Oliver Howard] [Wolfe.

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utmost to get a snapshot of them at close quarters before
they should roll into the stream.

When I first detected any hippos in this place we were


Hippo Heads Showini, aikivi: thi: Si kface of the Water in the
SoNDo River.


Sleeping Hippos in the Tana River not eak fkom Tort Hall.


all on the march and had stopped on the hills above the
river, from which elevation I scanned the waters with my
strong Zeiss No. 12 field glasses at a distance of about half
a mile. I could plainly make out the big heads of about a
dozen or more hippos, floating along in the mighty stream.
Between where I stood and the river the country was
dotted with bushes and trees, but within one hundred yards
or so of the water it was entirely open and only covered
with coarse grass, not high enough to afford any cover.
Strung along the edge of the river were a good many trees,
and upstream in front of the three sleeping hippos was
a little hill, only about ten yards away from the animals,
on the crest of which elevation were two or three good-
sized bushes, which afforded excellent cover for anyone
walking close to the river's edge.

As the wind was " right " I made a large semicircle
from where I stood down to the river in front of the trio.
1 found that only by going through water and soft mud,
sometimes over my knees, could I proceed in a line behind
the little hill, if I wanted to approach the hippos unseen.
As silently as possible I waded forward, being careful to
keep camera and gun above water all the time. This was
often not so easy, having once slid down almost to my
hips in a muddy hole, only some twenty-five yards away
from the hippos. I must then have made somewhat of a
splash, which was instantly answered by a much louder
splash, as, to my dismay, one of the hippos rolled into the

With the utmost effort I succeeded in a few seconds in
getting up on dry ground again, this time on the slope of
the little hill, just in time to hear another big splash, as



hippo No. 2 took to the water. With fast beating heart,
1 finally ventured to peep over the top of the hill between
the bushes, with the camera ready for a " snap," when, to
my great delight, I found hippo No. 3 lying exactly where
I first had seen him. In an instant I had focused and,
just as I snapped, the wary monster awoke, so that in this
picture he is seen with half-open eyes. As quickly as pos-
sible I changed my film, but before I had a chance of using
either camera or gun, the hippo had discovered me and
quickly dived into the stream.

All along the shore of this river we found well-trodden
hippo tracks of their peculiar characteristic shape; the
hippo is so thick and his legs so short in comparison that
between the imprints of the fore and hind legs on one side
and those of the other side there is a regular track, formed
sometimes by the belly of the big pachyderm, as he waddles
along. We were surprised to find that the hippo in these
regions sometimes goes as far as a mile or more away
from the river at night to feed on his favorite grass and

After I had succeeded in photographing the sleeping
monster, I signaled to the men to come on. I then sent
one party half a mile upstream, while another went down
about one thousand yards, to where the still flowing stream
tumbled down in a long succession of rapids. Both parties
were instructed to frighten the hippos away toward me.
With a few men I remained in the shadow of a tree that
overhung the little hill, from which I had taken the suc-
cessful photograph. From this place we had an excellent
view over the whole hippo pool. We quickly constructed
a good cover of branches and high grass, behind which we


Sleeping Hippo, Photographed Close to the Sondo River, 1909.


sat down to await developments. Head after head popped
up all over in front of us, just long enough to exhale and
inhale, only to disappear again in the next moment. As we
kept perfectly still behind our screen, more and more of the
hippos began to show their whole foreheads above water,
and did not dive as quickly as before.

Presently my gun bearer, Mwalimu, gave me a slight
nudge, and pointing to a big black hippo head on my left,
whispered: " Huyu mmume mkubwa sana!" ("This one
is a very big male "). Up went my gun, a flash, a sharp
report, followed by a tremendous commotion in the river,
and then the stillness of the grave seemed to reign for
a while, until some distant snortings announced that all
the hippos had scattered up and down stream. Both the
gun bearer and I thought that we heard the bullet hit the
hippo's head, but it was impossible to tell this with any
certainty, for, as already remarked, if hippos are instantly
killed, they sink at once to the bottom of the river to reap-
pear in about an hour. As the waters of the Sondo in this
still flowing pool were rather warm, I expected that the
body would reappear in less than an hour. Looking at
my watch, I saw that it was exactly ii a.m., and so get-
ting the camera ready for any snapshots, if in the mean-
time any head would appear in the vicinity, I dispatched
some men to the bulk of the caravan to bring them down
to a level place, within some five hundred yards of the river.
There we made our camp for the night, as I knew it would
take considerable time to skin the hippo, even if we got hold
of him by twelve o'clock.

To the surprise of us all, the body appeared above the
surface of the water like a dark, shiny hulk, at exactly



11.27 — or not quite half an hour from the moment the
hippo had been killed. The stream formed in this place a
fine, oblong pool, but only a very few hundred yards far-
ther down the foaming rapids began. Halfway to the rap-
ids there was a sharp bend in the river, and we thought
that the body, which now floated just about in midstream,
would surely land at our side of the bend. Much to our
dismay, however, the body seemed to float over nearer and
nearer to the opposite shore ; we had no boat available, and
there was no bridge or ford for many miles to either side.
Unless the hippo should be lost to us in a few more min-
utes, by being dashed down the rapids, someone would
have to swim out to the carcass to fasten it to the end of a
long rope, which I always carried on safari, and by which
it could then be easily hauled ashore.

No promise of reward, nor anything else, could induce
any of my men to make this venture. I was very much
disturbed, thinking that, after all, this beautiful trophy
should be lost, and so, for a moment forgetting my dear
ones at home, I flung ofif my clothes, took the end of the
rope between my teeth, and jumped into the river, having
tied my big hunting knife to a string around my waist. I
must say that this was one of the most foolhardy things
I have ever done, for not only was the river filled with
hippos, but was also said to contain crocodiles, although
as yet we had not seen any. When within a few yards of
the hippo I felt a sudden stinging pain in my left leg; I
certainly thought I was done for then, imagining that a
crocodile or a hippo was trying to chew me up ! However,
I safely reached the carcass and, after having climbed up
on his side, I found myself bleeding from a wound some



three inches long, but not very deep, just above the knee.
I then reaHzed that I must have knocked my leg against
some pole or other sharp object, which had stuck in the
bottom of the river.

Having cut two holes in the skin of the hippo's neck,
I tied the end of the rope through the loop, and called to
the men to pull us ashore. Just as the line began to
straighten I lost my balance for a moment, and rolled com-
pletely over with the hippo, a rather unpleasant experi-
ence that I repeated twice before we were landed on the
opposite shore. But my trophy was saved, and no one
in the world could have been more delighted than I when
we began to cut up the big monster.

Another hippo shot in the same river a few days later
floated up in exactly thirty-two minutes, taking five minutes
longer than the one just referred to. The second one was
a very much larger bull hippo, and was shot in a smaller
pool, above which was a rather deep ford, and below which
there was another succession of foaming rapids. As soon
as the body floated up, it was unfortunately carried by the
current in among the bushes on the opposite shore, where
it began to go slowly downstream. As the rapids were
only about one hundred yards farther down, and as the
swiftness of the current increased with every yard, I
rushed some men across the stream to fasten a rope to the
hippo, while we held on to the other end. They succeeded
in reaching the carcass only after it had moved along an-
other fifty yards and had come into rather swift-flowing
water, but close to the opposite shore. As the two men had
finished tying the rope to the big body, they swam ashore
—a distance of only some four or five yards — and at the



same time my men began to pull in the line. Just imagine
our surprise when, in the middle of the stream, the line
suddenly parted, and the big hippo shot downstream at a
tremendous speed. It had not gone far, however, until
it struck a rock, standing out just at the beginning of the
rapids. Here the body was almost doubled from the force
of the stream, which held it fast against the rock.

Now, there was only one way of reaching our trophy
and that was for some one with a rope to throw himself in
the pool and let the stream take him down to the hippo.
This was not quite so dangerous in a certain way, because
there was no other hippo in the pool, and there were no
crocodiles in this place; but the men, fearing the force of
the water, again refused. Again I had to seize the rope
myself and jump into the water, the next moment being
hurled with great force against the side of the hippo, which
was fortunately soft enough not to injure me, the carcass
lying with the back down and the feet in the air.

I realized now that it was impossible to save the whole
hippo, for the current was too strong; so I fastened the
rope around his under jaw, behind the big tusks, shouting
to the men to tightly fasten the other end around a tree
which stood at the water's edge. My gun bearer and two
of the natives now volunteered to slide down the rope with
an ax to help me cut off the head, so that we could, at
least, save that for a trophy. One by one they shot down
along the rope and reached me in safety. Mwalimu car-
ried the big American ax. When everything was ready
and only the vertebrae of the neck needed to be severed to
separate the head from the body, I again went into the
water and, with great efforts, succeeded in hauling myself



up against the stream to the shore ; I shouted to MwaHmu
to cut off the head, which he did with a couple of mighty
strokes, and the men began to pull in the magnificent head.
The reader cannot imagine how badly I felt, when, by the
increased force of the water, the new, more than half-inch-
thick line again parted, and the big head was swept down
the rapids, never again to be seen by us: and thus ended
my hippo hunting in East Africa.

The hippo is a very destructive animal. On his long
nightly wanderings, when he sometimes goes as far as one
to two miles from the water, he seems to develop an enor-
mous appetite. Very often he goes right into the gar-
dens of the white settlers or natives, where in one night
a single hippo is able to devour more vegetables than a
settler and his whole family could eat in a month! This
is nothing to wonder at, when the fact is known that the
mighty pachyderm carries a monstrous stomach, unpro-
portionately large, which by actual measurement has been
found to exceed even eleven feet in length, and capable of
containing four to five bushels of food !

The hippos vary in size quite a little, those of the
istreams being considerably smaller, as a general rule, than
the ones found in larger lakes. From three to four thou-
sand pounds is a heavy weight for a river hippo, whereas
animals have been shot in the lakes both of Uganda and
German East Africa weighing more than twice as much.
In the same proportion do their tusks vary from twelve
to eighteen inches in length on the outside curve of a good-
sized river hippo, while I recently saw a pair of tusks from
a monstrous old bull, killed in a Nyassa Land lake, whose
tusks measured twenty-eight and a half inches. The



largest hippo tusks on record reached the enormous size
of thirty-one and a half inches in length, with a girth of
nine inches at the base. The hide of an old bull hippo is
exceedingly thick and weighs, just after having been taken
off the animal, from four hundred to five hundred pounds.
In spite of all the persecutions to which the hippo is
nowadays exposed, he will probably be the last of the big
African game animals to become extinct, being still very
numerous in most of the large lakes, streams, and swamps
of the greater part of Africa.



The family of hollow-horned ruminants, including the
ox, the bison, the buffalo, and the musk ox, is to mankind
perhaps the most important of all animal groups. For what
would the civilized American or European, or the naked
savages of Africa, or the hundreds of millions of Hindoos,
Chinese and Japanese do without the work of the ox and
the milk of the cow ? Of the existing wild animals of this
family, the American bison, now practically extinct as a
wild animal, the Indian, and the African, or Cape buffalo
are the most important. Of these species again the Cape
buffalo is the largest and by far the " gamiest."

The buffaloes are so far distinct from other wild cattle
that they will not interbreed with them. Among the buf-
faloes themselves, even in the one continent of Africa, quite
a difference exists both in size and color. The Congo
buffalo with shorter and more upturned horns is much
smaller than the Cape buffalo, and of an almost yellow tint.
The Abyssinian buffalo is brown and also somewhat
smaller than the Cape buffalo, as are also the Senegambian
and the " gray buffalo," supposed to exist in the regions
around Lake Tchad.

The Cape buffalo inhabits to-day all the central and
eastern parts of Africa, from the Cape in the south to



Abyssinia in the north, although he is now rare in South
Africa, having been practically exterminated there in mod-
ern times, as the country became more and more settled
with white people. In Portuguese, German, and British
East Africa the once countless herds of buffalo were very
materially reduced some eighteen years ago by the terrible
** Rinderpest," which threatened them with total destruc-
tion. But they have in the last years fortunately increased
there again in great numbers.

These buffaloes are most powerfully built animals.
The body of a full-grown bull measures from tip of the
nose to base of the tail from eight to nine feet in length,
and he stands fully four and one half feet high at the
shoulder. The buffaloes live in great herds, feeding to-
gether like cattle, but old bulls often separate from the main
body and live by themselves, as do the old males of ele-
phants, rhinos, and giraffes. The color of the Cape buf-
falo is black, with very little hair on the body, which on
old bulls seems entirely to disappear except upon the head,
where it then generally turns gray. The shape and size
of the horns of buffaloes vary a great deal. The horns of
the female are much thinner and flatter than those of the
bull. They never meet at their base and are also much
smoother on the surface than the horns of the male buffalo.
Even among the bulls there is a great difference in the
horns, which of even some very old ones never touch each
other at the base, while those of others seem to be almost
grown together. I have seen a pair of horns that were
actually so close together at the base that it almost ap-
peared as if they formed one solid mass ; but this, I believe,
is very unusual. There is generally enough space between



the horns, even of the bulls, to allow a little tuft of hair
to grow. This hair, as well as the hair on most parts of
the head, turns often, as already remarked, gray on very
old animals.

The appearance of the surface and also the shape of
the horns vary greatly. On some, the horns are rather
flat and smooth, while other bulls carry enormously thick
and rugged horns, with such miniature canons and ridges
at the base, that they appear, as someone has said, like
" sides of a volcano, with its lava streams and rugged
ridges." Then, again, on some old bulls the tips of the
horns are rather close together — from twenty-four to thirty
inches apart — turning inward and downward toward the
base, much like fish hooks, while others have their horns
less curved and with points turned more forward and up-
ward and with as much spread as thirty-six to forty-five
inches from tip to tip.

The African bufifalo is without question one of the
finest-looking beasts imaginable. With his massive but
not clumsy body, his powerful neck, and magnificent horns,
he is the very picture of beauty and strength. Indeed, a
great many hunters class him as No. i in the list of danger-
ous game. Even the lion is then often placed as No. 2, and
the elephant, rhino, and leopard are generally considered
the three next most dangerous beasts. It is, however, very
difficult to say with any accuracy which of these animals
is really the one most to be feared, for the same kind of
animal will not only behave dififerently in varying circum-
stances, but the same individual beast will also act entirely
differently one day from what it will another, although
under exactly the same conditions.



The Cape bufifalo will hardly ever attack a human be-
ing, unless hunted, wounded, or molested. in some way,
or perhaps suddenly surprised in his own haunts. But
all African hunters agree in this, that once wounded or
cornered, the buffalo is one of the most dangerous beasts
to approach. If he has been wounded but not instantly
killed, he will either charge straight down on his assail-
ant, if the latter is in plain view, or else he will make for
some thick cover, which generally is not far away, as the
bufifalo is seldom found on the open plains in the daytime.
His favorite haunts are in the dense jungles of both the
hot lowlands along the coast of the Indian Ocean, and
of the higher inland plateaus, preferably in the vicinity
of rivers, swamps, and lakes, where he sometimes stands
for hours up to his belly in the water or resting in the
thick papyrus or under overhanging trees. On the moun-
tain ranges he is almost invariably found in large numbers
on the foothills even up to an altitude of some seven to
eight thousand feet. These forests ofifer the buffalo oc-
casional larger and smaller open spaces, overgrown with
luxuriant grass, which seems very attractive to the beau-
tiful beast.

The bufifalo is one of the most wary animals. He has
so fine a sense of smell, that only the elephant and the
rhino can be compared with him in this respect, the ele-
phant alone being his superior in being able to scent his
enemies at long distance. This fact makes it very dif-
ficult to get a shot at the bufifalo at close range, particularly
in localities where he has been much disturbed. Here
he hides in the daytime in the thickest jungle, often sleep-
ing for hours in the shadow of big trees. He is even then,

1 06

A Magnificent Bull Buffalo, KiLLt:D in the Kedong Valley.

Large Head of the Ordinary Water Buck (Cobus defassa).


however, very difficult to approach, for he sleeps very
lightly and hears exceedingly well, so that the slightest
noise, the breaking of a twig or the rubbing of the branches
against the hunter's hat, clothes, or shoes is enough to
wake him up and arouse his suspicions. Instantly he is
on his feet, and usually manages to get away so quickly
and so cautiously that the hunter in most cases only hears
him darting through the dense bush, without having a
chance to photograph or shoot him.

This has been my own experience time and again. Na-
tive trackers have told me repeatedly that they were sure
they could lead me up to bufifaloes, which they had seen
at close quarters, for these naked savages can creep
through the most dense bush apparently without the slight-
est noise; and yet again and again I myself failed to find
them, when we started out together.

One day a Wandorobo came running into camp at
about two o'clock in the afternoon, just as I was returning
from a long and successful hunt for water bucks to get
my lunch and rest a little. He told very excitedly that
he had been tracking a small herd of buffaloes all day,
until they finally had lain down to sleep under some big
trees in a very dense forest, only about three miles to the
south of our camp. He further said that there was one
" very, very large old bull " with magnificent horns among
the herd, and that he could easily take me up to within ten
yards of the creature.

After such a tale, of course, I could not take the time to
sit down and eat, and so, picking up a piece of bread and
half a roasted guinea fowl, I started off at once for the
buffaloes, taking the gun bearers and about a dozen fresh



men with me. After a little over thirty minutes of half-
walking, half-running, the Wandorobo stopped and asked
me to let the bulk of the men wait there, while he and I
with only one gun bearer should sneak up to the buffaloes,
which were now only some six to seven hundred yards
away. An order to sit down and wait was always obeyed
with much satisfaction, and as a fairly strong wind was
blowing in our faces from the direction of the herd, we
soon caught their wind, noticing more and more their
peculiar strong odor.

With the utmost caution, we followed the naked Wan-
dorobo, who penetrated the dense bush like an eel through
the water, without making the slightest noise, while my
gun bearer and I were not quite so successful in avoiding
dry twigs on the ground, and the noise of the scraping
of branches against our clothes. To make it easier for me
to move on quietly I had already left my big sun helmet
behind with the men, and had donned a small, soft, green
cap. I could do this with safety, for the jungle here was
so dense that hardly a ray of equatorial sun could pene-
trate to our heads.

After a while my guide stopped again and, pointing
forward, whispered in my ear : " Huko nyati mkubwa,
chini ya miti mkubwa." (The big buffalo is there, under
the big tree. ) The tree to which he pointed with his spear
was only about fifty yards away, and right in front of us.
I took up some dry, fine sand, which I always used to
carry in my pocket, lifted it up and let it fall to the ground
to see if the wind was still right. To my dismay, the
sand fell down as straight as it could, showing that at the
time there was no wind at all. Here I left even the gun



bearer behind, exchanging with him the .405 Winchester,
which I had been carrying up to that time, for the big
.577 Express. This evidently much pleased my Wando-
robo, as the size and weight of this weapon, by the natives
generally called " msinga " (cannon), had greatly im-
pressed him.

On we went, nearer and nearer to the big tree. Sud-
denly there was a loud snort, followed by angry grunts,
only some twelve to fifteen yards away! In another in-
stant the whole buffalo herd rushed up and crashed
through the bush in a mad rush for safety ! So dense was
the jungle, that although the nearest animal could not
have been more than twelve yards away from us, and we
could even see the tops of the bushes and trees move as
the beasts pressed by — it was absolutely impossible to
get a glimpse of a single animal, notwithstanding the
fact that I flung myself after them as fast as I knew how,
receiving cuts and bruises from thorns and larger branches
in my path, as I ran blindly through the thickets in a vain
attempt to be able to sight one of the fleeing beasts. The
wind must have changed to another direction at the last
moment, or we made some noise, unnoticed by ourselves,

Online LibraryOliver Howard] [WolfeBack log and pine knot; a chronicle of the Minnisink hunting and fishing club → online text (page 8 of 26)