Written by Neil Harmse
Chapter 15. Geoff’s Lion and Baboon
A good friend of mine has always had a yearning to shoot a lion. When I was involved with problem animal control, Geoff kept asking me to call him if there was an opportunity to join me and perhaps get a shot at one of the problem animals that kept raiding and killing livestock. I told him it was not really a hunt, but more a matter of shooting problem animals. Nevertheless, he wanted to accompany me and hopefully have a chance of bagging a lion for his trophy room.
I knew that Geoff was an experienced hunter and I felt there would be no problems if he accompanied me on a foray against the cattle-killing lion. He had his own business in Johannesburg, so he would be able to drop everything and drive down to Malelane at short notice, if necessary.
The estate had a large section allocated as a ‘game’ area, with a few valuable species such as roan antelope, tsessebe, zebra, kudu, impala, giraffe and other animals.
One rather persistent lion continually broke through the perimeter fence and kept killing the game animals. After two of the roan had been killed, we decided that this lion had to be removed, as it had also caught and eaten two heifers from the cattle kraal.
I received a report that a zebra had been caught and partially eaten in the game camp. There was still a lot of meat on the carcass and I felt the lion would return the following day. I immediately called Geoff, who was excited and did some very low flying in his BMW, reaching the farm in about four-and-a-half hours.
He brought along a .375 over-and-under double rifle, which he had bought, but never hunted with. In sighting the rifle, we found that it would not group and one barrel consistently shot about 15-20cm high at 50m. I was not happy about this, but Geoff wanted to shoot his lion with the gun and said he would compensate for the height. I felt that with me backing him, it would be fine.
We started out early the next morning and found that the lion had not fed. On following the tracks, we saw that it had returned to the Kruger side of the river. With a bit of luck, it would return late that afternoon and we would hopefully get a shot at it over the kill. I did not want to cut branches and vegetation from nearby, in case it alerted the lion, so we brought some leafy vegetation and reeds from the river bank and built a small hide about 30m from the zebra carcass. We moved into the hide at about 3.30pm and made ourselves comfortable to await the lion’s return.
Geoff and the lion.
After about two hours, with the sun starting to go down, we heard baboon barks towards the river and I whispered to Geoff that the lion was possibly on its way. Just as it was getting dark, I could hear soft grunts from the lion. Then it suddenly seemed to materialise from nowhere and was standing on the far side of the carcass. I gripped Geoff’s arm, indicating that he should hold his fire. Then, as the lion moved around and stood broadside on, I signalled Geoff to take a shot. At the report of the shot, the lion spun around and collapsed.
I told Geoff to shoot again. His next shot went over the lion and into the bush. I was unsure about the first shot, even
though there was no movement from the lion. We approached cautiously, Geoff with his rifle and I with my .357 Magnum revolver in one hand and my rifle in the other. From about 2m away, I saw a movement: the lion was trying to lift its head. I immediately fired the revolver into the lion’s head, which ended matters once and for all.
Geoff was very excited about his lion, but commented that his prize, trophy skull mount would have a big hole in the top of its head. Well, rather the lion than me! On examination, we found that the first shot from the side had also been a bit high and had clipped the spine, paralysing the animal, but not killing it.
While he was down on the farm, Geoff decided he could do with a good baboon trophy for his trophy room. There were many baboons in the area, which caused a lot of damage to the fruit crops and sugar cane. These creatures were extremely cunning and not easy to approach for a shot. They always had lookouts to warn the troop of anyone trying to approach and, at any alarm, would charge over the border fence and into the safety of the Kruger Park, where they knew they could not be shot.
We tried for about three days to get near, but without luck. I suggested that we try an ambush manoeuvre, where I would drive along the edge of the sugar cane land and slow down to allow Geoff to jump out and hide in the bushes. I would then drive away to attract the attention of the lookout baboons. With a bit of luck, he would get a long range shot with his .270 and have his hard-earned trophy. As I drove away, I could see the troop moving back and scaling the fence into the lands. I drove up to the crest of a small koppie and, with binoculars, watched the antics and movements below. A big male baboon decided to perch on top of one of the poles of the boundary fence. Watching him from quite a long way off, I saw him fling his arms and topple over
Geoff with the baboon showing a bandaged knee.
before I heard the shot. Unfortunately, he had fallen onto the wrong side of the fence. Theoretically, the centre of the river was the actual border between the park and the farm, so Geoff dashed over the fence to retrieve his trophy. However, in his excitement and hurry, he tripped on the top wire and took a nasty fall into the park side, almost on top of the baboon. He grabbed the carcass and threw it over, but while trying to stand and climb, he could not use his leg. I eventually helped him over, but he was in a lot of pain and his knee was swelling rapidly.
With a crêpe bandage and a few pain-killers from my first aid kit, I managed to get him into the vehicle and back to the house, where I cleaned and again bandaged the leg and knee, then rushed him to the doctor in town. The damage appeared to be more in the tendons below the knee, though there was also damage to the knee itself.
Eventually, when Geoff returned to Johannesburg, he had to undergo an operation and quite a bit of physiotherapy, resulting in many doctor’s bills. However, with his inimitable sense of humour, he always tells his friends and visitors that the baboon trophy on the wall was the most expensive animal he ever shot!