Visits from a Leopard and a Pride of Lions.
“Before dawn, as with the leopard, the lions simply melted away into the bush as though they had never been there.” In the 1950’s, Senanga, Barotseland, a remote settlement on the banks of the Zambesi, provided the setting for a unique upbringing. Continuing “Lions in our Garden: Wonders of an African Childhood.” medium.com/@lynetteclements
One night Father came to our room and woke us from our sleep, saying that we must come with him, we were to keep quiet, and not a word was to be spoken; down the verandah we went, following him to his bedroom, where he lifted us up onto the window sill. There, in the bright moonlight a few yards away from us, was a full-grown leopard; he sat, regal and still, his tail curled around his front paws, his gaze straight ahead as he surveyed his kingdom; not a turn of his head, not a flick of his tail. Was he aware we were there sharing this moment, one with him in the moonlight? In those moments of awe, the scene was forever etched on my mind, another picture in my kaleidoscope of memories.
There was plenty of cover around the house for leopards, for, besides the woodland bordering the river, the trees at either end of the house and in the backyard were gigantic as far as we were concerned; I am aware that when you are a child certain things may appear, and in your memory may appear to have been larger than they were. However, the first branches to form from the main trunks were way out of our reach and there was no chance of ever climbing them. For a leopard, these trees, as well as being inaccessible, had thick foliage, which provided excellent cover.
The leopard that frequented the veterinary compound was never seen in the daytime, not by the water carriers, nor the gardeners, nor the women and children in the veterinary village. There was a lot of bush and woodland surrounding Senanga at that time, providing cover and camouflage during daylight hours, and as leopards are solitary animals and mark their territory, he or she was probably the only one in the area around our home.
Occasionally, a pride of lions passed through the village. Bronc, the veterinary horse, was stabled close to the veterinary office and although his stable was secure, the lions could not resist jumping onto the stable roof, seeking a way in; it is well known that lions love horse meat, and Bronc knew they were there, as he could smell them and hear them. We were woken up by the commotion, as Bronc, terrified, was whinnying and pounding the stable door with his hooves, while the dogs were running in and out of the trap door in the passage linking the house to the kitchen; once having ventured out into the darkness to bark ferociously in a show of bravado, they came charging back for shelter, skidding through the trap door as though a lion was on their tail.
By this time, Father was in the Bedford, making his way to the stable; at the sound of the truck and the sight of the headlights, the lions promptly disappeared; all he had to do was to prowl around in the Bedford and send out a welcoming light. Meanwhile, Mother had joined us in our bedroom, and back we went to our slumbers once we were reassured the dogs were safely indoors, and our visitors had departed.
On another occasion, at full moon, a pride of lions took over the front garden, and lay around for a couple of hours, quite comfortable, thank you, on the front lawn and the sandy driveway. Our parents sat watching them from the front verandah. Before dawn, as with the leopard, the lions simply melted away into the bush as though they had never been there. In the morning Mother showed us their spoor in the garden beds and the imprint of their bodies on the sand. Why did they not wake us to see the lions? Maybe they thought it better not to disturb them with any movement or noise from within, as all that separated them from the lions was a thin gauze mesh. I wished I had seen the pride, what a scene that would have been in my kaleidoscope of memories.
Another thought is that neither the lions nor the leopard made kills in the area; the lions were simply passing through. If they had, Father would have been informed and we would have known about it, as life revolved around veterinary related incidents, especially such an event as marauding predators. However, these lions, not being interested in killing cattle or goats, made their way past the outlying villages into their hunting territory, which was a pleasing thought as it meant they were safe from bullets. Was it the same pride of lions or a different pride? We will never know. One wonders, for how many years a pride of lions was able to pass through Senanga without being pursued.
These incidents were part of life, and not considered unusual. Senanga in the 1950’s remained a tiny outpost, surrounded by bush and woodland, and life went on smoothly, day by day and night by night.
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