The Man-Eaters of Tsavo/Chapter 27

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Chapter XXVII: The Finding of the New Eland[edit]

During the early part of last year (1906) I revisited the scene of my former labours and adventures on a shooting trip. Unfortunately the train by which I travelled up from Mombasa reached Tsavo at midnight, but all the same I got out and prowled about as long as time would permit, half wondering every moment if the ghosts of the two man-eaters would spring at me out of the bushes. I wanted very much to spend a day or two in the old place, but my companions were anxious to push on as quickly as possible to better hunting-grounds. I took the trouble, however, to wake them out of their peaceful slumbers in order to point out to them, by the pale moonlight, the strength and beauty of the Tsavo bridge; but I fear this delicate little attention was scarcely appreciated as it deserved. Naturally I could not expect them, or anyone else, to view the bridge quite from my point of view; I looked on it as a child of mine, brought up through stress and danger and troubles of all kinds, but the ordinary traveller of course knows nothing of this and doubtless thinks it only a very commonplace and insignificant structure indeed.

We spent a few days at Nairobi, now a flourishing town of some 6,000 inhabitants, supplied with every modern comfort and luxury, including a well laid-out race course; and after a short trip to Lake Victoria Nyanza and Uganda, we made our way back to the Eldama Ravine, which lies some twenty miles north of Landiani Station in the province of Naivasha. Here we started in earnest on our big game expedition, which I am glad to say proved to be a most delightful and interesting one in every way. The country was lovely, and the climate cool and bracing. We all got a fair amount of sport, our bag including rhino, hippo, waterbuck, reedbuck, hartebeeste, wildebeeste, ostrich, impala, oryx, roan antelope, etc.; but for the present I must confine myself to a short account of how I was lucky enough to shoot a specimen of an entirely new race of eland.

Our party of five, including one lady who rode and shot equally straight, left the Eldama Ravine on January 22, and trekked off in an easterly direction across the Laikipia Plateau. As the trail which we were to take was very little known and almost impossible to follow without a guide, Mr. Foaker, the District Officer at the Ravine, very kindly procured us a reliable man -- a young Uashin Gishu Masai named Uliagurma. But as he could not speak a word of Swahili, we had also to engage an interpreter, an excellent, cheery fellow of the same tribe named Landaalu; and he in his turn possessed a kinsman who insisted on coming too, although he was no earthly use to us. Our route took us through the Solai Swamp, over the Multilo and Subu Ko Lultian ranges, and across many unexpected rivers and streamlets. On our first march I noticed that Uliagurma, our kirongozi (guide), was suffering extremely, though uncomplainingly, from earache, so I told him to come to me when we got to camp and I would see what I could do for him. Strange to say, my doctoring proved most successful, and Uliagurma was so grateful that he spread my fame as a "medicine-man" far and wide among the natives wherever we trekked. The consequence was that men, women and children in every state of disease and crippledom came and besieged our camps, begging for some of the magical dawa (medicine). I used to do what I could, and only hope I did not injure many of them; but it was heartrending to see some of the quite hopeless cases I was expected to cure.

After we had climbed the Subu Ko Lultian and got a footing on the plateau, we pitched our camp on the banks of the Angarua river, where we found a big Masai kraal, the inhabitants of which seemed much astonished at our sudden appearance in their neighbourhood. They were very friendly, however, and visited our camp in swarms an hour or so after our arrival. Riding my pony and accompanied by Landaalu as interpreter, and my gun-bearer Juma, I returned their call in the afternoon, when the elmorani (warriors) gave for my entertainment an exhibition of the gymnastic exercises which they practise regularly in order more particularly to strengthen their legs and render them supple. After the performance I asked if there was any game about and was told that some might be found a few miles to the north of the kraal; so I set out at once with Landaalu and Juma to try my luck. It was a perfect afternoon, and no sooner had I cleared the belt of scrub which grew round the kraal, when by the aid of my glasses I saw a herd of zebra and other game away in the distance, feeding peacefully on the rolling prairie. I made my way steadily towards them, and noticed as I went that a couple of eland were gradually drawing away from the rest of the herd. I marked these for my own, and carefully noting the direction they were taking, I dismounted and made a detour round a rise so as to lie in wait for them and cut them off. My plan succeeded admirably, for the two fine animals continued to come straight towards me without suspicion, feeding quietly by the way. When they got to within eighty yards or so, I picked out the bigger head and was only waiting for him to make a slight turn before pulling the trigger, when bang went the heavy rifle of one of my companions about half a mile away. In an instant the two eland had bounded off, and I decided not to risk a shot, in the hope that they would soon settle down again and give me another chance.

Mentally blessing my friend for firing at this untimely moment, I watched them make for a belt of wood about a mile further on, hoping against hope that they would remain on the near side of it. No such luck, however, for they plunged into it and were quickly swallowed up out of my sight. Running to my pony, which Landaalu had dexterously brought up, I galloped in the direction of the spot in the trees where the eland had disappeared; but imagine my vexation when I found that I had to pull up sharp on the edge of a nasty-looking swamp, which at first sight appeared too boggy and treacherous to attempt to cross. I rode up and down it without being able to find anything like a really safe crossing place, so in desperation I at last determined to take the risk of crossing it along an old rhino path where the reeds were flattened down. My pony floundered bravely through, and eventually succeeded in getting safely to the other side. I then made my way cautiously through the belt of trees, and was relieved to find that it was only half a mile or so broad. I dismounted as I neared the further side, and, tying my pony to a tree, crept quietly forward, expecting to see the eland not far off; but to my disappointment there was no trace of game of any kind on the whole wide stretch of country that met my view. I therefore tried another direction, and, taking a half turn to my left, made my way carefully through some open glades to the top of a little rise not far off.

The sight that now met my eyes fairly took my breath away; for there, not three hundred yards off and stalking placidly along at a slow walk, was a herd of fully a hundred eland of all ages and sizes. The rear of the column was brought up by a magnificent old bull, and my heart jumped for joy as I watched him from the shelter of the bushes behind which I lay concealed. The next thing to be done was to decide on a plan of attack, and this had to be thought of without loss of time, for the wind was blowing from me almost in the direction of the eland, who would certainly scent me very soon if I did not get away. Quickly noting the direction in which they were moving, I saw that if all went well they ought to pass close to a little hillock about a mile or so off; and if I were very sharp about it, I thought I could make a circuit through the wood and be on this rise, in a good position for both wind and cover, before the herd could reach it. Accordingly I crept away with the object of finding my mount, but to my delight -- just behind me and well hidden -- stood the undefeated Landaalu, who in some mysterious way had followed me up, found the pony where I had left it tied to a tree, and brought it on to me. With a bright grin on his face he thrust the reins into my hand, and I was up and galloping off in an instant.

I soon discovered that I had further to go than I expected, for I was forced to make a big detour in order to keep out of sight of the herd; but on halting once or twice and peeping through the trees I saw that all was going well and that they were still calmly moving on in the right direction. The last quarter of a mile had to be negotiated in the open, but I found that by lying flat down on my pony's back I was completely hidden from the advancing herd by an intervening swell in the ground. In this manner I managed to get unobserved to the lee of my hillock, where I dismounted, threw the reins over a stump, and crawled stealthily but as quickly as I could to the top. I was in great doubt as to whether I should be in time or not, but on peering, hatless, over the crest, I was overjoyed to find the whole herd just below me. One of the eland, not twenty yards off, saw me at once, and stood still to gaze at me in astonishment. It was a female, however, so I took no notice of her, but looked round to see if my great bull were anywhere near. Yes, there he was; he had passed the spot where I lay, but was not more than forty yards off, moving in the same leisurely fashion as when I first saw him. An instant later, he noticed the general alarm caused by my appearance, and stopped and turned half round to see what was the matter. This gave me my opportunity, so I fired, aiming behind the shoulder. The way in which he jumped and kicked on feeling the lead told me I had hit him hard, and I got two more bullets into him from the magazine of my .303 before he managed to gain the shelter of a neighbouring thicket and was lost to sight. In the meantime the whole herd had thundered off at full gallop, disappearing in a few minutes in a cloud of dust.

I was confident that there would be little difficulty in finding the wounded eland, and on Landaalu coming up -- which, by the way, he did almost immediately, for he was a wonderful goer -- we started to make a rough search through the thicket. Owing to the growing darkness, however, we met with no success, so I decided to return to camp, which was many miles away, and to resume the quest at daybreak the following morning. It turned out that we were even further from home than I thought, and black night came upon us before we had covered a quarter of the distance. Fortunately the invaluable Landaalu had discovered a good crossing over the swamp, so we were able to press on at a good pace without losing any time in overcoming the obstacle. After an hour or so of hard travelling, we were delighted to see a rocket go up, fired by my friends to guide us on our way. Such a sight is wonderfully cheering when one is far away from camp, trudging along in the inky darkness and none too certain of one's direction; and a rocket equipment should invariably be carried by the traveller in the wilds. Several more were sent up before we got anywhere near camp, and I remarked to Landaalu that we must have gone a very long way after the eland. "Long way," he replied; "why, Master, we have been to Baringo!" This lake as a matter of fact was fully fifty miles away. When finally we arrived I fired the ardour of my companions by relating the adventures of the afternoon and telling them of the wonderful herd I had seen; and it was at once agreed that we should stay where we were for a day or two in the hope of good sport being obtained.

As soon as it was daylight the next morning I sent out a party of our porters with full instructions where to find my eland, which I was sure must be lying somewhere in the thicket close to the hill from where I had shot him; and very shortly afterwards we ourselves made a start. After a couple of hours' travelling we were lucky enough to catch sight of a portion of the herd of eland, when we dismounted and stalked them carefully through the long grass. All of a sudden one popped up its head unexpectedly about fifty yards away. One of my companions immediately levelled his rifle at it, but from where I was I could see better than he that the head was a poor one, and so called out to him not to fire. The warning came too late, however, for at that moment he pulled the trigger. It was rather a difficult shot, too, as the body of the animal could not be seen very well owing to the height of the grass; still, as the head instantly disappeared we hoped for the best and ran up to the place, but no trace of the eland could be found. Accordingly we pushed on again and after a little rested for a short time under the shade of some trees. We had gone about three miles after resuming our search for game, when one of the porters remembered that he had left the water-bottle he was carrying at the trees where we had halted, so he was sent back for it with strict injunctions to make haste and to rejoin us as quickly as possible. Curiously enough, this trifling incident proved quite providential; for the porter (whose name was Sabaki), after recovering the water-bottle, found himself unable to trace us through the jungle and accordingly struck home for camp. On his way back he actually stumbled over the dead body of the eland which I had shot the previous day and which the search party I had sent out in the morning had failed to find. They were still looking for it close at hand, however, so Sabaki hailed them and they at once set to work to skin and cut up the animal, and then carried it to the camp.

Meanwhile, of course, we knew nothing of all this, and continued our hunt for game. Shortly after noon we had a light lunch, and while we were eating it our guides, Uliagurma and Landaalu, discovered a bees' nest in a fallen tree and proceeded to try to extract the honey, of which the Masai are very fond. This interference was naturally strongly resented by the bees, and soon the semi-naked youths ran flying past us with the angry swarm in full pursuit. I laughed heartily at Landaalu, and chaffed him unmercifully for allowing himself, a Masai, to be put to flight by a few bees. This the jolly fellow took very good-humouredly, saying that if he only had a jacket like mine he would soon go and get the honey. I gave him my jacket at once, and a most comical figure he cut in it, as it was very short and he had practically nothing else on. When the nest was properly examined, however, it was found that the bees had eaten all the honey; so after taking some photographs of our guides at work among the bees we all proceeded homewards, reaching camp about dusk, with nothing to show for our long day's hunt.

We were met by Sabaki, who was in a great state of excitement, and who started to explain in very bad Swahili how he had come across the dead eland. Misunderstanding what he said, I told my friend that Sabaki had found the eland which he had shot in the morning, and rejoiced heartily with him at this piece of good luck. On viewing the head, however, we could not understand it, as it was very much bigger than the one he had fired at; and it was not till later in the evening when I visited Landaalu, curled up at the camp fire, that the mystery was explained. He greeted me by saying that after all we had not gone to Baringo for nothing the previous day, and on my asking him what he meant he told me about the finding of the eland, taking, it for granted that I knew it was mine. I quickly called up Sabaki and after some trouble got from him the whole story of how he had found the body close to my little hillock and near where my men were searching for it. So I broke the truth gently to my friend, who at once acknowledged my claim and congratulated me on my good fortune.

How great this good fortune was I did not know till long after; but even then, when I came to examine the head and skin carefully, I found that they both differed materially from those of any other eland that I had ever seen. For one thing, there was no long tuft of hair on the forehead, while from the lower corner of each eye ran an incomplete white stripe similar to, though smaller than, those found in the giant eland. The sides of the forehead were of a reddish colour, and on the lower part of the face there was a much larger brown patch than is to be seen on the ordinary eland. The striping on the body was very slight, the chief markings being three lines across the withers. On my return to England in April. I sent the head to Rowland Ward's to be set up, and while there it was seen by Mr. R. Lydekker, F.R.S., of the British Museum, the well-known naturalist and specialist in big game, who wrote to tell me that it possessed great zoological interest, as showing the existence of a hitherto unknown race of eland. Mr. Lydekker also contributed the following notice describing the animal to The Field of September 29, 1906:


"Considerable interest attaches to the head of an eland, killed by Colonel J.H. Patterson in Portuguese[1] East Africa, and set up by Mr. Rowland Ward, on account of certain peculiarities in colouring and markings, which indicate a transition from the ordinary South African animal in the direction of the giant eland (Taurotragus derbianus) of the Bahr-el-Ghazal district and West Africa. In the striped variety (Taurotragus oryx livingstonianus) of the ordinary South African eland, the whole middle line of the face of the adult bull is uniformly dark, or even blackish-brown, with a tuft of long bushy hair on the forehead, and no white stripe from the lower angle of the eye. On the other hand, in the Sudani form of the giant eland (T. derbianus gigas), as represented by a bull figured by Mr. Rothschild in Novitates Zoologicae for 1905, the upper part of the face has the hair rufous and shorter than in the ordinary eland, while from the lower angle of each eye a white stripe runs inwards and downwards, recalling the white chevron of the kudu, although the two stripes do not meet in the middle line.

"In Colonel Patterson's eland (which may well be designated T. oryx pattersonianus) there is an incomplete white chevron similar to, although rather smaller than, the one found in the giant eland, while only a narrow stripe in the middle line of the face, above and between the eyes, is dark-brown, the sides of the forehead being rufous. On the lower part of the face there is a larger dark-brown area than in the ordinary eland, although there is a rufous fawn-coloured patch on each side above the nostril. In both the latter respects Colonel Patterson's specimen recalls the giant eland, although it apparently lacks the dark white-bordered band on the side of the neck, characteristic of the latter. If all the elands from that part of Portuguese East Africa where Colonel Patterson's specimen was obtained turn out to be of the same type, there will be a strong presumption that the true and the giant eland, like the various local forms of giraffe and bonte-quagga, are only races of one and the same species. While, even if the present specimen be only a 'sport' (which I consider unlikely), it will serve to show that the southern and northern elands are more nearly related than has hitherto been supposed."

1 In error for "British."


As my eland thus proved to be of some considerable scientific value, and as the authorities of the British Museum expressed a desire to possess its head, I gladly presented it to the Trustees, so that all sportsmen and naturalists might have an opportunity of seeing it at the Natural History Museum at South Kensington, where it now is.