Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Lions say "Woof"?

Source: www.funzoomiami.org
“…We had to undertake a journey of 300 miles through a desolate and almost uninhabited region. I can assure you that I have rarely been in a worse position, and I have been in some queer ones. However, these things are the natural incidence of a hunter’s life, and the only thing to do was to make the best of them.”

Alan Quatermain is at it again in this relatively short story relating yet another of his adventures in Africa. For a guy who claims to dislike attention or telling stories of his life, Quatermain sure finds himself wiling away many an evening by the fireside in the company of curious Europeans (usually a fair amount of them easily-impressed and shocked ladies), telling the account of some adventure of his in which he (and not one of his equally-intrepid companions) is always the center of action and heroism.

In this particular tale, Quatermain is sick and stranded in the middle of the African savannah with a native Zulu, Mashune, and a Hottentot alliteratively named Hans. With limited supplies and only four cartridges of ammunition between the three of them, they have forty miles to travel through dangerous wilderness before they can hope to reach safety. Between them and civilization stands not only Quatermain’s illness, their imminent starvation/dehydration/exposure, but also man-eating lions and a very violent eland.


(I admit, I had to look up what an “eland” was. Haggard—and by extension Quatermain—often refers to it as a “buck” so I assumed it was a sort of buffalo-ish creature. Apparently this was a close guess: it is a very large member of the antelope family. And, like in the story, the giant eland is still a trophy for big game hunters, if a search on Google images is any indication. I’d like to include a picture showing just how huge these animals are, but the only examples I could find offhand were of photos of hunters kneeling next to their kills. As I have an aversion to hunting for leisure rather than consumption, I’ll just say the key word in “giant eland” is GIANT, and leave it at that.)

Whenever I read one of H. Rider Haggard’s adventure novels, particularly a Quatermain story, I am left feeling a bit confused as to whether Haggard is getting the facts of African culture, wildlife, and scenery wrong, or if I myself haven’t done enough research into it.

In Hunter Quatermain, Haggard’s descriptions of specific behavioral habits of lions left me wondering if he were confusing them with bears or wolves. Are lions afraid of fire and loud noises? Is the sound they make “Woof! Woof!”? Do they “generally die on their sides” or look over their shoulder just before they spring to attack?


If anything, this story has merit in that it encourages me to seek out the truth of these statements for myself. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go onto my library’s website and put some books on lions on hold.  

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