Oliver Howard] [Wolfe.

Back log and pine knot; a chronicle of the Minnisink hunting and fishing club online

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lar head, which is more clearly defined from the rest of
the body than in most of the other snakes. Over the eyes
and nose this repulsive-looking creature has a sort of horny
shield, studded with straight-outstanding hard points.
The nostrils are very small and, curiously enough, open
straight upward, and very close to the wide mouth with
its deadly fangs. The whole body is covered with com-
paratively large scales, which overlap each other like
pointed shingles. The color is arranged in almost V-



shaped dark brown bands, with ends pointing backward,
while the rest of the body is more of an ash-gray hue. The
body ends in a short tail, which is exceedingly small in
comparison with the size of the reptile.

(This reptile seems to frequent not only sandy places,
but also wooded country and forests. Very little authentic
information is obtainable about the pufif adder, but the
natives of different districts have told me that it has a most
curious way of striking what it wants to kill. Living on
the smallest animals, he does not hesitate to attack horses,
cattle, and even man, and its poison is so deadly that the
largest animal will succumb a few hours after it has been
bitten by a full-grown snake. People are said to die within
a very few minutes from the time of the inoculation. I
have killed two puff adders, both of which were lying near
cattle-paths; and, strangely enough, both with their tails
close to the path and the rest of the body forming almost
a right angle with the same. The natives told me that
they do this because, when they strike, they first lift the
tail-end of the body and then, throwing this quickly down
upon the ground, swing their heads around in a semicircle,
thus striking the victim unexpectedly. Whether it is
so or not is impossible to say, but I have heard this twice
affirmed by different natives of widely separated districts.

In the southern part of Africa the natives feel very
happy when they are able to locate a puff adder, for, after
they have killed it, they extract the poison from its head
and dip the points of their arrows in the deadly substance
for the purpose of using them to kill both human enemies
and wild beasts. Fortunately, the puff adder is not as com-
mon in British East Africa as it is in Uganda. In this



latter country, as well as in the southern parts of the
Sudan, it is very numerous and has often caused the death
of natives by its fatal bite. In these last-named countries
it also seems to grow somewhat larger and is not infre-
quently found to exceed six feet in length, with a girth of
some twelve to fifteen inches.

A puff adder, which I found on one of the foothills of
Mt. Kenia, seemed to be almost impossible to kill. I had
passed close by the reptile's tail, stepping not more than
two inches from the same, when the gun bearer, who was
walking close behind me, saw the hideous creature, and
begged me to shoot it with the gun. My first inclination
was to do so, but, not wanting to spoil the beautifully
marked skin, I secured one of the sticks of the porters,
with which they support their loads from the shoulders.
With this weapon I struck the snake over its head several
times. I then lifted it up on the end of the cane and car-
ried it for a while myself, as I could not induce any of the
men to do it for me. They assured me that the snake
would not die before sunset, unless I completely severed
the head from the body. This I did not care to do, as I
wanted to preserve the whole skin of the reptile ; but when
we arrived at our camping place about two hours later I
put down the snake a few yards away from the place
which I had selected for my tent, and got ready to take
some photographs of the puff adder before it should be

Imagine my surprise when I came back with the camera
and found that the snake was slowly crawling away from
the place where I had put it ! After having placed it again
on a bare spot and taken a few photographs, I completely



crushed the head with a stone and then told a couple of
our " black taxidermists " to skin it. One of them came
back in a few minutes to tell me that the snake was again
worming away and that they did not dare to touch it. I
then tied the snake with a heavy string to a stick driven
into the ground, and, incredible as it sounds, it seemed
still to be trying to wiggle away when I saw it last, just
before sunset, and it was impossible to get any of the
" skin men " to do anything with it that day.

The python is another snake quite frequently seen in
British East Africa. The python is, perhaps, the most
widely spread of all the species of snakes, for it is not only
found in Africa, India, and Australia, but also southern
Europe, in the West Indies, and the southwestern part of
North America ; indeed, it seems to be a denizen of all the
warmer regions of the world, tropical and subtropical.
The Indian python is the largest of the family. This huge
reptile sometimes reaches the length of twenty-seven to
thirty feet, with a girth of sometimes even more than two
feet. Next to the Indian python in size comes the python
which is found in the damp forests of West Africa, where
it sometimes attains a length of over eighteen to twenty
feet, with a circumference of just about as many inches.
The body of this mighty reptile is somewhat depressed,
the belly being more flat than is generally the case with
snakes. The scales are very large and marked with dark
brown, irregular spots of different sizes, most of which
are connected by long, zigzag stripes running along each
side of the body. The head is also well defined and the
tail is short and stubby.



The Deadly Puff Adder.

Iguana, the Largest of African Lizards.


This giant reptile is not as fond of open and arid coun-
try as many other snakes are, but seems to love damp but
not too thick forests, where it is often seen lying on the
large limbs of trees, from where it will fling itself upon its
prey as it passes under the tree. The python is not afraid
of water, but, on the contrary, is found swimming across
lakes and rivers, and natives have assured me that the
python often catches and devours fish, although I have no
authentic proof that this is the case. The chief menu of
the python consists of the smaller antelopes and half-
grown goats and sheep, which the hideous monster first
kills by crushing them between its coils. If the python
cannot find antelopes, goats, or sheep, it will be content
with birds of different kinds.

When the big reptile has seized its prey and squeezed
it into a mass of tangled bone and flesh, it proceeds to
swallow it whole, head first. It is a slow process, but is
made easier by the ejection of a great quantity of saliva
over the victim. This constitutes a kind of "grease,"
which makes it possible for the python to convey its prey
through the throat into the intestines, which is done by
the successive contracting of the segments of its body.
When the snake has swallowed its prey, and particularly
when this has been an antelope of considerable size, or a
kid, it is extremely lazy and slow in its movements, but
otherwise the big brute is very agile and fierce. The
natives fear all kinds of snakes, and seem to have a tre-
mendous respect for this reptile, although they know that
it is not poisonous. I have heard from Lumbwa men that
this snake has sometimes devoured little children, who
have been caught by the python near the villages. It is,



however, probably very rarely done, for the snake, in spite
of its great strength, shares the fear of man with the rest
of the animal creation.

The first python I ever saw in the jungle was killed
under quite dramatic circumstances. We had left our
camp one morning at a place on the Mau Escarpment,
where we had spent the night at an altitude of over 7,000
feet. After about an hour's march through thick forest,
we came into a more open country, where lots of charred
tree trunks, many of which had fallen down, gave evidence
of a previous fierce forest fire. Our march was somewhat
hindered here by these fallen trees, over which we had to
climb. Suddenly I stepped over something that made my
foot slip, and which slid away from under my boot, but I
did not think anything of it at the time. The first and
second men behind me also passed the same obstruction
without noticing anything particular, but the third man
gave a tremendous yell, and as I quickly turned around I
saw the head of a large python come hissing over .the
ground, as it seemed ready to throw itself over the terrified

The rifle I carried that morning was the little Mann-
licher, and, quicker than I can describe it, I fired at the
head of the monster, hitting it squarely in its open mouth,
as it was facing me at that moment. The bullet went
clean through the head, and at such close distance of only
about seven to eight yards, the velocity of the bullet almost
exploded the whole head, and thus instantly killed the
python. None of the porters wanted to venture into the
grass to pull the reptile out, for they feared that it was
still alive; so I went in myself, and grasping the python



by its shattered head, I tried to pull it out, but its weight
was too great, the wet grass making the skin so slippery
that it was impossible to get a good hold of it.

\ When the men saw that I had grasped the reptile, they
came to my aid. We then brought it out to a small place,
from which the porters had mowed the grass with their
knives. It was unfortunately too dark to photograph it,
and as we had a long day's march before us, I did not want
to stop and wait for the sun to rise; so we skinned the
snake as quickly as possible and resumed our march. This
python measured sixteen feet three inches before it was
skinned and had a girth of nineteen and one half inches.
Another python, which I later killed not far from Mom-
basa, on the way to the Shimba Hills, measured but eleven
feet two inches in length and only seventeen and three
quarter inches in circumference. This latter snake was
hanging down from the large limb of a wild fig tree, some
twenty feet from the ground, and right above a little native
path which our caravan was following, the big head slowly
swinging to and fro like a pendulum. I thought the snake
was perhaps in the very act of throwing itself down upon
some unsuspecting victim in the grass below. Suddenly
the reptile caught sight of the caravan and quickly pulled
its head back upon the limb, putting it beside a branch as
if it wanted to hide itself from us. I was at the time carry-
ing the .405 Winchester repeater, and gave it a bullet,
which cut the spine about two inches back of the skull,
causing its instant death; and, with a loud thud, it fell
to the ground, much to the surprise and joy of the porters.
The skin of this snake had the appearance of having been
recently oiled, and several pieces of old skin, which still



remained, showed that it had probably just exchanged this
for the new skin.

\ In British East Africa snakes are fortunately not so
very often found, for they never occur there in such abund-
ance as they do in other countries, which have a more
damp and hot climate. During the fourteen months that
I have spent in East Africa I have only seen and killed
two pythons, two puff adders, one long, green water snake,
and another black and very poisonous snake, the name of
which latter I do not know. This last snake was some five
feet in length and almost uniformly black. It crawled
into camp one Sunday morning, and the porters raised a
tremendous *' kelele," shouting at the top of their lungs,
" Nyoka mbaya, nyoka mbaya, Bwana!" ("A poisonous
snake, a poisonous shake. Sir!") This hateful reptile I
also killed with a stick, as I did not want to spoil the skin
with a bullet. The porters again refused to handle it until
Mr. Lang and I had taken it up to show them that it was
dead. Gripping its head firmly with my left hand, I took
a little stick and pressed the point of one of the large fangs
to see what would happen. I noticed now how quite a
large drop of yellow substance was formed on the stick,
evidently constituting the reptile's deadly poison. I regret
that at the time I did not have any proper receptacle in
which to preserve the poison, for it would have been very
interesting to have had the substance analyzed afterwards.
This snake we did not skin, but preserved it in alcohol for
the museum.

Besides snakes there seem to be very few reptiles in
British East Africa, with the exception of small iguanas,


Chamkleon, Which Certainly Possesses Protective Coloration.

A Three-horned, Small, Tree Lizard.



lizards and the chameleons, which latter are able to change
their color instantly from dark green to bright red, or from
ash-gray to an almost purple color. I have also seen a
couple of small scorpions, one of which had the impudence
to crawl into our tent, which the careless " boy " had left
open, as there were no mosquitoes around. The sting
from the tail of this scorpion is very painful, but does not
prove fatal to grown-up people, although children some-
times have been known to succumb to its effect.

One of the mightiest of reptiles is the crocodile, which
inhabits almost all the inland lakes and rivers of Africa.
These hideous beasts, too well known to need describing,
sometimes grow very audacious, and often attack, kill,
and devour the natives, particularly old people and little
children. The crocodiles on the Upper Nile are perfectly
enormous, sometimes attaining a length of eighteen feet,
and over. The strength of these beasts must be fabulous,
for there have been authentic reports of how one single
crocodile pulled down a big bull under water and killed
him. One of the strangest things that has probably ever
happened in this respect was the killing of a large bull
rhinoceros by a single crocodile. This animal got hold
of one of the hind legs of the rhino, and probably by twist-
ing its mighty tail around some rocks in the river bottom,
was able gradually to drag in the struggling quadruped
in spite of all its strength and bulk. Farther and far-
ther down into deep water the fighting couple went,
until other reptiles of the same kind joined the chase,
and soon killed and devoured the mighty beast. I should
hardly have been able to believe this, if I had not my-



self seen three photographs taken of this remarkable

One of the most pathetic stories that I have ever heard,
and which I know is perfectly true, happened in the south-
ern part of Africa a couple of years ago. A missionary,
belonging to an English Protestant society, and who had
been working among one of the inland tribes, was making
his way down to the coast, where, in Delagoa Bay, he was
to be married to his fiancee, who had come out from Eng-
land to join him. With a small party of natives he had
already been marching several days, when one morning
they had to cross a shallow stream, mostly overgrown with
reeds and rushes. This messenger of peace was armed
only with a shotgun, for the purpose of securing game
birds for his food, and, not suspecting any crocodiles or
other dangerous beasts in the vicinity, he had been careless
enough even to carry this gun unloaded. Just as he was
about to step up out of the little stream, he was suddenly
seized by a monstrous crocodile, which in a few seconds
had completely severed both of his legs above the knees,
and then disappeared into the water. The frightened
natives scattered in all directions instead of coming to his
aid, but the young man had courage and presence of
mind enough to take up his notebook and in a hurry
scribble a few words of farewell to his betrothed, while
his life was rapidly ebbing away! When the ^)orters
afterwards returned to the place he was dead. Know-
ing his destination, the cowardly blacks brought the
notebook and his other belongings down to the coast.
The terrible grief and despair of the young woman, as
she read the hastily scribbled lines, which simply ended



with some blurred marks, is more easily imagined than
described !

In British East Africa it is in the Athi and Tana Rivers
and Lake Baringo that the sportsman finds the greatest
number of crocodiles, as well as the largest. I must con-
fess that I am possessed of such a hatred for these brutes
that wherever I saw one I shot it, sometimes without even
bothering to measure or skin it. One of these beasts
killed on the shores of Lake Hannington, showed when
we cut up his belly that his last meal had consisted of a
couple of pink-colored flamingoes, but otherwise the croco-
diles feed chiefly upon smaller animals and fish, which
they are able to catch in the streams.

I once came to a certain village that had been terror-
ized for some time by a monstrous old crocodile, which
had taken away a good many women and children, accord-
ing to the stories told by the natives. They also affirmed
that several times spears had been thrown at the big rep-
tile, but all to no avail. This brute lived in a swamp
formed by a small stream, and was often in hiding near
the place where the women came to get water. As I asked
them to show me the hiding place of the crocodile, no one
wanted to venture near, but they pointed out some bushes
in the distance, under which they had several times noticed
the monster. With my powerful Mauser rifle in hand, I
walked cautiously toward this place. When within some
thirty yards of the dense, but low bushes, the crocodile sur-
prised me by rushing out and making straight for me, with
his big jaws wide open and glistening with the many sharp
teeth ! I fell on one knee to be near the ground, and opened
fire. Before the dreaded reptile could close his mouth, I
17 237


had had time to shoot thrice, all three shots penetrating
the animal from mouth to the end of the tail, and hashing
it up in the most terrible way. This brute was over four-
teen feet long. No sooner had the villagers seen that
their hated enemy was killed than they set upon it with
stones, clubs, and spears, almost hacking the thing to
pieces, before I had the chance to measure it.

\ The wisest way to protect oneself from attacks of croc-
odiles, when crossing a river where the water is fairly
deep, is first to fire a few shots into the stream. In this
way I have several times with safety crossed rivers which
were full of crocodiles, without any of them having put
in appearance anywhere near the place. The only shots
which will instantly kill a crocodile are those that either
hit the brain, break the spine back of the neck, or else tear
the heart literally to pieces. A bullet that simply goes
through the heart will not hinder the monster from rush-
ing back into the water and disappearing before it dies.
The skin of the African crocodile is so much rougher and
thicker than that of the American alligator, that it does
not seem to have any commercial value, otherwise some
enterprising person would be able in a short while to
secure a great number of hides of these hideous reptiles
from this part of Africa.

There are also a great number of game birds in the
Protectorate. The meat of these constitutes a most pal-
atable variation from that of the antelopes, but, strange
to say, even the birds seem to be somewhat " dryer," and
more devoid of fat than the kindred game birds of north-
ern regions, just as the antelope meat is, as a rule, less


Crocodilk, Shot at Lake Hannington.
It had just devoured two pink flamingoes.

Buzzards in the Act of Getting on the Remains of a Hartebeest.


juicy and fat than that of deer, elk, or moose. The king
of game birds is, in my opinion, the Giant Bustard. This
stately bird, which is often seen on all the large plains of
British East Africa, stands somewhat over four feet in
height, and measures about nine feet across the wings.
As the bird is generally found walking among the dry
grass and stones of the plains, his coloring of dark
grayish brown is indeed more protective than that of most
mammals or birds. The bustards feed, like our turkey,
mostly on insects, and their favorite food seems to be
grasshoppers, but if these are scarce they will not refuse
fruit and seeds.

They are very wary and capable of making out the
hunter at so great a distance that it is practically impos-
sible ever to get a chance at them with a shotgun. Their
great size and thickness of feathers would also make a
shotgun of no value, unless loaded with very heavy shot.
The sportsman is indeed lucky if he can come within rea-
sonable rifle range of these graceful birds, and two hun-
dred and fifty to three hundred yards would almost be
considered " close quarters " with them ! When disturbed,
the bustard often flies away only a short distance, gen-
erally to alight again almost straight in front of the on-
coming hunter. Then it calmly walks away, picking at
insects and worms, or whatever it chooses to eat, until
the sportsman comes up to within some two hundred to
three hundred yards, when the giant bird again takes a
few long strides as if running to start off on its wings.
During this short run it begins to flap with these, until
it finally lifts itself majestically from the ground. In
localities where bustards have been more often shot at,



they will fly a great distance, when aroused, and usu-
ally not be seen any more that day. These birds seem
to like to go by themselves, or at the most in pairs. I
have never seen more than two together and very rarely
even that.

One day, after some successful hunting near the beau-
tiful Lake Elmenteita, we were returning to camp just a
little after four in the afternoon, when I heard a queer,
hissing sound somewhat behind and above my head.
Turning around and looking up, I saw an enormous giant
bustard flying at great speed at about two hundred yards'
height from the ground. I happened to have the .405
Winchester in my hand at the time, and was lucky enough
to hit the monstrous bird with my second shot, which
brought it down with a crash. In measuring it we found
that the spread between the wings was ten feet two inches,
and it weighed a little over twenty-eight pounds. Al-
though probably an old bird, to judge from the size, the
flesh was delicious and more juicy than that of the East
African birds in general. We took the skin oflf in such
a way as to preserve it perfectly for the museum, while
the meat was used for our table.

There is also a similar, but much smaller species of
bustard, which is more frequently met with all over East
Africa than his cousin, the giant bustard. These birds
also seem to shun "society," as I, at least, have never seen
more than two together. Most often only one bird is seen,
walking along erect, except when picking up his food from
the ground. All the bustards are very good walkers and
will often try to run away at first, unless hotly pursued.
The colof of the smaller bustard is also of a grayish brown


Five Ostriches Running Away at High Speed at Some 300 Yards.

Huge Marabou Stork.
Compare the size of the large porter on the ground with that of the bird.


hue, which is a good protective color, as the bird is gen-
erally found among dry grass and stones on the plains or
among sparsely scattered mimosa trees. They have, in
comparison, very long legs, but only three toes, like the

The last-named bird has recently been put on the list
of animals altogether protected, except on a special permit,
which may be given to sportsmen who are accredited from
some scientific institution. The reason for thus protecting
the ostrich is the constantly growing ostrich feather in-
dustry of East Africa. For this purpose young ostriches
are run down on horseback, corralled, and driven to the
" shamba," or farm, where they soon become very tame
and are kept in, strangely enough, by wire fences so frail-
looking that it seemed to me that the powerful birds could
easily make their escape if they wanted to, for they possess
a great deal of strength in their legs. I have heard of at
least one authentic case, where a wounded ostrich caused

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Online LibraryOliver Howard] [WolfeBack log and pine knot; a chronicle of the Minnisink hunting and fishing club → online text (page 17 of 26)