A very conservative estimate (1%) places the number of Mozambican refugees eaten by lions at about 13,000. Even if you half that number, the result is astonishing. Refugees walk across the Kruger National Park from Mozambique in attempts to reach South Africa. A well kept secret is that in addition to the normal dangers of heat, thirst, and human predators, they are being preyed upon by lions, an inversion of the food chain.
Bits of bloody clothes found in the middle of nowhere. A lone suitcase, filled, abandoned in the bush. A single shoe. A full water bottle. Footprints that trekked on, then just ended. Everyone knew what was happening. Kruger was the one best way for poor Mozambicans to enter South Africa with its supply of jobs and relative safety. Kruger presented the longest South African border with Mozambique and the cover the Mozambicans needed to sneak in. Kruger also had more than two thousand lions, few with any reason to fear humans. Of course, some see this as a natural form of border control.
The horrible economic and political situation in Mozambique turned the Kruger park into a veritable highway of refugees. (The park forms a boundary along almost the entire border.) It is estimated more than a million trekked across into South Africa seeking some semblance of order and relative peace. The risk posed by lions, crocodiles (they had to swim the Crocodile River) was an acceptable risk. Many became a meal. A good sized lion can reach 550 lbs. and a length of ten feet. They are also social predators. A lion in front of you means probably two behind you. (Never run. The accepted best practice is to stand stock still and not trigger any response from the lion(s). You can’t outrun a lion.)
“The other moral is simply this: Eden kills. Kruger is not a zoo, deer park, or exhibit, however placid it may seem. It is nature, or close to nature, because in the state of nature, organisms kill. Put a warthog, a mere cat, and a lion together in a Disney cartoon and you have a great song and dance routine. Do it in Kruger, and you have a well-fed lion. Mammals, insects, reptiles, and raptors are killed and kill every day of the year at Kruger. Otherwise, Kruger would not be Kruger; it would not be wild and natural. All the creatures of Kruger seemed in their own way aware of these rules, save one: humans.” Rangers are deadly serious about the dangers. On one occasion the author got out of the car to “water a bush.” “[B]oth Steve and Neville post themselves on watch at opposite ends of the compass. They are looking earnestly for any dangers. Once we are outside the cars, we are exposed. There is no joking here, and my one attempt falls flat; they do not drop their eyes from surveillance, and they do not laugh or speak. They are deadly serious, and the dangers are real.”
The author uses these events and individual anecdotes to review the history of the park and the evolution in the way we think of animals and how they should be treated as part of the human eco-system. One of the major problems now is that people raised on “Born Free” and the Disney version of lions, want to treat them as cuddly little playthings. Even when lions wander through subdivisions, people want them left alone. The inevitable tragedy will reverse this notion, which, in turn, will again raise calls for the extermination of the lions.
“The tendency of a green-leaning public is to treat lions as friends and forget they are wild carnivores. Of particular concern to Gerrie is the community of Marloth Park, the suburban like development just south of Kruger and home to Izinyoni Lodge. Some of the other residents, not Paddy Buckmaster, show a dangerous tendency to treat lions casually—as if they were squirrels or raccoons or finches at a bird feeder . His fear is that the Marloth residents are unintentionally creating a new breed of man-eating lions. The affluent white homeowners who cherish the lions in their backyards during the daytime are well meaning, and their dedication to nature seems sincere. . . .The greens, in short, often have as much poor information now about lions as the bubba-rancher set did a century ago. They are both wrong about lion behavior, at one-hundred-eighty-degree opposites of the political compass.”
Man-eating lions are nothing new. “ In Tanganyika, in the 1930s and 1940s, three generations of a lion pride hunted men, women, and children so systematically that they treated villages like pantries. When hungry, the pride would enter a village, select a hut, tear through the roof, and eat the inhabitants as casually as we might open and eat a tin of nuts. George Rushby, the famous white hunter who eventually killed most of the lions, found the animals to be in their prime, with luxuriant, silky coats. The lions had so “selected” humans as the preferred species that a lion would charge through a herd of cattle—and kill only the herdsman.” “ “you are on a thin edge” when around lions. He repeats that phrase—thin edge—wherever he goes. Always, it must be kept in mind, he says, that the lion is two animals. Man is diurnal and sees the lion in its daytime passive mode. The night belongs to the lion, though, and there the lion is a fearsome predator. It is not evil. It is an opportunistic carnivore that walks the bush in highly organized hunting parties looking for protein. At night, it is a biological bot, a near-perfect killing machine. Quickly, if there is a new form of easy prey, it will learn to kill it.”
Close to being exterminated, it was ecotourism and the Kruger Park that saved them They now thrive, but until political conditions are resolved people will continue to die
Another book worth reading is John Henry Patterson’s memoir, The Man-Eaters of Tsavo. Patterson was a renowned bridge builder who was hired to build a bridge across the Tsavo river. His efforts were hindered as workers, imported from India as the Africans wouldn’t work for the British, disappeared and the rest became terrified. Patterson finally had to hunt the two lions, nicknamed Ghost and Darkness. It took him a year. William Goldman wrote the screenplay for a movie about Patterson, Ghost and the Darkness. It’s good.
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