Chapter 30 - The Giraffe Hunters by Mayne Reid

The Hopo.

Groot Willem was, for the time, cured of the desire to seek further adventures in the chase. He had come to the place for the express purpose of procuring two young giraffes, and taking them safely to the Dutch consul. The experience of the last few days had shown him that his object would not be better accomplished by thus exposing himself to the chances of dying some horrible death. Guided by this dearly-bought belief he was contented to amuse himself by joining the Makololo in the construction of the trap. In this work he was assisted by the other three, all of whom were now thinking more of home than of giraffes, or anything else.

The trap was to consist of two high fences converging upon each other, so as to form a figure somewhat in shape like the letter V. They were to be about a mile and a half long; and at the point of convergence a space was to be left open, wide enough to permit of the largest animal to pass through. Beyond the angle, or where it should have been, had the fences met, was dug a pit about forty feet long, fifteen wide, and eight deep. Heavy trunks of trees were laid along its edges, slightly projecting over them. The intention was, that any animal driven through would be precipitated into the pit from which escape would be impossible. Near it the fences were made of great strength and height, to resist any attempt at leaping over them, or pressing them down.

The pit was covered with reeds and rushes; and no means were neglected to make the hopo as effective as possible for the purpose required of it.

Working with a will,—both white hunters and black Makololo,—the hopo was soon pronounced complete, and ready to receive the game; and the next day was appointed to carry out the objects of its construction. A mimosa forest lay in front of it,—for on this account had the situation been selected. This forest was to be “beaten” by the men of Macora, and all its four-footed denizens driven into the trap.

Early in the morning the whole tribe, with the white hunters and their dogs, mustered for the grand drive. They were divided into two parties. Willem, Hendrik, and Macora led one to the left, while Hans, Arend, and a principal warrior and hunter of the Makololo conducted the other to the right, thus taking the mimosa forest on both flanks. The area to be surrounded was about four miles in length and three in breadth.

On arriving at its northern edge, the great cover was entered by the beaters along with most of the dogs. The white hunters, who were mounted on their own horses, and some of the Makololo who rode upon oxen, kept along the borders, to prevent the startled game from breaking cover at the sides. For a time the beaters and their canine companions appeared vying with each other, as to which could make the greatest noise; and the effect of their united efforts was soon observed by those riding outside the timber.

Before they had proceeded half a mile from the point of separation, they had sufficient evidence that the repose of many species of wild beasts had been disturbed. Mingled with the loud trumpeting of elephants were the sounds of crashing branches, the roar of lions, the shrieks of baboons, and the wild, horribly human, laughter of hyenas.

Those riding outside had been instructed by Macora to keep a little in the rear of the line of beaters; and the wisdom of this counsel was soon made clear to Groot Willem and Hendrik. A herd of elephants broke from the bushes, but a few yards ahead of them, and were allowed to shamble off over the plain unmolested. They were not wanted in the trap.

Some zebras also broke from the cover soon after and they also were permitted to escape scot free.

When not far from the termination of the drive, at that side where Willem and Hendrik were guarding, a grand drove of buffaloes rushed into the open ground. Fortunately the party were at some distance from the timber at the time, and also a little to the rear of the rushing herd, else they would have had some difficulty to escape from being run over and trampled to death. Several of the buffaloes left the forest nearly opposite to them, and in joining the main drove they took a course that caused the hunters some hard riding to get out of the way of their horns.

Immediately after the fortunate escape of the buffaloes,—fortunate for the hunters themselves,—the eyes of Groot Willem were blest with the sight of the objects he most desired to see. A small herd of seven or eight giraffes, in escaping from the skirmishers, noisily advancing among the trees, shot forth into the open ground. They were near the funnel-shaped extremity of the trap. If once outside the fence they would get off; and the toil of two weeks would all have been undertaken to no purpose. Striking the spurs into the sides of his horse, Groot Willem, followed by Hendrik, galloped forward to cut off their retreat. Never did Willem remember a moment of more intense excitement.

Two young giraffes were seen with the herd. Were they to escape the enclosure of the hopo? A few seconds would decide. The herd and the hunters were now moving in two lines at an angle to each other, their courses rapidly converging. This was soon observed by the timid giraffes; and, unconscious of the danger that threatened them, they turned and were soon within the wide and far-extended jaws of the hopo.

Had they continued in their first course only a few paces farther, they would have been safe from the fate that awaited them; but, as man himself often does, in seeking safety they took the direction leading to danger.

The beaters had now reached the termination of the mimosa forest; and the parties from both sides were now coming together to the open ground. Within the two walls of the hopo they could see before them a living, moving mass, composed of many varieties of animals; among them they saw with regret two elephants and a rhinoceros.

Towering far above the heads of all others were those of the giraffes, which seemed striving to be the foremost in precipitating themselves into the pit.

The mass of moving bodies became more dense, as the space in which they moved grew contracted by the enclosing fences.

When about a quarter of a mile from the pit, the sagacious elephants turned, and, seeing an army of men and dogs advancing towards them, broke through the fence and were free. Several zebras—much to the delight of the hunters—followed through the breach they had made. The camelopards were too far ahead to avail themselves of this means of escape. They were doomed to captivity.

The Makololo were all mad with the excitement of the chase. Uttering discordant ear-piercing yells, they rushed onward, impatient to witness the struggles of the multitudes of victims certain to be precipitated into a hole, towards which they were rushing heedless of all else but fear. Every demoniac passion existing in earthly life appeared to be fully aroused within the souls of their pursuers. They seemed frantic with rage at the escape of the elephants, though these would undoubtedly have defeated the object for which the hopo had been erected. Their only object seemed to be the destruction of animal life, the shedding of blood, the sight of agony.