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Paul du Chaillu

We Shoot a Leopard

An unsuccessful hunt for elephants.—I take aim at a buffalo.—A leopard in the grass near us.—We shoot the leopard and her kitten.—Great rejoicing in camp.—Who shall have the tail?—A quarrel over the brains.—The guinea-hens.—The monkeys.

Early the next morning Aboko and I got up. Aboko covered himself with his war fetiches, and also with the fetiches that were to bring him good luck and give him a steady hand. On the middle of his forehead was a yellow spot made with clay. When he had finished these preparations we started.

Our desire was to kill elephants. We saw plenty of tracks, and we hunted all day long. In many places, to judge by the tracks, the elephants had been only an hour or two before ourselves. But we did not see a single elephant, and I killed only a few monkeys for my men's dinner, as well as a few birds.

We were returning to the camp rather downhearted, when I heard the cry of the gray male partridge, of which I have already spoken, calling for his mates to come and perch on the tree he had chosen. We turned back to get a shot if possible, for they are fine eating. We were just on the edge of the forest; and, as I pushed out into the prairie, suddenly I saw several buffaloes, one of which I made sure of, as he stood a little in advance of the rest, where the grass was high enough for a stealthy approach. I immediately put a ball into the barrel that had only shot, so that I might have my two barrels loaded with bullets. Then Aboko and I advanced slowly toward the unconscious bull, which stood a fair mark, and I was about to raise my gun, when Aboko made a quick sign to hold still and listen. Aboko, at the same time, breathed as if he were smelling something.

I did not know why it was that Aboko had stopped me, but I knew there must be better game at hand, or some other good reason for his doing so. Perhaps he had heard the footsteps of an elephant. I looked at his face, and saw that it appeared anxious.

As we stood perfectly motionless, I heard, at apparently a little distance before us, a low purring sound, which might have been taken, by a careless ear, for the sound of the wind passing through the grass. But to Aboko's quick ear it betokened something else. His face grew very earnest, and he whispered to me "njego" (leopard).

What were we to do? The noise continued. We cocked our guns, and moved, slowly and cautiously, a few steps ahead, to get a position where we thought we might see over the grass. The leopard might pounce upon us at any moment. What would prevent him from doing so if he chose? Certainly not our guns, for we did not know exactly where the beast was. To tell you the truth, I did not feel comfortable at all; I had a slight objection to being carried away in the jaws of a leopard, and devoured in the woods.

Our situation was far from being a pleasant one. The leopard comes out generally by night only, and nothing but extreme hunger will bring him out of his lair in open day. When he is hungry, he is also unusually savage, and very quick in his motions.

We knew the animal was near, but we could not succeed in getting a sight of him. As the wind blew from him toward us, I perceived plainly a strong peculiar odor which this animal gives out, and this fact proved still more decidedly that the leopard could not be far off. The thought passed through my mind, Is he watching us? Is he coming toward us—crouching like a cat on the ground, and ready to spring upon us when near enough? Do his eyes penetrate the grass which we can not see through? If so, is he ready to spring?

Meantime our buffalo bull stood stupidly before his herd, not twenty yards from us, utterly innocent of the presence of so many of his formidable enemies—the leopard, Aboko, and myself.

Just then we moved a little to one side, and, peering through an opening in the grass, I beheld an immense leopard, a female, with a tiny young leopard by her side. The beast saw us at the same moment, having turned her head quickly at some slight noise we made. She had been watching the buffalo so intently as not to notice our approach. It seemed to me as if a curious look of indecision passed over her face. She, too, had more game than she had looked for, and was puzzled which to attack first. Her long tail swished from side to side, and her eyes glared as she hesitated for a moment to decide which of the three—the bull, Aboko, or me—to pounce upon and make her victim.

But I saved her the trouble of making up her mind; for, in far less time than it takes me to tell you what took place, I had put a ball into her head, which, luckily for us, relieved her of further care for prey. She dropped down dead. At the same moment Aboko fired into the little leopard and killed it. At the noise of the guns, the buffalo bull and the herd decamped in the opposite direction at a tremendous pace, the bull little knowing the circumstances to which he owed his life.

I felt much relieved, for I had never before been in quite so ticklish a situation, and I felt no particular desire ever to be in a similar plight again.

When we returned to the camp there was a great excitement as soon as they heard the news that two leopards had been killed. Aboko carried in the young leopard on his back; but mine was too heavy, and had to be left in the field. Guns were fired in rejoicing, and the big leopard was fetched in. When the people returned with it to the camp, all shouted, "What an enormous beast! What an enormous beast! We heard gun firing," etc., etc.

In the midst of this noise Niamkala made his appearance with some of our party, bringing in some wild boars, and a pretty little gazelle which the natives called ncheri.

Of course the wild boars had been cut up into several pieces, for they were too heavy to carry whole.

Niamkala and his party were received with great cheers. The prospect of a good supper brightened all their faces, and mine also; and I shouted, "Well done, Niamkala and boys!"

Every thing was brought to my feet. There was so much to eat that there was no use in dividing the meat into equal shares, so I let every one take as much as he liked.

After supper the leopards were hung on a pole resting on two forked sticks, and then the negroes danced round them. They sang songs of victory, and exulted over and abused the deceased leopard (the mother). They addressed to her comical compliments upon her beauty (and the leopard is really a most beautiful animal). They said, "What a fine coat you have! (meaning her skin). We will take that coat off from you." They shouted, "Now you will kill no more people! Now you will eat no more hunters! Now you can not leap on your prey! What has become of the wild bull you were looking after so keenly? Would you not have liked to make a meal of Aboko or of Chaillie?" (for they called me Chaillie).

Thus they sung and danced round till toward morning, when I made them go to sleep.

Next morning there was great quarreling among my men. What could be the matter? I found that Niamkala was declaring his determination to have the end of my leopard's tail, while the rest of the hunters asserted their equal right to it. Aboko said he did not care, as he would have the tail of the one he had killed.

I skinned the two leopards in the most careful manner, and gave the end of the tail to Niamkala, and I promised Fasiko to give him the tail of the next one I should kill. They all shouted, "I hope you will kill leopards enough to give to each of us a tail!"

Poor Fasiko looked very downhearted. When I inquired why, he said, "Don't you know that when a man has the end of a leopard's tail in his possession, he is sure to be fortunate in winning the heart of the girl he wants to marry?"

I said, "Fasiko, you have one wife, what do you care for a leopard's tail?"

He replied, "I want a good many wives."

The palaver about the tail was hardly over when another quarrel broke out. This time it was about the brains. Aboko, Niamkala, and Fasiko each wanted the whole brain of the animal. The others said they must have some too; that there was only one end to each tail, but that the brains could be divided among them all. For a few minutes a fight seemed imminent over the head of the leopard.

I said "You may quarrel, but no fighting. If you do, you will see me in the fight, and I will hit every body, and hit hard too." At the same time I pointed out to them a large stick lying by my bedside. This immediately stopped them.

They all wanted the brain, they said, because, when mixed with some other charms, it makes a powerful monda  (fetiche), which gives its possessors dauntless courage and great fortune in the hunt. Happily I was able to persuade my three best hunters that they wanted no such means to bolster up their courage.

The dispute over the brains being settled, Aboko, in the presence of all the men, laid the liver before me. As this had no value or interest for me, since I was certainly not going to eat the liver of the leopard for my dinner, I was about to kick it aside, when they stopped me, and entreated me to take off the gall and destroy it, in order to save the party from future trouble. These negroes believe the gall of the leopard to be deadly poison, and my men feared to be suspected, by their friends or enemies at Sangatanga, of having concealed some of this poison. So I took off the gall, put it under my feet and destroyed it, and then taking the earth in which it had been spilled, I threw it in every direction, for I did not want any of these poor fellows to be accused of a crime, and lose their lives by it. I intended to inform the king, on my return, that we had destroyed the liver. But I told my men that their belief was all nonsense, and a mere superstition. They said it was not. As I could not prove their notion to be false, I stopped the discussion by saying I did not believe it.

Having plenty of game, we carried the leopard meat a long way off, and threw it away.

We did not go hunting for two days, but spent our time in smoking the meat we had on hand. It was just the sort of weather for hunting, and for living in the woods. The air was cool and refreshing, for it was June, and the dry season; but the sky was often clouded, which prevented the sun from being oppressive. To add to our pleasure, the forest trees were in bloom, and many of them were fragrant. The nights were very cold indeed for this country, the thermometer going down to sixty-eight degrees Fahrenheit. The wind blew hard, but against that we managed to protect ourselves. The dews were not nearly so heavy as they are in the rainy season. The grass was in great part burned off the prairies.

Every day we succeeded in shooting more or less game, among which were antelopes, gazelles, wild boars, monkeys without number, and Guinea-fowls. These Guinea-fowls were of a beautiful species. In this country you have never seen any like them.

My joy was great when I killed this hitherto unknown species of Guinea-fowl (Numida plumifera). It is one of the handsomest of all the Guinea-fowls yet discovered. Its head is naked, the skin being of a deep bluish-black tinge, and is crowned with a beautiful crest of straight, erect, narrow, downy feathers, standing in a bunch close together. The plumage of the body is of a fine bluish-black ground, variegated with numerous eyes  of white, slightly tinged with blue. The bill and legs are colored a blue-black, similar to the skin of the head.

This bird is not found near the sea-shore. It is very shy, but marches in large flocks through the woods. At night they perch on trees, where they are protected from the numerous animals which prowl about.

I killed several beautiful monkeys, called by the natives mondi. What curious-looking monkeys they were! Only the stuffed specimen of a young one had been received in England before this time. The mondi is entirely black, and is covered with long shaggy hair. It has a very large body, and a funny little head, quite out of proportion to the size of the animal. It is a very beautiful monkey; the hair is of a glossy jet black, and it has a very long tail. In Africa no monkeys have prehensile tails; I mean by that, tails which they can twist round the branch of a tree, and so hang themselves with the head downward. That kind of monkey is only found in South America.

The mondi has a dismal cry, which sounds very strangely in the silent woods, and always enabled me to tell where these monkeys were.