The Heart of a Lonely Hunter

Posted on November 04, 2016 by Cape Rebel

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From No Outspan

by Deneys Reitz


He spoke good English, and he began to spin an adventure which he said had befallen him.

He told of how he had been chased by a lion, and how he had run for his life, the lion gaining on him until, with a roar, it leapt on him at last. At this point his powers of invention failed, and he stopped dead. His audience had been following him with bated breath, and one of them asked what happened next. He considered it his duty to round off his story satisfactorily, and so answered with all simplicity: ‘Sir, the lion ate me.’


I reached the Olifants River some miles above its junction with the Letaba, and after a long search I found a suitable spot for a pontoon, which in due course was built and launced by Paul Selby.

As I walked along the river bank, the carcass of a dead hippo came drifting downstream, and presently it grounded on a sandpit. Outwardly there was no sign of injury, but when the locals skinned it, we found that the flesh underneath was pulped along the backbone and the ribs. The locals said that an elephant had pounded it to death, and they later showed me a mudhole beside the river, all trampled and pitted, where the battle had taken place.

On my return journey I went via a trading station called Acornhoek, lying just outside the Kruger Park. A friend of mine named Whittingstall lived there and when I looked in at his house, I found that he had recently been mauled by a lion.

He was a skilled hunter, but he made the same mistake that so many others have made: he wounded a lion and went after him in thick bush. Ninety per cent of lion casualties are due to following a wounded animal into high grass or scrub.

A lion, like any other game, runs away if wounded; or if very badly hit and unable to go far, he hides under cover. But if brought to bay he will charge, and it is then that the accidents happen.

Whittingstall, in his anxiety to finish off the lion, followed it with two of his trackers. He told me that the next thing he saw was a ball of yellow hurtling through the air towards him. He fired but was thrown to the ground and seized by the shoulder. His trackers saved him. One of them pulled the lion by the tail as it stood over him, and the other drove his assegai into its heart.

Whittingstall, in firing, had smashed the lion’s right foot, which forced it to balance on the remaining three legs, so that it could not claw him. This probably also helped to save his life, for while a lion’s bite is serious enough, his teeth are more or less aseptic; but to be clawed is certain death from blood poisoning, for the sheaths are clotted with decayed flesh.

Whittingstall told me that his sensation was that of a powerful steel vice crushing his shoulderblade and arm, and that the pain was awful.

He was taken to hospital, and he made a good recovery. When next I saw him, he said with a twinkle in his eye, for his newly-wedded wife was sitting beside him, that the most serious after-effect of his accident was that he had married the nursing sister who had looked after him.