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"Unpredictable." That's what the father of Tarzan has
to say about lions --
and cites facts that will chill your blood to prove it.
I have had many adventures with lions, mostly vicarious; and of the many things that I have learned about them the most outstanding is that a lion is always a lion, unpredictable. Recently, I talked with a man who had just returned from East Africa, where, he said, the lions were perfectly harmless and had to be shooed out of the way; but if I were he I should not bank too heavily on this experience with lions. I recall reading in the papers a number of years ago of a lion that escaped in the London Zoo being chased back into its cage by a young man, with an umbrella. On the other hand, my old friend Charlie Gay of Gay's Lion Farm at El Monte, California, has been badly mauled by lions he had been working with daily.
I think that the occasions upon which lions will attack a man are astonishingly few in comparison with those upon which they might be expected to attack, for it must be remembered that lions are extremely nervous and temperamental and that they attack more often because of fright than because of ferocity. Two occurrences which I witnessed rather bear this out. One took place on a Tarzan set a number of years ago where I was watching the shooting of a lion sequence with my little daughter, then only a small child. They were working with a young and very nervous lion; and the arena was no place to be with a small child, as lions appear to have a gustatory predilection for little children (dozens of times I have seen them charge the sides of their arenas in attempts to get at mine) even when not impelled by hunger.
We were supposed to be protected from the lion by a temporary fence, and as I had confidence in the trainer I felt that we were in no danger. A great deal of trouble was experienced in getting the lion to approach the camera at the right angle. Half a dozen men were chasing him around with whips, firing blank cartridges at him, whooping and yelling. It would have been quite enough to have wrecked the equanimity of a stone Buddha. It wrecked the lion's. His one desire in life seemed be to escape. In his attempts to do so it might have been expected that some one would be hurt. He ran toward the camera and between the legs of the tripod. The cameraman was the next obstacle in the direct line of his progress. He deserves a Croiz de guerre. Instead of abandoning his camera to possible demolition, he hoisted up one leg and let the lion pass beneath it; then the lion jumped the low fence that separated him from myself and several other idiots.
Remembering that lions like little children and that the trainer had warned us to stand perfectly still if anything went wrong, I pushed my daughter behind me and stood still. I stood very still. By comparison, a tombstone would have been dancing a merry saraband. The lion had his choice of idiots, but he harmed no one. Here was every provocation for attack; and had the lion been ferocious he would have attacked, for he was nervous and frightened. Had he attacked, it would have been because of fright rather than ferocity.
On another occasion I was on location with M-G-M when the director was attempting to shoot a lioness charging directly into the camera. The camera, the cameraman, and his assistant were located in a wooden box in front of which there was a hole through which the camera shot was to be made. The box was built of 2'x12's and the lid spiked on. They wanted it to be lion proof. Above and behind the camera was the lioness' cage. The plan was to start her with a rush from the opposite end of the arena, have her run for her cage, to reach which she would have to leap to the top of the camera box. The resultant shot would have shown a head-on charge of a lioness, with the beast rising in air to seize its prey at the end of the charge. Marvelous! That is if the lioness had understood what was expected of her, but she didn't. When she approached the camera box she saw a nice, dark, inviting looking hole into which she could spring and hide from the complexities and tumult of civilization. When they finally pried the cover off the box they found the cameraman in one corner with the camera on top of him and the lioness n the other. It has always been a question which was the more terrified. The assistant cameraman had gone out the hole the lioness came in. He swears by all that is holy that he went out at the same time the lioness was coming in. No one was hurt. Why? I answered that question in the first paragraph. -- a lion is unpredictable.
These two incidents might lead one to the erroneous belief that lions are cowardly animas and far from dangerous. They are very dangerous beasts, and far from cowardly. A few years ago a shot was being made at the old Selig Zoo in Los Angeles. The lion was supposed to leap from a platform onto a man dressed in some kind of skins. I do not know why a dummy was not used. It seemed impossible to get the lion to leap from the high platform; so a device was rigged up wherewith a current of electricity could be shot through the lion after he was in position on the platform. It was a splendid idea, and it worked to perfection. The lion leaped onto the man and killed him.
As an instance of a lion's courage, Sir Alfred E. Pease recounts in his THE BOOK OF THE LION, an adventure that proves that one lion at least was courageous to the point of temerity, and there are many other recorded instances to bear out his contention -- such, for instance, as lions entering villages at night and carrying off their victims in the face of fire brands, spears, clubs, shouting men and screaming women. Sir Alfred and two friends had run a lion to cover in a tiny reed bed where it had lain down out of sight. The three men were armed with a 10-bore rifle, a .404 Jefferey cordite rifle, and a double-barreled .450 cordite. They agreed that it was impossible for a lion to get through this array of firearms, and so decided to go straight on to him at once on foot. Sir Alfred was quite sure the lion would charge, but equally confident they could stop him before he reached any of them. They walked up to within nine paces of him, being on ground that sloped downward to the little patch of reeds which concealed him. There they halted, and one of them threw a stone that brought the lion out with a terrific grunt -- flying straight at them. Mind you, this was a fat, gorged, unwounded lion which could have just as well run away from them, as a cowardly animal would have done. The three men fired simultaneously without any apparent result. On e of the shots only slightly wounded the lion; another of the hunters got in a least two shots, one of which struck the lion full in the nose, breaking teeth, cutting along the roof of the mouth, and lodging in the base of the skull; one shot struck where neck and shoulder join, passed under the shoulder blade, raking along the lion's ribs till it lodged in the skin at his hip. All of these shots appeared to have no effect on the charge, and might as well have been misses as far as the safety of the hunters was concerned. Fortunately for them the shot from Sir Alfred's second barrel, fired at only five paces, bowled the lion over. Who may say that this was not a courageous lion to face so much greater odds and charge into such heavy firing.
One cannot but feel regret that it should be necessary to kill so noble a beast; but he had rather invited destruction, as he was one of a group of lions that laired on Sir Alfred's property, often making their kills b day in plain sight of the house and frequenting the main path to it, making it, as Sir Alfred says "jumpy for every one of us when taking this track home at nightfall" I should think so!
All lions are not man-eaters; but there have been innumerable instances recorded of men, women, and children being devoured by lions. These are usually old lions which have not the speed and agility to catch their natural prey and have become man-eaters by first preying on the domestic animals of men and then on the men themselves, as they discovered how slow and helpless and what easy prey man really is. But there have been instances of young healthy lions developing a taste for human flesh. The most famous of these were the man-eaters of Tsavo, which practically stopped the building of the Uganda Railway for a time through their depredations and the terror they inspired. Lt. Col. J. H. Patterson's story of these ferocious beasts is the all-time classic of adventure tales.
For nine months these voracious and insatiable man-eaters fed on the white officials and Indian coolies who were building the railway.
Ungan Singh, a powerful Sikh and one of Col. Patterson's jemadars, was asleep in his tent with half a dozen of his fellows, when, about midnight, a lion suddenly put his head in at the open tent door and seized Ungan Singh by the throat. The man cried "Choro!" ("Let go!"), and threw his arms around the lion's neck The next moment he was gone, and his panic-stricken companions lay helpless, forced to listen to the terrible struggle which took place outside.
O'Hara was the engineer in charge of the road-making on the Uganda Railway project. He had with him his wife and two children, one an infant. But let Mrs. O'Hara tell the story in her own words.
"We were all asleep in the tent, my husband and I in one bed and my two children in another. The baby was feverish and restless; so I got up to give her something to drink; and as I was doing so, I heard what I thought was a lion walking around the tent. I at once awoke my husband and told him I felt sure there was a lion about. He jumped up and went out, taking his gun with him. He looked around the outside of the tent, and spoke to the Swahili askari who was on sentry by the camp fire a little distance off. The askari said he had seen nothing except a donkey; so my husband came in again, telling me not to worry as it was only a donkey I had heard.
"The night being very hot, my husband threw back the tent door and lay down again beside me. After a while I dozed off, but was suddenly roused by a feeling as if the pillow were being pulled away from under my head. On looking around I found that my husband was gone. I jumped up and called him loudly, but got no answer. Just then I heard a noise among the boxes outside the door; so I rushed out and saw my poor husband lying between the boxes. I ran up to him and tried to lift him, but found I could not do so. I then called to the askari to come and help me; but he refused saying that there was a lion standing beside me. I looked up and saw the beast glowering at me, not more than two yards away. At this moment the askari fired his rifle; and this fortunately frightened the lion, for it at once jumped off into the bush.
"All four of the askaris then came forward and lifted my husband back into the bed. He was quite dead. We had hardly got back into the tent before the lion returned and prowled about in front of the door, showing every intention of springing in to recover his prey. The askaris fired at him, but did no damage beyond frightening him away again for a minute or two. He soon came back and continued to walk around the tent until daylight, growling and purring; and it was only by firing through the tent now and then that we kept him out. At daybreak he disappeared."
There are numerous instances of the courage (or temerity) of man-eating lions, as well as of those that have not developed a contempt for man and along with it a taste for his flesh. Col. Patterson relates several such, among them t hat of a man-eater which haunted a little roadside station called Kimaa. He seemed to have a predilection for railway men; but was not particular as to whether he carried off the station master, the signal man, or the pointsman. One night, in order to get a meal, he climbed to the roof of the station building and tried to tear off the corrugated iron roof, causing the terrified Indian telegrapher to wire the Traffic manager, "Lion fighting with station. Send urgent succor."
All he succeeded in doing that night as to cut his feet n the corrugated iron; but later he killed and devoured several victims, with the result that Ryall, Superintendent of Police, accompanied by two friends, came to Kimaa in his private car for the express purpose of destroying him. Ryall's car was spotted on a siding that gave it a decided list to one side; so that the sliding door that opened into the rear platform remained closed (or almost closed) by its own weight. After dinner the men decided to take turns keeping watch, and Ryall persuaded his friends to lie down while he took the first shift. The servants were in a compartment in the forward end of the car. It grew late; and as there was no sign that the lion was about, Ryall's two friends, Huebner and Parenti, lay down and went to sleep. Huebner in a high berth over the table, Parenti on the floor. The supposition is that Ryall, after watching for some time, came to the conclusion that the lion was not going to show up that night, lay down on the lower berth and dozed off. It seems scarcely credible that the lion knew this, although it is difficult to explain his actions by any other hypothesis; and it is quite reasonable to assume that he had been stalking the three men all during the night. He mounted the two high steps to the small rear platform, pushed the sliding door open, and entered the car without making any sound sufficient to arouse the sleeping men. After he entered, the door slid back behind him and locked. He immediately sprang for Ryall, and in doing so planted his feet on Parenti who was sleeping on the floor. Huebner, who was sleeping in the upper berth, was awakened by a loud cry; and on looking down was horrified to see an enormous lion standing on Parenti with his hind feet, while his forepaws rested on Ryall. There was only one possible way of escape, and that was through another sliding door leading to the servants' quarters. The lion's great body filled up all the space below the berth; so that Huebner had to actually jump on the man-eater's back to reach the door, and this he did. But when he reached it he couldn't open it, as the terrified servants were holding it fast shut on the out side. Eventually he managed to force it open far enough to permit him to squeeze through. A moment later a great crash was heard, and the whole car lurched violently to one side. The lion had broken through one of the windows, carrying Ryall with him! Parenti, being at last released, jumped through a window on the opposite side of the carriage and took refuge in one of the station buildings. Ryall's remains were found the next morning about a quarter of a mile away.
It is interesting to speculate on the reactions of the victim of a lion's attack during the brief moments of consciousness that precede a very merciful death; for the lion does kill mercifully, in that he kills quickly. I think we have all experienced imaginatively the horror of such an end and its attendent physical torture, and that is the only way any one could. When you are attacked by a lion you will not experience any fear nor feel any pain, provided, of course, that you are not rescued before you are killed. You do not believe this? I did not suppose that you would.
A book, Is Nature Cruel?, written some forty years ago by J. Crowther Hirst, contains statements by a number of men who had been mauled by lions, which support my contention. Here is a personal experience of the great African missionary-explorer, Livingston.
"Growling horribly close to my ear, the lion shook me as a terrier does a rat. The shock produced a stupor similar to that which seems to be felt by a mouse after the first shake in which there was no sense of pain nor feeling of terror."
An English officer, who was fearfully clawed and bitten by a lion, writes of the experience.
"Regarding my sensations during the time of the attack upon me by the lion was in progress, I had no feeling of pain whatever, although there was a distinct feeling of being bitten; that is, I was perfectly conscious, independently of seeing the performance, that the lion was gnawing at me; but there was no pain. To show that the feeling, or rather want of it, was in no wise due to excessive terror I may mention that, whilst my thighs were being gnawed, I took two cartridges out of the breast pocket of my shirt and threw them to the Kaffir, who was hovering a few yards away, telling him to load my rifle..."
And now a word for the man-eaters. The same intelligence that created us created them. It gave them large bodies and enormous vitality, requiring great quantities for food for their support; but it did not endow them with alimentary processes fitting them to assimilate broccoli, artichokes, avacados, or spaghetti. Therefore, they eat meat, and we are meat. Their methods of obtaining meat may seem ruthless to us, but you must remember that lions have no packers to do their killing for them. Doubtless our methods seem ruthless to pigs, cows, chickens, and sheep. However, I am going right ahead eating prime beef; and I accord to the man-eaters their inalienable right to go on eating us, provided that they can catch us.
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