Gareth Jones via Facebook has given me permission to republish his account of a lion attack on his military unit whilst serving in Kruger Park.
At the lion attack site below the Kaborra bass power lines in the north of the Kruger Park.
Just thinking back on a very dramatic day in my life - the 13th August 1987 - lion attack - near Punda Maria -Kruger National Park while on military patrol at night.....
At the time I was part of a military unit on active duty in the Kruger Park, our basic task was to try and stop people, predominantly from Mozambique from entering South Africa. Due to poverty and extreme situations caused by war in their nation, many people were prepared to risk dangerous conditions, in the hope of getting to South Africa, many walked at night amongst wild animals.
By day we patrolled vast areas in the Northern Section of the Kruger Park, checking for any sign of recent movements. Often at night we would wait in planned positions on the most likely paths that the refugees might use. The Kaborra – Bassa electricity pylons rise above the predominantly flat plains like guiding beacons, & are thus very popular for walking at night.
On the evening of the 13th August 1987, it had been decided that we would wait next to a footpath directly underneath the electricity pylons, and late in the afternoon our trio had found a suitable position. I observed that the weather was changing, the wind blew & a blanket of dark grey clouds moved in, soon the sun had set & the darkening shadows rapidly became night.
It was my duty on that night to be on guard for the first few hours, after some weeks of being on patrol my natural senses of sight, sound, and smell had been considerably sharpened. However due to the wind rustling between the mopani leaves both sound and smell were reduced to minimum, and as there was no moon, I could not see much. Suddenly I heard a coarse deep grunt of a lion to my right, “Uugh….Uuuugh….Uuuuugh “. It was very close, I shone my torch out into the darkness, but could not see anything due to the mopani trees. After a few moments I switched off my torch a waited for a short while ……
Picture showing how close the lioness came , it was about 3m from me...
“Gareth !!! Torch left ” shouted Skip urgently, I responded rapidly, as the light shone I saw a lion charging at full speed towards me. At virtually the same moment, the sound of automatic gunfire, “Trrrrrt….Trrrrrt…..Trrrrrt “, I saw a fleeting glimpse of yellow eyes and fangs before the lion spun from the impact of the bullets. It was within 3 metres of me that the lion changed direction and ran off into the darkness of the night. We stood still for a timeless moment, no sound but our breathing. With a wounded lion we definitely could not stay on the ground, and the mopani trees were not an option. So the only refuge was to climb onto the electricity pylon, a journey of only about 80 metres, but believe me very long 80 metres.
As we began to walk towards the pylon, so I instinctively shone my torch to the right, there walked a large black maned lion about 20 metres from us, the male lion then walked into some thick mopani bush to the right of the same track we were walking on. We were now really super-alert, my pulse raced as we walked slowly forward, our bodies were pumping adrenaline and all temptation was to run, but we dare not, it this situation panic would definitely not save us. Amazingly a peace came over me, in the midst of very stressful situation, I was able to think clearly & calmly. We were aware that anything could happen now, especially since there was a wounded lion nearby. Repeatedly I rapidly shone the torch from left to right, & Mark shone another small torch backwards ,we hoped that this tactic would reduce the possibility of another attack, then to my left about 50 metres away I saw another 3 lions, by this time we had nearly reached the relative safety of the pylon.
Each of us began to climb up the steel structure, approximately 6 metres up a series of barbed wire strands act as a deterrent to stop further climbing. It was on this barbed wire that we were able to perch for most of the night, strapping ourselves onto the structure with our web-belts. Once we felt relatively safe we attempted to radio for help. Another patrol some 2 kilometres away heard our call, both radios tried to contract the main base a Maritenga . After some time we resigned ourselves to spending the entire night on our barbed wire perches.
Many hours of sitting on our barbed wire perches, we saw the lights of a vehicle approaching us, at approximately 02h30,a truck parked underneath us and we jumped on and returned to base camp. We were told afterwards that the patrol that heard our call had walked 17km to Maritenga Base camp. There was scarcely time for a catnap. Skip was getting concerned now that he would have to find and shoot a wounded lion. We drove out of camp at first light . As we approached the place where we were attacked, somebody saw something semi-hidden behind a log. On inspection we found that the lion was already dead for some hours, 8 bullets pieced the body, 1 leg, 1 paw, 1 tail, a tight grouping of 5 bullets had entered the lung cavity.
The incident was reported to the District Ranger at Punda Maria . Some time later Skip returned having given a full statement of the event. He told me that the lions we has encountered were possibly man-eaters probably due to refugees from Mozambique walking at night. The spoor showed all the signs of a typical hunt, and the lioness that attacked charged from approximately 25 metres. Over & over again the scene flashed in my minds eye , some of the facts .
- When he shouted “Gareth !!! Torch left “ , he thought he heard something.
- He was sitting with the R5 –5.56mm Rifle on his lap , and because it happened so fast he had to shoot from the hip.
- He just happened to have the rifle loaded at the time
- A lion can charge at speeds of approximately 70-80 km/h
- The lioness ran across his line of fire
- It was very dark
- A tight grouping of 5 bullets entered the lions chest.
Paul Scoot on the morning of 14th August 1987 , after finding the lioness , dead .
Its also weird that i was even upset with Paul for a while when he shot the lioness , even though the action had saved my life!
The more I thought about it only two possible conclusions could be made …
1) the most incredible combination of skill and luck we had ever seen .
2) the HAND OF GOD taking over in an extremely dangerous situation .
my vote went to option 2), yes ! we had witnessed supernatural power that night.
Since this incident, Gareth has gone on to work in lion conservation in Kenya, particularly Nairobi National Park.