Chapter 31 - The Giraffe Hunters by Mayne Reid


Before reaching the pit, several antelopes and other animals had been passed,—killed or injured in the crush and rush. Such of these as were still living, received but a passing glance and a blow from those who were hastening onward to a scene more wild—more frightful and horribly human in origin and execution—than words will describe.

The novelty and excitement of the scene, and the infectious example of the maddened Africans, inspired Groot Willem and his companions with a savage, blood-seeking intoxication of mind that urged them forward with nearly as much insane earnestness as the most frenzied of the Makololo.

The herds they had been driving before them were now concentrated into a quivering, struggling, noisy mass. The pit was soon full of roaring, bellowing, bleating, growling victims of the chase, that were piled one upon another, until hundreds escaped by passing over the backs of those that had preceded them.

When the overflowing of the pit had passed off, and the hunters came up to gaze on what remained, they beheld a scene never to be forgotten in life. Underneath, they could hear the roaring of a lion, being smothered by its favourite game. For the first time, it had too many antelopes within its reach. There was one creature in the crowd that was not to be overlain by the others. It was the muchocho, or white rhinoceros, they had seen while driving in the game. Every time it moved, bodies were crushed, bones broken, and the cries of rage and distress from what seemed a miniature representation of a perdition for animals became imperceptibly diminished by several voices. The muchocho was apparently standing on its hind legs in the bottom of the pit, while the upper part of its body was supported by the creatures that were screaming under its immense weight.

Mingled with the struggling mass were seen some of the camelopards; and, fearing they might be subjected to the destroying power of the huge rhinoceros, Willem placed the muzzle of his roer near one of its eyes, and fired.

The report of the gun was scarcely heard, so stunning to the ears of all was the fracas that continued; though the effect of the discharge was soon evident on the muchocho. It ceased to live.

All hands now set to work at clearing the pit, in order to save the young giraffes from being killed; that is, if they were yet living. Rheims with loops at the ends were thrown over the heads of the antelopes and other small game, by which they could be hauled out.

After a short time spent at this work, a partial clearance was effected. The body of a young giraffe was now carefully got out. It was examined with an interest verging on delirium. It was quite warm, but lifeless, its neck being broken.

One of the old ones,—a large bull,—struggling violently, was now the most conspicuous animal in the pit, and being, as Hendrik said, “too much alive,” was killed by a bullet.

The head and neck of another young giraffe was seen, whose body was nearly buried under animals larger than itself. It was apparently unharmed. Every care was taken to get it out without injury, and it was drawn gently up and two rheims placed around its neck, in order to hinder it from running away. It was not more than two months old,—just the age the hunters desired,—but it soon became evident that there was something wrong. While continuing its struggle for freedom, they observed that one of its fore feet was not set on the ground. The leg was swinging to and fro. It was broken.

The creature was young, bright, and beautiful, but could not be taken to the Colony. It could never visit Europe. The only favour that could be shown this suffering, trembling, frightened victim of Groot Willem’s ambition was to put it out of pain by shooting it, and the young hunter witnessed its death with as much pity and regret as he had felt at the loss of poor Smoke.

The pit was at length emptied; and the hunters now paused to contemplate their spoil. Seven giraffes had been destroyed, nearly all of them by having their necks broken. These, six or seven feet in length, had been too delicately made to resist the impetus of the heavy herds passing over them.

Although they had failed in procuring what they wanted, it was not yet proved that the hopo had been built in vain. It might still be available for another time. So they were informed by Macora, who said that, in two or three days, other giraffes might be found in the mimosa grove, and a second drive could be tried.

This partly reconciled the hunters to the disappointment of the day, though all felt a strong regret that two of the beautiful creatures, such as they wished-for, had been driven into the trap only to die. Many herds might be discovered, without having among them any young, such as the two now lying dead at their feet. Other young camelopards might be caught and killed; but many failures must occur before Groot Willem would relinquish the undertaking for which he had travelled so far.

The time was not wholly lost to the Makololo, for a supply of food had been obtained that would take them some time to preserve, and longer to eat.

The day after the grand hunt, long rheims, suspended on upright poles, were covered with strings of meat drying in the sun, while all the bushes and small trees in the vicinity were festooned after the same fashion. For the dried meat, or biltongue, only the best and favourite portions of each animal were used, and the rest was removed beyond the encampment, where it formed a banquet for vultures, hyenas, and other carrion creatures of the earth and air.

Three days after the butchery, all that remained of the slaughtered animals was the dried meat and polished bones.