A field on the outskirts of Nanyuki: at one corner a garbage dump smolders behind a row of shops lining the highway; the sun pounds down through a stiff southwesterly breeze; and smoke flattens toward a hut not far away. The hut is built of old tin cans and branches, whose dead leaves flap in the acrid wind. Inside the hut, seated on cattle skulls, three men and a woman are drinking tea from chipped enamel mugs. A small fire sputters. Outside lies what looks like a bundle of sticks wrapped in a tattered, faded red blanket. But something stirs for a moment, black skin through the holes. It's not a bundle of sticks. It's old Nyngao the Hyena,-the Eater of Meat, and he is dying.
"Na Kwisha," says Bill Winter. "He's finished. The poor old sod doesn't even know we're here. When I first met him, he was a big, strong fellow with bracelets above his biceps and a wrist knife on his arm. His head was plastered with blue mud interwoven with ostrich feathers and the hair of his ancestors. He was full-grown before he ever saw a white man. Must be more than 100 years old. Now look at him." Winter shakes his head. "Na Kwisha."
The woman says she is Nyngao's granddaughter. We give her 25 shillings for milk and tobacco. Maybe it will ease the old man's departure. At the sound of our voices, he wakes. Eyes crusted with dried pus, he stares up and finally recognizes Winter. The rheumy eyes focus sharply with delight, and he rises from the blanket. He offers his hand, which feels like a fistful of twigs wrapped in grease paper.
"Habari yako, rafiki?" "How are you, friend?"
"Mzuri sana," the old man replies. "Very well, indeed."
As we drive away, Winter shakes his head again. "It's all finished, Bwana. In a few years it'll all be gone. The old ways, the warriors, perhaps even the game. That dying Turkana is just one symbol of it. When he was young, he told me once, he marched clear across the Suguta Desert, drinking nothing but the sweat he could scrape from his armpits and his crotch. Wearing nothing but his togalike shuka and that great, hairy blue periwig. Imagine it! In those days they raided and stole cattle from the neighboring tribes, they killed their enemies. Now he's dying in filth behind a garbage dump."
Kirinyaga rises ahead of us like a broken fang, blue and white in the afternoon sun. Mount Kenya, the map makers call it, but to the people of this country it is Kirinyaga, the home of their god.
I had come to Kenya to assess the state of the game. Since the government announced a ban on sport hunting last May, ostensibly to preserve what was left of Kenya's once countless wildlife, animal lovers the world over had believed that finally something was being done to conserve the great game herds of East Africa's loveliest country. Editorialists from Tokyo to New York praised President Jomo Kenyatta for a courageous decision that would spare the unique Pleistocene wildlife of Kenya for generations to come.
They cheered too soon.
Even as Kenya's 106 licensed professional hunters folded their safari tents, poachers went on a rampage. The nation's 250 curio shops quickly overflowed with the horns, hides, claws, fangs, tusks, feathers and eggs of virtually every species of animal and bird available. With the hunters and their clients no longer ranging the game lands—and in the process reporting poachers to Kenya's understaffed Game Department—the serious killing had just begun.
In Isiolo, on the edge of the game-rich Northern Frontier District, two poachers were arrested last fall with 23,000 dik-dik horns packed in salad-oil tins. The diminutive antelope's three-inch horns make attractive pendants, when chased in silver or gold.
In the Kina area to the north, 40 poachers were caught with 20 rhinoceros horns, three elephant tusks and eight guns.
At Kitui, east of Nairobi near the coastal plateau, game scouts apprehended a man carrying 84 pieces of illegal ivory.
Ellis T. Monks, honorary secretary of the World Wildlife Fund in Kenya, discovered three caracal skins for sale in a curio shop on Kimathi Street, Nairobi's main venue for the sale of animal trophies. The caracal, or African lynx, is protected by law under the nation's Conservation and Management Act. When Monks reported the violation, his only reward was the summary withdrawal of his honorary game-warden's license—perhaps a subtle hint that someone in the government had more interest in curio-shop profits than in the salvation of endangered species.
In Amboseli National Park on the Tanzanian border, a census showed that just 1½ rhinos (a cow and a calf) remained in what was once Kenya's "rhino showplace." Since the census was taken, the rhino population has risen to about eight. The decimation was understandable, considering what rhino horn costs in Hong Kong—up to $300 an ounce—where it is believed to have a wide range of medicinal properties. In 1968 a census showed there were 11,000 rhinos in Kenya. In 1972, the peak year for rhino-horn sales to Hong Kong, 34 hunters bought rhino licenses but killed only 19 of the animals. In the same year, Hong Kong druggists imported about 1,000 horns from Kenya and Indonesia. During the past 10 years, some 9,000 rhinos have been killed in Kenya—very few by legally licensed hunters.
Despite the ban on hunting and a subsequent law prohibiting the sale of wildlife products, supermarkets in Nairobi and other towns still offer specials on fresh impala chops. Because of a lack of zebra and wildebeest, the lions living in Nairobi's 44-square-mile game park have left for meatier pastures: they are preying on dogs and livestock in the suburbs of the nation's capital.
In Meru National Park last fall, five poachers killed three of Kenya's six white rhinos. This species, larger but less aggressive than the more common black variety, is not native to Kenya. The Meru rhinos had been imported from Natal, in South Africa, and were so tame that children could pat their horns and scratch their ears. The largest of them, a bull named Sakila, was shot more than six times. His 24-pound frontal horn would bring more than $100,000 in Hong Kong.
Though the sale of "raw" elephant ivory has been banned since 1974, with only the government permitted to sell it abroad (the current price is more than $45 a pound) some 680 tons have been exported—yet Kenya's official records can account for only 296 tons. An estimated 10,000 elephants are killed annually in Kenya, most of them illegally, according to Harry Tennison, a Texan well known in Kenya hunting circles. "At the very height of hunting in Kenya, no more than 150 elephants were taken in one year on legal safaris by clients," says Tennison.
In the Galana region along the lower Tana River, a former professional hunter named Ken Clark spotted a wounded rhino on the ranch where he worked as game manager. Following it up, he jumped a band of poachers and killed one of them. A running gun battle followed, and Clark was killed by a bullet that ricocheted into his chest from his belt buckle as he stood in the roof hatch of his truck.
Finally, last December, on the 14th anniversary of Kenya's independence, President Kenyatta announced a move that many observers felt should have been implemented at the same time as the sport-hunting ban. He banned the sale of trophies and game products by curio shops, giving the owners (mainly Indians) three months to liquidate their stocks. (By contrast, the professional hunters had been granted no time at all to finish out safaris already contracted or in progress; many were informed of the ban by government game scouts in the field.)
As the curio-shop deadline approached, prices dropped on everything from fully mounted lions to silver dinner gongs slung between elephant tusks. More than $2 million in ivory gewgaws were sold, many ostensibly at half price or less. Zebra skins and buffalo-horn snuffboxes, bottle openers made from warthog incisors and wastepaper baskets fashioned from the feet of rhinos and elephants—all was up for grabs. On March 12, the final day of legal sales, long queues formed in front of the Kimathi Street dukas, while tourists and Kenyans alike paraded the streets laden with their "trophies." Simultaneously, the government was celebrating Kenya's first annual Wildlife Awareness Week—a sincere attempt to educate the country's 14 million citizens to the value of their unique heritage. After all, wildlife tourism—mainly minibus jaunts through the country's 32 game parks and reserves—have accounted for $100 million a year. Kenya's gross national product is $3 billion.
I had timed my visit to coincide with the dry season because at that time the game tends to congregate at water holes, while after the rains it disperses and is difficult to spot in the tall grass. Kenya's rainy season comes in two parts—the "short rains" of October and November and the "long rains" of April through mid-June. But when I arrived at Nairobi's Embakasi Airport on March 2, the rains were there ahead of me. In fact, the short rains of the previous fall had never really stopped and indeed were promising to phase into the long rains.
As a result, Kenya was never more beautiful. Grass grew waist high even in the arid Northern Frontier district; the normally stunted, spavined cattle of the herding tribes looked fat and sleek; such plains game as impala, topi, hartebeest and Grant's and Thomson's gazelles were calving as if at the Creation. Cape buffalo covered the grasslands in greater abundance than I had ever seen in three earlier visits to Kenya. Yet in three weeks of travel over more than 1,500 miles of Kenya, from the Tanzanian border in the south to the Northern Frontier District above Isiolo, we spotted only two rhinoceroses and just one elephant with respectable tusks. Lions are abundant, and frequently we heard leopards hunting at night, but we saw not a single cheetah—perhaps on account of the tall grass. Burchell's zebra—the small, wide-striped variety most commonly seen in Western zoos and game parks—galloped the plains in greater numbers than I had ever seen. But the Grevy's zebra, longer-legged, pin-striped and mule-eared, proved to be in short supply. Perhaps there's been a shift in taste among fanciers of zebra-skin rugs.
From all the horror stories I had read about the end of the game, I had expected to find the country empty of animals. It was quite a joy to discover that, among certain species at least, the fecundity that follows plentiful rain was at work once again. "There's a resiliency to wildlife that always surprises you," said Bill Winter as we drove from Nairobi to his home near Nanyuki. "Given half a chance, either by the weather gods or by man, most species can rebound from disaster in very short order."
The same could be said of Winter himself. Three years ago, on a hunting safari in the Masai Mara region, he was shot in the right leg by a client while following up a wounded buffalo. The .375-caliber bullet shattered his leg a few inches above the ankle. After 21 operations and months of delirium in a Nairobi hospital, the foot was saved, but his right leg is now two inches shorter than the left and the foot itself is virtually boneless. "They filleted it for me in England last fall," he said. "Funny thing, when I flew back to Kenya from London last month after they took the bones out, I set off the airport security metal detector into a long loud howl. Bits of bullet still in there. But I can hop about all right, thanks to a good shoemaker."
In the 46 years since he was born in England's Lake District, William Henry Winter has "hopped about" in some very hot places. As a commando noncom in Korea, as a police officer in Malaya during the guerrilla warfare of the early 1950s, a police inspector in Kenya during the Mau Mau "emergency" and as a warden in the Kenya Game Department, he "saw the elephant" (as the 19th century expression goes) in every possible guise, both figuratively and literally. Short and stocky, with a leonine mane of brown-streaked blond hair, he remains an incorrigible punster and maker of limericks, a lover of words and wild country, of books and beasts and the beauty of stark places. To travel Africa with him is to have Linnaeus, Dickens, Darwin and Monty Python at your elbow. Not to mention Allan Quatermain. Although he is no longer permitted to earn a living as a white hunter, he remains active as a leader of photographic safaris.
Funga safari! Make ready for the journey. But remember that this is Africa we're about to see, and Africa is the land of inconsistency. Pliny the Elder knew it, and the headlines of today confirm his warning, "Out of Africa, always something new." Swahili, the lingua franca of black Africa, is a language of fatalism, of the dying fall, of the story in which cruelty and beauty meld into a swift, soft sunset. Leopards cough at night on the kopje; the stars are like shattered sapphires; a baboon screams in death. Lions rip at a wildebeest's gut while zebras browse placidly nearby.
Our first stop was at Ol Pejeta, a 40,000-acre game and cattle ranch owned by the French industrialist Henry Roussel, a frequent client of Winter's before the hunting ban. A week earlier, Roussel's game scouts had found the carcass of a young rhino killed by a poacher. "It was an inside job," Winter said as we bumped through tall grass and thorn bush to the site of the killing. "The poacher turned out to be one of Henry's own cattle drovers. He plugged it with a homemade, hand-loaded slug from a single-shot Stevens shotgun. The government called in all firearms last September, but farmers and drovers were allowed to keep their guns for protection against marauding lions and stock theft by rustlers."
The kill lay at the foot of a kopje, a weathered knob of rock that rose from the bush just above a water hole like the knee of a sleeping stone giant. We smelled the dead rhino long before we saw it. A solitary baboon watched from a mimosa as we got out of the truck; klipspringers bounded away over the brow of the kopje. As we neared the skeleton, a family of hyraxes began barking their sharp alarms. By now the carcass of the rhino had been picked clean by scavengers. The head lay upside down, the spine curved around the trunk of a thorn tree. The stump of the sawed-off horn was the only straight line in the twisted array. Leg bones, ribs, well-gnawed feet and sections of thick, tattered hide lay strewn for 10 yards all around. Flies flushed from the eye sockets as Winter poked a stick at the skull to show us where the horn had been.
"It was a very young rhino," he said. "Couldn't have been much of a horn, not on a skull that size. But at the price Hong Kong is willing to pay..."
The rhino's bones gleamed white under the sun. Bleaching bones were to become a familiar sight throughout our safari: great middens of them lay heaped on the roadsides of the game parks, some of the animals the victims of predators, others of poachers.
We walked away, out of the scent of death. All around us the grass brimmed with life. Button quail flushed nearly underfoot, tiny birds half the size of North American bobwhites, buzzing off furiously like feathered darts. Beyond the water hole, where a raft of yellow-billed ducks paddled and preened, a dozen or more gazelles grazed on a sunlit ridge. The pug marks of a leopard led up from the mud near the water hole toward the kopje—recent tracks, clearly defined, probably made no longer ago than at dawn. Driving in we had seen zebras, eland, giraffe and big bands of impala glowing like russet jewels as they watched us pass. In the presence of such fertility, it was hard to believe that the death of a single young rhinoceros could matter very much; it was easy to imagine the temptation of the cattle drover as he squatted in the thorny cover beside the water hole as the rhino came close, all covered with dollar signs.
Winter, his head tracker Lambat, and I drove southwest out of Nanyuki toward the Masai Mara in Winter's green Toyota safari wagon. Whydah birds flapped over the savannas, struggling to keep their long black tail feathers from causing a crash landing. We stopped to photograph jackals and vultures contesting a kill beside the road. What was left of the dead antelope—it was small and already so torn as to be unrecognizable—had become a battleground. One jackal leaped into the air, snapping at a tawny eagle as it flew in for a feed.
Plumes of blue smoke rose from the forests of the Aberdare Range. The locals were busy, as usual, making charcoal. Much of the deforestation of East Africa, which is rapidly turning once-fertile land into desert, is the result of this widespread practice. But again, it is too easy for an American or European visitor to condemn the charcoal makers: it is cold at night at these altitudes (Ol Donyo, the highest peak of the Aberdares, rises 13,104 feet above sea level) and the wind is as sharp as a spear; and after all. what happened to the woodlands of Ohio? Even here, where lions prowl and giraffes give flat-topped haircuts to the acacia trees, the price of fuel oil is unconscionable. The world has not yet produced a political leader brave enough to demand that his people freeze in order to save the forests.
We descend into the Great Rift Valley, that huge gash in the earth's surface where the plates of Africa and Eurasia mesh. Stretching from Lake Baikal in Russia to the depths of South Africa, it is (according to the astronauts) one of the most visible features on the earth. For us, as we go down into its depths, it is only a source of sweat and earache. The cool of the Aberdares gives way to stifling heat, the game of the highlands surrenders to trucks and scruffy towns. The main road from Uganda runs through the Rift, and along it pound lorries laden with coffee, the newest source of wealth in the region—a windfall that has turned many East African entrepreneurs away from the trade in animal curios, ivory and rhino horn onto less destructive paths. The lorries chuff black diesel smoke into the air. Around and between them scoot the matatus, privately owned cars and minibuses crammed with passengers and bearing names such as "The Professor," "Safari To Happiness." "Good Friday" and "Kill Me Quick." Naivasha, once a tranquil, pastel-painted town near the shores of a lake full of flamingos, has gone dirty gray with exhaust fumes; paint peels from the stucco roadside shops and restaurants. The Bell Inn, where in colonial days travelers sipped tea on the airy, cool verandah, now smells like a cross between a latrine and a slaughterhouse. Even the flamingos have fled. Still, on the hillsides south of Naivasha, just before we turn west toward Narok, I see herds of feeding antelope and giraffe, just as I did on my first visit 14 years ago.
The Suswa Plain unrolls ahead of us, undulating waves of grassy hills stretching north to the Mau Escarpment and south to the Tanzanian border. Herds of game browse in clots on the slopes as far as the eye can see. And this is no national park, this is real country. "The green hills of Africa," says Bill Winter, "just as Hemingway saw them half a century ago. This is where I had my hunting concession when I got plugged, about 2,000 square miles of this country just stiff with game. It's Masai territory and since they're a cattle-herding people there's been very little agricultural development here thus far."
At the edge of a tree line to our far right stands a group of eland, registering at this distance as white daubs against the dark green foliage. Eland, which weigh up to a ton apiece, are choice eating and much sought by the type of poacher who is merely trying to feed his family. The sight of this group of more than half a dozen is heartening. Yet the saliva begins to flow: this is the first safari I've been on where fresh meat was not ours for the shooting. I begin to understand why the Kiswahili word nyama means both "meat" and "game."
Narok is the end of the pavement. An oldtimer named Ole Pussy used to have a bar, restaurant and small hotel here, but now it is closed, and we have to drink warm beer from the lunch box in the truck. The dukas are shabby and fly-ridden. The last outpost of civilization. Masai in red shukas, wearing sandals made from the tread of truck tires à la Viet Cong, stare at us from the shade of their roadside stands. Their spears glint in the fierce light. Rain threatens from the north, where the sky has gone an ominous, gunmetal black.
Winding westward through red rock hills thick with candelabra trees, we come to a vast plain. One stretch is plowed clear across the horizon. Winter says it is a government wheat project under the management of Americans. "All of this country from here on down into the Serengeti Plain of Tanzania is ideal grain land," he says. "Look at the thickness of the grass where the plows haven't ripped it off. It's like the American Great Plains a century ago. But you people shot off your buffalo herds and turned it into farmland. Believe me, the temptation to the Kenya government is just as great in this era of paucity. It's a credit to Kenyatta and his people that they haven't acceded to the demands of the developers—yet. But if Western critics keep nagging at the government, they may just throw up their hands and turn it all over to cattle and wheat. That'll be the end of the game, you can bet."
Toward evening, we spotted a dark mass crossing the gravel road—a herd of Cape Buffalo. Winter stopped the truck and we watched. They were moving from south to north, hundreds of them, their horns glinting in the dying light, their hooves stirring dust into a dim red cloud. Herd bulls pulled out to challenge us, their nostrils flaring as they stood foursquare in our path, heads up, tiny black eyes fixed on the strange shape of the Toyota. The light caught the ridges of their coruscated bosses. "There must be at least a thousand of them," Winter whispered. "Look at the lovely sods move! Like a bloody black river in spate. Don't you love it, Bwana? It was one of that ilk that did my leg, but I love them dearly, I do. Crikey, just look at that!"
Then the light failed and the rain hit, sheeting down out of the north with the force of a million fire hoses. The road turned to grease under our wheels, and the Toyota began a dance, a kind of motorized disco twitch that soon became the theme song of the Mara visit: "Slip-slidin' away, slip-slidin' away.... The nearer we get to Mara, the more we're slip-slidin' away."
The Masai Mara Game Reserve, on the edge of which we camped, is the nearest a visitor can come to the Garden of Eden in all of Kenya. A northern extension of the great Serengeti Plain, it is a mix of country combining rivers and mountainous ridges, swamps and rolling grasslands, all interspersed with sudden outcrops of rock on which dwell the greatest concentration of spotted cats (leopard and cheetah) left in the country. They look down on hundreds of square miles of wildebeest, hartebeest, Impala, Grant's and Thomson's gazelles, zebra, giraffe, warthog, buffalo, dik-dik, duiker, bushbuck, reed-buck, waterbuck and topi. All of these are preyed upon by a hardy stock of lions, whose roars can keep a tented camp tossing all night. Elephants knock down trees outside of camp, the sound of rending roots shattering the midday silence. Baboons troop from kopje to creek bed in truculent alert. Along the tangled stream beds, vervet monkeys scramble in the lianas while a Tiffany's treasure of brightly feathered birds—sunbirds and starlings, hoopoes and drongos, rollers and bee-eaters—flicks through the leaves.
The rain had ended by dawn. Under the clouds of the eastern sky a streak of light transmuted a herd of grazing buffalo into splotches of rust against chartreuse hills. The tent smelled of mildew. The boy who brought me tea with my wake-up call had uttered a cheerful, "Jambo, Bwana," but the tea was full of soggy bits of fluff and wings—moths that must have flown into the cook tent during the rain of the night before. The green light of morning was weak; I still felt limp from the sight of the moving buffalo the previous day.
We were ensconced at Fig Tree Camp, a permanent tented bivouac recently opened by a hunter named Miles Burton. Bill Winter's own camp, in the meanwhile, was being pitched far to the north; we would go there in a couple of days. After breakfast we headed into the reserve, passing large bands of impala en route. Impala are polygamous, with a dominant ram gathering as many females into his harem as possible. Smaller groups of bachelor rams hang around the outskirts of the harems, hoping that the master will let his guard down for a minute or two. We stopped to watch the shenanigans. It was the mating season, all right.
While Winter signed us in at the main gate and paid the entry fees ($10 a head—it's costly to watch wildlife in the raw) Lambat took a look inside the game ranger's house. Lambat is a lean, lanky Wandorobo, 28 years old, one of the best trackers and gun bearers in the business. When Winter was wounded, Lambat was the only tracker who stayed, prepared to shoot if necessary, as the buffalo charged. (Later, in the hospital, Lambat brought Bill a little gift: a chunk of his shin bone blown off by the bullet.) Now Lambat sauntered back to the truck and reported that he had found a freshly killed impala under the game ranger's bed. "Do you see what I mean?" Winter asked. "Even to the game scouts, it's just nyama—meat."
We angled off the main gravel road onto one of the side trails that thread through the park. On a ridge to our left, a large herd of buffalo was silhouetted against the red morning sky. When we stopped near them and shut off the engine, we heard a sound that might have been that of a strong man slugging a tree stump with a heavy wooden sledge. Then the herd parted, and we saw them: two bulls fighting at the edge of a thorn thicket. "Oh, sugar! That's a rare sight indeed," Winter exulted. "Look at those sods hammer each other! Let's get closer—but I'll have to keep the motor running for a quick getaway, or they'll be hammering us."
Snorting and grunting, their huge neck and shoulder muscles abulge in the red light, the bulls strained at one another with a combined two tons of fury. The younger of the two had broken the tip of his right horn, and a jet of blood squirted straight up with the beating of his heart. Blood from a gaping wound on the older bull's neck washed down and into the slippery grass. In that strange light the scene was primordial, elemental, a frame from the dawn of time: it would not have come as a great shock to see, on the next ridge, a band of shaggy, slope-browed protohumans loping past on the hunt.
The bulls battled for a full 20 minutes. Now and then an anxious cow tried to separate them, but whenever the older bull tried to retreat, the young one hooked him from behind, and the combat resumed. The rest of the herd began to move off and, finally exhausted, the huge bovine wrestlers had had enough. They turned their backs to each other and began grazing. "Show's over," Winter said. "Let's move ourselves along and see if we can find a few simbas."
We found them in the early afternoon, lying up in a dense patch of brush as they slept off the torpor of the night's kill, two lionesses and a big red-maned ndume (in Kiswahili, a male of any species is called a "bull," but only a strong, vigorous man deserves the appellation). One of the lionesses was sprawled comically on her back, her big yellow eyes studying us upside down from 10 yards away with a bored, world-weary gaze. Thickets of flies covered her muzzle, feeding on the blood of last night's meal; her left ear was badly tattered. "They've been mating," Bill explained. "If you think alley cats go at it savagely, you ought to see these tabbies." When the male rolled over and stood, he moved with a distinct limp.
"Iko mgonjwa," said Lambat. "He is sick."
"Poor old sod," Bill commented. "Probably got clouted by a buffalo a while back. He's a real mzee—an old man. Maybe finished. Bloody nice mane, though. If we were hunting, we'd be doing him a favor to take him. Put him out of his misery and let the younger studs move into the gene pool."
The rest of the day produced much game but nothing as dramatic as the battle of the bulls at dawn. A vast armada of white storks darkened the sky; bands of plains game—impala, gazelles, topi, wildebeest—fed and bred; crook-necked, irregularly marked "Masai" giraffes, smaller than their reticulated, northern brothers, browsed the tops of riverine thorn trees; a spotted hyena trotted stiff-legged through the tall grass, a rare sighting during full daylight. Toward evening, with the sky darkening again to rain clouds, we spotted a lone female rhino in a valley outside the park. She carried a long, thin frontal horn and was moving fast.
"With a pembe like that she won't last long outside the park," said Bill, putting down his binoculars. "Do you realize that's the first live rhino we've seen on this safari? In the old days, 10 or 15 years ago, they would have been charging out from behind every bush. It's a bloody shame. A Kenya without kifaru will be like meat without pepper."
A lone bull elephant stood at the forest edge as we returned to camp. The tusks were small—35 pounds at most, Winter estimated—and he flapped his ears wide at our approach, a warning to keep clear. "He's feisty," said Winter. "If we'd been walking back into camp, it might have turned into a fast gallop." The comment triggered a story from Lambat.
"When I was young," he said from his 28 years of old age, "a friend of mine met just such an elephant. He had decided to go to a nearby village to get some beads for his girl friend. As a moran (a young warrior), you are not permitted to travel alone overnight, since you might be killed and the tribe thus weakened. Some of us went with him. When we were coming back with the beads, it got dark. We chose to spend the night on the trail, but he went on against our warnings. On the trail he came upon the elephant. It tossed him and knelt on him and broke his ribs and his legs. Then it went away. In the morning we found him, still alive. He asked us to look for the beads, but we couldn't find them. Just before he died, he told us to go to his girl friend and see if the elephant had brought the beads to her. But the elephant hadn't. We never found the beads."
All of this was said in a matter-of-fact voice, the story trailing off into a dying fall: Africa.
The next day we would see much more of the Mara—great sweeping herds of buffalo calving and mating and feeding on the rocky ridges; seas of tall grass spiked by the horns of thousands of antelope; young lions stalking a solitary topi, crawling belly-down through the grass with eyes fixed, intent on the kill; two splendid simbas mating beside the road, the male with a lush dark mane, his muscles in relief in a scarless, rain-cleansed hide as he crouched in rage, watching us, ready to spring into the open roof hatch of the Toyota; numberless birds—guinea fowl and yellow-necked spurfowl, tall Kori bustards, francolin and quail, honey guides and fiscal shrikes and marabous and eagles. As Winter had promised, the Mara was "stiff with game." But that was to be expected. As the showplace of Kenyan game reserves, it would certainly be the most carefully protected park in the country (despite the impala under the ranger's bed).
Our next stop, though, would give us a more accurate picture of the game: a reach of country to the north, where Winter and I had hunted four years earlier. If the game was still strong at Naibor Keju, where we would join up with Winter's camp crew and his big lorry, then we could begin to breathe more easily about the future of wildlife in Kenya. What we had seen thus far was certainly encouraging—except for the paucity of rhino and the lack of big ivory on the elephants. Even with the heavy poaching of the past nine months, buffalo, lion and plains game of all kinds seemed to be plentiful.
Lying in my bunk that night, with the rain thrumming on the canvas and the Coleman lantern hissing beside me, I thought back to my hunt at Naibor Keju. It would be good to see the old safari gang again—Joseph and Wamatitu serving elegant meals in the mess tent, while outside the jackals barked; old Wachira, the sprightly 70-year-old "apprentice firesmith" setting the night ablaze with whole, dry thorn trees as we sipped cocktails; N'deritu, the steady, shy Kikuyu driver and mechanic; and most of all old Isaac, the jolly Teriki with the cropped gray hair, who brought my tea in the morning and took away my shoes for a quick touch-up before breakfast. "Habari yako, Bwana?" Very good indeed, old friend.
I wouldn't miss the killing, now that the hunting was finished. That is something you do for meat, or when you are young and want to confront danger for its own sake. I'd killed my nightmare buffalo years ago. Oh, I'd miss the bird shooting sure enough—the sandgrouse pouring in over the hot springs, folding to the clap of the 12-gauge Browning over-and-under; the button quail whizzing out from the tall grass, quick above the shotgun's ventilated rib; the ungainly guineafowl moving overhead with deceptive speed, clacking with the metallic squawk so reminiscent of driven pheasant. In a way, bird shooting is an anti-art: the shotgun a negative paintbrush that strokes the bird from the sky. The corner of my mind, of my experience, that can appreciate such a bird shooting view could accept the end of it. Still, they taste so damned good....
Across the river near our camp a lion roared, that long, rising, hollow thunder that sets the scalp atingle. Another lion answered out on the plain. I picked up a book that Winter had loaned me: The Recollections of William Finaughty, Elephant Hunter—1864-1875. The opening sentence was priceless. "Being a harum-scarum from youth, a good horseman, and a very fair shot, I determined to get into the interior of Africa for the purpose, mostly, of shooting big game."
Yes, it would be good to get back to Naibor Keju.
The author and Winter go north to check the quantity—and quality—of game in country they had previously hunted