Chapter 39 - The Giraffe Hunters by Mayne Reid

Among the Mimosas.

The hunters were now intent upon but one object,—that of procuring the giraffes. The roar of a lion near the camp could not have drawn them out of it. An elephant carrying many pounds of ivory was a sight that did not awaken sufficient interest to tempt a pursuit. All had a full appreciation of the task to be accomplished before they could return to their home, and they would allow nothing to interfere with the business before them.

By the side of the mimosa grove, which was now to be the scene of their labours, ran a small stream. On its banks they soon discovered the spoor of giraffes. Some of the tracks were of small dimensions, evidently the hoof-marks of young calves. Groot Willem was in high spirits. There was once more a prospect of satisfying his hunter ambition. His companions, though not so confident of success, were equally as anxious to obtain it.

The day after their arrival on the borders of the cameel-doorn forest, a drove of giraffes was seen coming out from among the timber and making their way to the stream.

The timid animals, unaware of their proximity to man, walked on until within one hundred and fifty yards of the spot where the hunters stood, before seeing the latter. They then turned suddenly, and with a swift but awkward gait retreated westward across the open plain, and entirely away from the mimosa forest. Hendrik and Arend were with some difficulty restrained from pursuing them. There was an opportunity for an exciting chase; and to remain inactive and see the giraffes disappear over the plain, required a strong self-denying effort.

It was Groot Willem who held them in check.

“Did you not see that there were three young ones in the drove?” said he. “Their home is very likely in this forest and we must not frighten them away from it.”

“They have already been hunted,” answered Hendrik. “I am sure I saw an arrow sticking in the side of one of them. Some black has amused himself by torturing a creature he was unable to kill.”

“It’s a great pity they saw us at all,” said Willem; “but they will probably return to the shelter of the trees. We must make sure that they have their haunt about here; and then we can send for some of Macora’s people, and let them build us another trap. That appears to be the only way of catching them.”

Another day passed, in which the hunters amused themselves in killing reed bucks and other game in larger quantities than they required. Nothing more of the giraffes was seen; and on the next day the party started off on the spoor of the giraffes they had seen.

Another mimosa forest was discovered about fifteen miles farther to the west; and on riding around it, they came upon a small lagoon. Its banks were trampled with the hoof-marks of many giraffes, some of which were very small. They had evidently been lately made, and by the same drove they had seen three days before. From this it was evident that the flock frequented both forests.

“We have seen quite enough for the present,” said Willem. “Our next plan is to send for Macora’s promised assistance, and construct another trap.”

In this all the others agreed; and then arose the question. Where shall the trap be built?

“We may as well have it at the other grove,” said Hendrik, “for we can easily drive them back to the place where they were first seen.”

No strong reasons could be advanced against this suggestion, and it was adopted.

Next morning two of the Makololo were despatched to Macora, for the purpose of claiming his promised assistance; and all went back to the forest first visited, and there encamped.

On the day the chief’s workmen were expected to arrive, Hendrik and Arend had ridden a few miles up the stream seeking for something to destroy. Impelled by that incomprehensible desire for taking life so natural to the hunter, they could not rest quietly at night unless they had killed something during the day.

They had arrived at a thick belt of forest, consisting of acacias and evergreen shrubs, and trees of the strelitzia, zamia, and speckboom, when their ears were assailed by the sound of breaking branches, and the unmistakable rushing of some large animals through the thicket.

“Prepare yourself, Arend; we may have some sport here,” cried Hendrik, and both drew rein to await the dénouement.

A few seconds only elapsed when the forms of two full-grown giraffes were observed breaking from the thicket. On the back of one of these was a leopard. Blood was streaming down its breast, and it was reeling wildly in its gait.

Knowing that the leopard is a cowardly creature, and that its capability for taking its prey is so great that it rarely suffers from want of food, and never where there is an abundance of game, the youths knew that its attack on the giraffe must have been caused by some other motive than that of satisfying the appetite of hunger. Its young had been disturbed in their lair, or the giraffes had in some other way aroused its animosity. On reaching the open ground it was seen that the unencumbered giraffe quickly forsook its companion, which was now showing unmistakable signs of being able to go but a very little farther. Its life-blood was flowing from its neck, and the stately monster was about to topple over under the injuries it had received from its fierce, agile enemy. The hunters were spectators of an incident such had probably never before happened,—that of a leopard killing a giraffe. Circumstances had favoured the beast of prey; and the huge ruminant, that had in some unconscious way aroused its anger, was being destroyed by an animal not the tenth part of its own strength or bulk.

Two dogs that were along with the hunters, not heeding the voices of their owners, essayed to take a part in the destruction of the innocent creature. Both ran yelping after it, and endeavoured to lay hold of its heels. Lifting one of its feet, the tottering camelopard dashed it with unerring aim against one of the dogs, with a force that threw the cur several feet backward, where it lay sprawling in the last convulsive motions of life. By making this effort, the reeling body of the giraffe lost its balance, and throwing its head violently to one side it fell heavily to the earth, its shoulders covering part of the leopard’s body, and crushing the latter to death. Like Samson, the leopard had brought destruction upon itself!

Handing the reins of the bridle to Arend, Hendrik walked up within a few feet of the leopard’s head, and put an end to its snarling screams by a ball through the brain.

What little life remained in the giraffe soon departed from it, along with the blood which the beast of prey had let out of its veins. Standing over the two carcasses, the hunters tried to arrive at some comprehension of the strange scene they had witnessed. They had heard of a lion having ridden on the back of a giraffe for a distance of many miles, and had treated the story as a fabrication. Before them was evidence that a leopard had travelled no little distance in a similar manner. Why should not a lion do the same? Notwithstanding the thickness of the hide that covered the neck of the giraffe, it had been torn to shreds, that were hanging down over its shoulders. The long claws and tusks of the leopard had been repeatedly buried in its flesh, arteries and veins had been dragged from their beds and laid open, ere the strength and life of the animal had forsaken it. This could not have been the work of a few seconds.

Several minutes may have been required for inflicting the injuries the giraffe had suffered, and during that time its merciless foe was probably wholly unconscious that it was being borne far from the scene where the attack had been commenced. Death had saved it from the surprise of discovering that, in the practice of its ferocious fury, it had been carried far away from the young it was making such efforts to defend.