by Hannes Wessels
For Guy Brooke Sumner it was just another day at the office but not a very gratifying one. Canoeing the upper reaches of the Zambezi above the Victoria Falls he was surrounded by a wild splendor which never seemed to lose its magical allure for him. But for some of his clients the vista was considered more threatening than thrilling. With elephant frolicking in the shallows, crocodiles basking on the sand-bars and Fish-Eagles stooping to conquer it was clear to him it all held limited appeal for his guests who maintained a sullen demeanor throughout.
A family from the United Kingdom the two teenage children were nervous and home-sick and Brooke Sumner was in no doubt they would have been happier in a Hampton Court Hilton than on one of Africa’s wildest rivers. Their mood was not lifted along with their craft when a hippo surfaced rather rudely underneath it sending the vessel and the occupants on a brief and uncalled for flight from the surface before slamming back into the water and stabilizing but causing consternation and panic in the process.
Joyful anticipation was palpable when a pleasantly appointed tented camp beckoned in the distance and renewed vigor was evident in the paddle-strokes of the teenagers who heaved loud sighs of relief when their feet finally found firm land underfoot and they were away from the watery clutches of the Zambezi.
Showered and changed, dinner was served while they all watched a stunning sunset and with its passing the day’s travails seemed to dissipate. Seated after dinner, around a fire on the bank of the river the Port-Wine flowed and Brooke Sumner, ever the rambling raconteur, regaled and amused his guests with recollections from a past full of excitement and adventure. Tired from the day’s exertions all went to bed well fed and watered feeling pleasantly content and secure. The day, despite its tribulations, had ended on a highly pleasurable note. But that was destined to change.
In the early hours of the morning a silent night was broken by the sounds of hysterical screams amid piercing roars and growls that shook the camp shattering the dreams of the recumbent sleepers. “All hell broke loose,” Guy recalls. “I was in a deep sleep but leaped out of bed just knowing instantly it was a lion.”
Little did Brooke Sumner know at this point but only an hour prior to the attack he had walked out his tent and relieved himself mere yards away from the prowling man-eater which had just done a thorough survey of potential targets in the camp before attacking.
“ ‘Maglite’ to hand I ran out the tent with my .44 cal. Ruger Red-Hawk, saw a dusty commotion in the gloom and fired three shots into the air. I could not see too clearly but realized someone had been nailed. I shouted to one of the staff to run to my kayak and retrieve my first-aid kit then I realized I was naked, needed some clothes and raced back inside to put on some shorts before returning to the scene.
“The lioness had Casper, one of the camp-hands in his jaws and his screams for help were nerve-numbing. Mindful my ammunition was limited, I knew I needed to be prudent with my fire-power and cursed myself for having blasted off so hurriedly into thin air. While the roars and shrieks were clear as a bell the reflection of light in the dust caused by the struggle and the mauling clouded my vision partially and I battled to draw a bead as the lion dragged Casper away from us behind a clump of dead Leadwood trees where she tried to hide from the light. A momentary lull followed when she looked at me but then she tore back into Casper and was ripping him furiously apart shaking him all the time like a rag-doll. It was a seriously disturbing sight watching a man being literally eaten before your eyes.
“I knew it was risky, lion and man were closely joined, but I had to take the chance of shooting or Casper was literally dead meat. I took careful aim, was pleased to note my hand surprisingly steady, fired and hit the animal in the stomach causing her to bellow her outrage and stagger briefly away. Now needing better light I ran to the Land-Cruiser, grabbed the bigger spotlight off the seat and in the light of the stronger beam saw she had dragged Casper further away and had taken cover behind another tree where she crouched over him like a cat playing with a mouse. Every time the man moved or made a sound she reacted immediately by smashing him with her paw before raking him with her claws and gnawing at another part of his body. It was a very gruesome sight. For the onlookers, particularly my clients they must have thought they were living a nightmare. Then suddenly it dawned on me I now had only one round left having started out with only five in the chambers. I had one chance to kill the animal otherwise Casper was on his way to a slow and painful end.
“Making the task even more daunting she was now in a crouched position behind his body with Casper’s shoulder well inside her jaws. This alignment left me with not much of a target profile to work with but I knew my man was dead if I didn’t shoot fast. I drew a bead with the lion coiled ready to charge, her eyes reflecting like bright gold nuggets in the light. I steadied on the gap between them, held my breath and fired. I knew immediately I’d hit the spot when her head dropped onto Casper’s chest but felt I needed to make sure and rather recklessly considering I was now defenseless, I sprang forward, stupidly forgetting the spot-light was plugged in to the car. My sudden move had unplugged the cord and everything went black as I stopped dead in my tracks. Amid the shouts all around me I suddenly felt very frightened. Badly exposed I felt a nervous shiver fully expecting to feel teeth and claws ripping into me at any moment. I stood dumbfounded for a while waiting for a hit when. thankfully one of the staff had the presence of mind to plug the light back into the socket. With visibility restored I approached gingerly and was immensely relieved when I saw the lion was indeed dead but shocked at the state of my man Casper.
“He was bleeding from top to toe. His head was punctured full of holes, his face had been raked by claws and his right eye was hanging out his head by what looked like a nerve. I stuck it back in and was pleased to see how well it fitted when returned to the socket. In places his skin had been peeled away from the flesh leaving gaping flesh-wounds. His left shoulder was a crumpled mess leaving his arm hanging limp with splinters of bone poking through lumps of torn flesh. His right knee was connected to his upper leg by little more than a slender sinew leaving the lower leg literally hanging by a thread. It was a very grisly sight indeed. Casper just lay there very still and there was total silence when another shock-wave hit. A hippo bull, curious to know what the commotion was all about had appeared on the scene and announced his arrival with a thunderous series of grunts that had everyone back in full terror mode. Mercifully he finished his inspection and then sauntered back into the water.
“Taking stock of the situation I saw petrified people standing around looking dumbfounded, gawking at me in various stages of shocked stupor. I panicked a little realizing I had no ammo left to deal with any other onslaught and shouted to them to get inside their tents. Then I did my best to dress Casper’s wounds and kill the pain. He showed incredible courage and stoicism in dealing with his injuries.
“When I mentioned the fact that I thought it was best I took him to Victoria Falls hospital myself there was a stampede on the vehicle so I changed plans, ran a saline-drip into a vein, bandaged him to staunch the flow of blood and sent him off to hospital with a driver and an assistant.
“It turned out the three camp-staff, after working late, had decided it was too much trouble to put up their tent and decided to dispense with it electing to sleep side by side next to their cooking fire. The lioness had traveled through another camp some two miles away looking for a victim but obviously in vain then carried on looking for easier pickings. Finding the three men in the open she seized the moment and went for Casper who was in the middle of the threesome and hauled him away.
“On closer inspection the reason for her belligerence became clear. She had obviously taken on a porcupine at some stage earlier and come out of the encounter the worse for wear. Quills were deeply imbedded in her chest and throat which had become horribly infected rendering her weak, infirm and unable to deal with feistier prey on her own. Hunger had driven her to turn to man.”
And for the clients it was all over. “The sun had not risen over the horizon when my guests told me in no uncertain terms they had seen all of wildest Africa they needed to see and to remove them from the continent forthwith. As Pliny the Roman Elder correctly stated: “Ex Africa semper aliquid novi” (There is always something new out of Africa).
“Sadly, Casper put up a brave fight but succumbed to his wounds.”