of a hyena and two jackals prowling about. For about half
an hour they remained in sight. Evidently they could smell us,
and were afraid to begin their meal. Without any apparent reason
they suddenly vanished. It seemed more than likely that a lion was
in the vicinity, and they had gotten wind of him. Discretion being
very much to their mind, they had retired without waiting to argue
the point with the mighty hunter. Some time elapsed, and I was
beginning to think my conjecture was wrong, when I was startled
by a heavy thud, as two lions landed on the zebra. Evidently they
had stalked the carcase as though it were a living beast, and crouching
low had been invisible against the sky-line, while the spring had been
so quick that I could not have seen it. The stealthy and absolutely
silent approach of these two big beasts through the parched grass
made me realize with what ease they could stalk a man, no matter
how alert he might he, and my respect for them increased greatly.









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The first sound after they had landed on the gas-distended carcase
was the rending of the tough skin as they tore great pieces from the
flank in their endeavor to get at the meat. It was terrible even
though a somewhat grand sight, and I gently awoke my companion
that he might see it, and be ready in case of trouble. That I was
going to secure a splendid picture of the two huge beasts there seemed
no reason to doubt, but, as on the previous occasion, we deemed
it advisable to shoot as well. The shooting, however, was no easy
task, as the sights of the rifles were impossible to distinguish in the
extreme darkness, and then the animals were ever on the move as they
pulled the heavy carcase about as though it were a feather. At
last, however, we both thought we were ready, and at a given signal
I pressed the button and we both fired. The flash did not go off.
At the report of the rifles the lions disappeared! What a dismal
failure we had made of this wonderful opportunity! Why the
flash had not fired we could not understand, for everything had been
so carefully tested. Neither could we understand how it was possible
to miss two lions that were only twelve yards away. To say that
we were discouraged and disappointed scarcely expresses it, for that
we should have another such opportunity was highly improbable.

We were discussing the situation in perfectly audible tones, and
I, much against my companion's advice, was about to go out of the
boma to investigate the cameras, when he grabbed my arm, and
pointed to a dark moving form not more than twenty-five yards
away. Was it really the lion coming back ? If so, we could only
believe that it was coming for us. It seemed utterly impossible that
any animal would return to where it had been fired at only a few
minutes before. Turning the glasses toward the slowly advancing


creature I found that there was no doubt about it. It really was
the lion, and I shuddered at the thought of what might have happened
had I been foolish enough to leave the boma as I was on the point
of doing. We were very much relieved to see that instead of coming '
straight for us he went to the zebra. Now, of course, there was no
chance of using the cameras; shooting alone remained for us; so
as soon as the lion reached the zebra and stood absolutely motionless
we took aim with the utmost care, and both fired, I with the .275
Mauser, and my companion with the .450 cordite. The sound
of the shots was almost deafening. Then came silence, silence
intense, and oh, so discouraging! Had we hit the animal there
would have been some sound of the death struggle, or if we had
missed we should have heard it rushing away (if it did not rush at
us). We waited for several minutes without getting any light on
the situation, and then, being unable to stand the strain of suspense
any longer, we crawled out armed with lamps and rifles. It was
not a particularly wise proceeding on our part, for if the lion were
wounded we should have very little chance in the event of its attacking
us. Then, too, its mate was probably not far away. The excitement
of the moment sent discretion to the winds, and although as we
left the boma we looked around us with decided feelings of apprehen-
sion, it was not till later that we fully realized the imprudence of
our action. The camera was first examined, and the unfortunate
cause of failure was found in the disconnection of one of the wires,
which had evidently been knocked loose while we were placing the
thorn branches around the cameras. Thinking it would be interest-
ing to see which direction the lion had taken when he had so mysteri-
ously disappeared, we turned the light toward the ground near the

carcase, and there, to our amazement, lay the lion stone dead. The
little .275 bullet had entered the head directly between the eyes,
and death had been instantaneous. With the greatest difficulty
we dragged the dead animal away from the zebra. Until then we
had not understood that a lion weighs very nearly a quarter of a
ton. We were interrupted in our examination of the dead monster
by the deep roar of a lion not far away. It was probably the dead
one's mate, so we lost no time in getting back to the little boma,
as we were by no means anxious to encounter a lioness that had
just lost her lord and master. We were very sorry not to have secured
a photograph of so fine a lion, but the possession of the skin made
up, to some extent, for the disappointment. The shooting of a lion
does, without doubt, appeal strongly to one's vanity; even the least
bloodthirsty of us pats himself on the back with satisfaction, and
thinks he has done something of which he may be justly proud,
whereas shooting lions is not anything very wonderful. It is usually
close range work, wherein the marksmanship is easy. In most
cases it is simply a question of keeping cool, for there is no doubt
both greenhorn and veteran regard the lion with a considerable
degree of fear; and then, too, tradition has much to do with our
feelings of worshipful awe.

We were busy skinning the lion the following morning when the
men arrived to carry back the blankets and other articles. Their
delight was most interesting when they found that we had really
killed a lion. Nothing would satisfy them but that I should be
carried back to camp. Shouts and songs announced our approach,
and the whole outfit came to meet us. Then began the lion dance,
which was very amusing. The skull was carried about, while the


jaws were kept opening and closing as the men went through all
sorts of evolutions. The only word I could catch in the song was
the universal "backsheesh," so I could not but realize that in appeal-
ing so artfully to my natural conceit their one and only idea was to
coax money from me. As it appeared to be a custom of the country
to give presents in such events I saw nothing to do but "stand and
deliver," whereupon there were three cheers, and every man insisted
on shaking my hand.

The four nights of watching had proved so tiring that we
decided to spend one in camp, and leave the cameras arranged
with an automatic release should any animal visit the carcase.
But for some reason or other there were no visitors. This we
attributed to the presence of the dead lion. We noticed that
few, if any, animals care to eat lion meat, especially when fresh.
Birds, however, not having any appreciable sense of smell, are
not so particular.

The next night we tried using a dead hartebeest for bait, placing
it in the bed near a water hole, which was much visited by lions.
Our boma we built on the bank, so that we could see any animal
coming along the sandy river bed. The night passed slowly, but
with the exception of one hyena nothing came near, and, strange to
say, we did not once hear a lion roar. The following night we had
no better luck, though we heard a good many lions in the neighbor-
hood. Evidently the hartebeest was not wanted, so we again resorted
to a zebra for bait, choosing a place some little distance from where we
had had the lion experiences. Nothing happened during the early
part of the night, but about ten o'clock we were put on the alert
by the snorting of a rhinoceros not very far away. He had gotten






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a whiff of us, which apparently did not suit him, so he went off
without waiting to investigate further. The next night, however,
he made us very nervous. He was traveling along the river bed,,
evidently going to drink, when he got our wind, and came to see
what was going on that might be stopped. Nearer and nearer he
came, and his petulant snorting struck terror to our hearts, for if
the big, heavy brute should charge the boma, as he might do in his
blind stupidity, there would be a most unpleasant ending to our
photographic work. We had built the boma only with the idea of
its withstanding the possible attack of lions, consequently it was
mostly composed of thorn branches, which rested upon a very light
framework. A rhinoceros would not be troubled much by the thorns,
and the whole structure would of course collapse if he ran against
it, and we should have been in a snarl of thorns from which we could
not have been easily extricated, even if there had been anything
left of us, as the ponderous brute would probably have trampled
us to death. Unfortunately we had left no openings in the boma
except at the side facing the zebra, and of course the rhino came on
the other side. For quite a long time the disgruntled creature
kept us on tenter-hooks. Nearer and nearer he came, snorting
intermittently, and generally displaying his bad temper. At last
his curiosity got the better of him, and he came past us not more than
seven or eight yards away. The smell of the dead zebra was not
at all to his fancy, so after giving one farewell grunt he rushed off,
passing between the two cameras instead of hitting them, as we
fully expected he would do. During the rest of our stay at what
we called Simba camp we did not see any more lions at night-time,
though we spent many nights watching over kills. Occasionally


hyenas and jackals visited us, but even these were not plentiful,
and I did not succeed in securing any good pictures of them. Neither
had I been successful with daylight pictures of any of the game,
though I had made many attempts, so I thought it might be well
to try watching for the animals to come to me instead of stalking
them. It was easier work, and therefore suited me, for with the
night-work, watching for lions, I was somewhat tired, and if I tramped
hard all day it would have been very difficult to stay awake all night,
and sleeping in a boma, with one's head at the opening, would have
been anything but safe. Then again, there is one great advantage
in photographing from a hiding-place, for if one gets pictures at all,
they usually show the animals in a natural, quiet attitude, whereas
it is almost impossible to stalk any of the more alert wild animals
without arousing some suspicion, so that they appear almost unnatu-
rally watchful. My only experience in photographing wild animals
from blinds or other places of concealment had up to this time
been chiefly with caribou in Newfoundland and moose in New
Brunswick, and though it had been extremely interesting, there
was in it no element of danger, and consequently none of the keen
excitement that I found when I lay in wait for animals in British
East Africa. The animals, though very plentiful near our camp,
were so wild that stalking them was excessively difficult. They
were constantly on the lookout for lions, and their alertness was
truly surprising. I determined, after watching their habits for
several days, to resort to lying in wait for them at a certain place
where they were in the habit of passing each morning. Zebra,
hartebeest and impala were the only kinds I expected to see, but
of none of these had I as yet secured any satisfactory daylight pictures;

so one morning, after having spent the night watching for lions,
I went to the selected place, and made a rough blind with leafy
branches, and there alone with a camera and by good luck a
rifle - I made myself comfortable. After about an hour's waiting
a small herd of hartebeest came out of the sugar bush, and I won-
dered if they would come within range, for they are wonderfully
careful animals, and act as the sentries for most of the African
game. Hitherto all my efforts to get within camera range of them
had been unavailing, but here, I thought, was a fairly good chance.
I got my camera ready as quietly as possible, and watched. They
seemed free from suspicion, but soon I noticed their attention was
attracted by something, and looking to one side I saw another small
herd emerging from some scrubby woods about one hundred yards
away. The herds eyed each other suspiciously for some minutes,
and then slowly came toward me. As soon as they were near enough
I made two exposures. The sound of the shutter frightened them
off, and I saw no more of them. It was not long before some zebra
came walking cautiously along the same path. They stopped before
they were near enough for anything but a telephoto picture, and they
stood staring in my direction for many minutes. I was sure they
could not see me, and wondered what it was that interested them.
I was not long left in doubt. A wretched hartebeest was coming
to warn them of my presence. For over an hour he had been stand-
ing in the open plain, about a quarter of a mile away, watching
me, and had evidently made up his mind to keep all animals away
from my blind. He passed close to me, and on getting near the
zebra gave a snort of alarm, and off they all went together. This
may sound like a nature faker's story, but all who have hunted in


East Africa will understand and probably believe it. It was not
the first time by any means that my plans had been frustrated by
the interference of the much-hated hartebeest. Their special friends
are apparently the zebra, and I have known them go a long distance
out of their way to warn these of impending danger. A certain
sportsman has suggested that no shooting license be granted to
any one until he has shot a specified number of hartebeests, and
after my experience in photographing the animals of East Africa
I am bound to say I almost concur in his suggestion.

After the zebra had gone time began to hang heavily on my hands,
as nothing else appeared on the scene. I thought of returning to
camp for a sleep, as I was very tired after the long night's watch,
but it was nearing lunch hour, so I decided to wait a little longer,
and beguiled the time writing letters, keeping all the while a good
lookout to windward, the direction from which the animals would
naturally approach, as coming the other way they would, of course, get
scent of me. For some reason or other, just as I was finishing a
letter, I happened to glance down wind. It was the most fortunate
thing that ever happened to me, for there, not eighty yards away,
were two immense lions stalking me across some open ground.
The sudden sight of these two big tawny yellow brutes was enough
to stagger any one. They had seen me move, and had stopped
immediately, absolutely still, with their eyes fixed on me. My
first impulse was to grasp a camera and get a picture of them, but
as I leaned forward to pick it up they both took a few long, slow
steps forward, and I decided that it was no time for camera work
if I wished to take my own skin safely back to camp. I therefore
took up the rifle instead, feeling that it was far more useful than the


camera. In my excitement I forgot to look to the sights, taking
it for granted that they would be set for one hundred yards, as I
always kept them. I aimed at the larger of the two lions; the shot
struck high, just over his head. I attributed this miss to my own
excitement, for I was excited, and taking more careful aim fired
again, with exactly the same result. Then I looked at the sights,
and found that my gun-bearer had set them for three hundred yards.
About this time I realized with sudden feelings of horror that I had
no ammunition with me except the six cartridges that had been in
the magazine and chamber of the rifle; in fact, it was only by chance
that I had the weapon at all, for before leaving camp that morning
I had remarked to my companion that it seemed absurd carrying
any firearms when I was only going to work from a blind which
was but five hundred yards from our camp, and I had nearly left
the rifle behind. Had I done so, it is hard to say what might have
happened, for I should have been utterly powerless, there being
no trees near me in which I could have taken refuge. It is perhaps
needless to say that the next shot was fired with the greatest possible
care and deliberation, and, to my intense satisfaction, I saw the
big brute roll over. I had still three cartridges left. All this time
the second lion stood absolutely motionless, staring at me. That
he did not charge seemed extraordinary. I fully expected to see
him come when his companion was struck, so I fired as quickly
as I could and knocked him over. The feeling of relief was greater
than can be imagined, but I had another moment of anxiety as I
saw that the first lion had not been fatally wounded! Curiously
enough, instead of charging me, as a wounded lion might be expected
to do, he got up and slowly moved away, going into some thick


brush. I signaled to my camera bearer, who was waiting between
me and camp, and he came running toward me. His course led
him about seventy yards from the second lion, which had its back
broken, and as he rushed past the lion gave a frightful roar, and
the poor negro thought his last moment had come, and completely
collapsed. It was with difficulty I persuaded him that he was not in
immediate danger, and that I wanted him to go for some more ammu-
nition so that I could pursue the wounded beast and put the other one
out of its misery. He went off gladly enough, and returned with
the whole camp following. We searched the scrubby woods, only
to find the blood-stained tracks of the wounded lion, and tracks
of another close beside. So it was particularly fortunate that I had
not followed with my scanty supply of cartridges, and I ceased regret-
ting the loss of the fine skin which I should greatly have liked to
keep as a souvenir of my fortunate escape. However, I have the
other skin, to say nothing of my own, so it would be ungrateful to
complain of my luck.

From what I have heard of lions' habits my experience was
decidedly unusual. They will, it is true, occasionally go for a man
at night, or when wounded or cornered, but it is very rarely that
they will deliberately stalk any one in broad daylight, and it is perhaps
just as well, for the sensation is most unpleasant, even though exciting
enough to satisfy the most ardent sportsman. Had I not looked
in the direction of the lions when I did, there is very little doubt they
would have had me, so, as I said before, camera work from a blind
in British East Africa has in it the greatest possibilities of adventure.
I spent a few more mornings in the blind, but beyond the interesting
sight of some Marabou storks eating the remains of the lion nothing















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of importance occurred. During the rest of our stay in Simba camp
we had no more experience with lions. I secured a few pictures
of antelopes, but the game was becoming more and more wild, so
we decided to go down the Tana, and have a try at the hippopotamus
and other inhabitants of the river.



ON THE 28th of March we started for the Tana River, making
directly for the point at which it is joined by the Thika. For the
first few miles we kept to the rolling plains, where there was prac-
tically no vegetation owing to recent fires. The ground was powder-
dry, and of a peculiar light ash-like consistency, which offers poor
foothold, and as the grass roots form small hummocks, the walking
is most uneven, so that wherever possible we found it desirable to
keep to the animal trails, which were well-packed, and more or less
smooth. As is usual in East Africa, these great open plains contained
a lot of game, chiefly hartebeest, zebra and impala, neither Grant's
nor Thomson's gazelles being found near this part of the Tana -
in fact, we had seen neither of these species since leaving Donya

In the distance to the north of us stood Mount Kenia. As the
rainy season was about due, its summit was perpetually enveloped
in clouds. Between us and the mountain could be seen the course
of the Tana River, winding its way like a great green snake, the
rich foliage of the trees along its banks standing out in remarkable
contrast to the dry yellowish gray of the surrounding country. Just
as soon as the rains commenced all the country would be changed
as though by magic. When we saw it a few days later we scarcely


believed it to be the same parched country. After we had crossed
the open plains we came to low rolling hills, thinly studded with
small thorn bushes, these in turn giving place in the valleys to fair-
sized trees. The whole country was infested with ticks, which
literally covered our clothes, and made us very uncomfortable. These
ticks, which infest most parts of the Athi Plains and the region of
the Tana, are about the only pest that trouble the camper in East
Africa. While we were marching we saw, not many hundred yards
ahead, a fine herd of about twenty-eight giraffe. As they disappeared
into a small valley I went after them with the camera, scarcely expect-
ing, however, that they would allow me to approach within anything
like photographic range. As there was no cover, stalking was use-
less, so I simply walked straight at them as fast as I could go. As
soon as I got within about three hundred yards I made a telephoto
exposure, which showed the greater part of the herd, as well as some
zebra, and gives a good idea of the comparative size of these two
strongly marked creatures. The giraffe did not at all like the looks

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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 7 of 18)