Waiting for a start.—Three young lions.—I play with them.—How they were captured.—Terrible combat with the lion and the lioness.—They are both killed.
Having but little time to spare in Senegal, I wanted to make the most of it while there, and was waiting anxiously for a caravan that should leave for some part of the desert, in order to go with it.
While waiting for the opportunity, I would sometimes amuse myself with the three young lions that were in the village, and had a good deal of fun with them. Each lion had a name, which I wish I could remember.
All I can say is, that they were real difficult names to pronounce, for the language of the people is hard and guttural They were very tame, and as playful as young dogs; but, though young, they were much larger than any dog I ever saw.
I would go and play with them every morning, and sometimes during the day, but I always liked to go after they had had their meals. They knew exactly the time these were coming, and, for almost an hour before, they were too busy thinking about their breakfast or dinner to be playful. I must say I did not like to venture near them when they were in such a mood; for, though very tame, and though they had never bitten any body, yet they might have tried it on me for the first time. Their jaws were quite powerful, and I had strong doubts whether I should have come safely out of them had they once fastened on me.
They were also armed with somewhat powerful claws, which certainly could have torn my flesh with the greatest ease. I have no doubt that, as soon as they saw the blood flow, their natural instinct would have come back, and they would have pounced upon me. The sight of warm blood from the body would have awakened all their dormant feeling, if hungry. Even without going so far as to fear that I might become a prey to their young ferocity, I knew that, judging by the pain a cat can inflict with her sharp claws, that the more powerful lions might prove to be very unpleasant playmates. At any rate, although the natives had assured me that their claws had been cut and that there was no danger, I had no desire to have them tried on me. I noticed that whenever a goat came in sight their eyes would glare, and their tails would wag angrily, and it was very evident that the goats would stand a poor chance if these young beasts of prey had their own way. After their meals I would sometimes seat myself among them, caress them, and scratch them. This they seemed to enjoy amazingly, and would look at me with their peculiar eyes, which have nothing unkind or treacherous in them when they are not hungry or angry. Their look contrasted strangely with that of the treacherous tiger or leopard.
I wanted to know how these lions had been captured. I wanted to hear the story of my three "friends," how they had been deprived of their freedom, and how they had lost their papa and mamma. I knew that they could not have been taken away easily, unless the "old folks" were out of the way on some excursion to get food themselves and their young. At last my curiosity was satisfied, and their story was told me by the side of the young lions themselves. If they could have understood the speech, they would have known how they were made prisoners. They certainly could not recollect the incidents which led to their captivity, as they were too young at that time.
Playing with young lions.
The man who told me the story was an old man with a very white beard. Before he began, several people came and seated themselves on the ground by our side. The old man then began as follows:
"A party of Moors were returning with their herds from the pastures, which the heat had dried up. They were going to the southern part of the desert, where water was not so scarce, and where the grass was still fresh and sweet. The heads of the party were riding on camels. At length they came to an oasis, chiefly composed of dates and palm-trees. On reaching it they found evidences that lions were accustomed to go there, and, as there was a spring there, they concluded the beasts had come to drink.
"That day, with their large herd of cattle, they encamped by that oasis. Their beasts could satisfy their thirst at the spring, and eat of the grass in the surrounding country that was not quite parched up.
"At night the roar of lions that were lurking round told them that they must keep a strict watch over their cattle and horses. Fires were lighted with branches from the stunted trees, and throughout the night the people shouted, and now and then fired guns, to frighten the lions away; but, despite of all their care, one cow was carried off by the king of the desert.
"The next day the party of herdsmen moved again in a more southern direction; but four of the most daring Moors resolved to remain behind and see if they could not kill the lions, lest they might follow their track and destroy some of their cattle. These Moors belonged to the Trazas tribe, and among them was a young man who was very ambitious to be enrolled among their great warriors. As he had neither slain a lion nor an enemy in battle, he could not be so called, according to the custom of the tribe.
So the herd moved on, and the rest of the people with them; but our four Trazas remained behind, and all that day were busy looking for traces of the lions. They were armed, like all the Trazas, with double-barreled flint guns, pistols, and huge knives. After searching many hours in vain, they came to a thicket of trees, which they entered cautiously, mistrusting that lions might be hidden there. Suddenly they saw three young cubs playing together, though no old lions were to be seen. No doubt the old folks had gone to visit the carcass of the cow they had killed the day before, for the purpose of bringing food home to their youngsters.
"Looking carefully to their guns, in order to be ready for any thing that might happen, two of them descended from their camels, seized the young lions, and remounted with their game, handing the third cub to one of their companions. They then left with the utmost speed their camels could make, for their only safety was to be out of the reach of the lions's pursuit when they should come back and find their young taken away. Their rage would be terrific, and woe to the men who had dared to take their young. Of course they had guns, and would try to kill the lions if attacked, but it would be a dangerous business. So on they went, now and then looking behind to see if the lions were after them. Never did their camels go so fast before.
"They had been gone about two hours, and began to think themselves safe, when, to their horror, looking back on reaching an open country, they saw the lion and lioness in hot pursuit. They urged their camels on as fast as they could, but gradually the lions gained upon them, until their roars of rage could be distinctly heard. Nearer and nearer the pursuers came, till at last the Moors saw it was of no use to attempt to escape by running away, and that they must prepare for a fight if they wanted to get clear with their lives. In the mean time, two of the young cubs had been securely tied in a kind of basket or bag.
"They agreed that, as soon as the lions should come near enough, they would throw off one of the young cubs to distract the attention of the lioness. At the same time one of them would fire at the lion, and, if he was not killed by the shot, another would fire at him again. As they were all good marksmen, they were very hopeful to be able to kill them.
"The lions came roaring and bounding on, and one of the young ones was thrown down to the lioness, who immediately stopped to caress it, while her mate continued the chase. As he sprang forward in the air, one of the young Moors fired at him. The bullet took effect, and the huge beast, giving a tremendous roar of pain, rolled over in the sand, the blood pouring from his wound in a torrent. Another bullet went into his massive forehead, and, giving utterance to a most appalling and terrific roar, he rolled over and died. The lioness was then dispatched by two or three well-aimed shots, and the cub was recaptured without difficulty.
"In this way," added the old man, in conclusion, "these young lions were taken, and afterward sold to us by the Trans people. We have brought them up in our village, and intend to sell them after a while."