“The Men Who Stare Down Large Carnivores: An Account of Life and Death on the Bleeding Edge of African Conservation” (Complete Story)

Posted by

Writer’s Note: It’s been awhile since I’ve opened my “African File” but there are some pieces that I want to do here moving forward — most longer than a normal magazine article, but shorter than a book or even novella.

Lion

What in the world do conservation, man-eating lions and African wilderness have to do with my main “channel” of maritime?

The wild, brothers and sisters.  The wild.

You can travel 18 hours to Tanzania to experience it. (And you should.) But if you wade ten yards into the surf at Atlantic City, you may not know it, but you are also entering the wilderness.

At any rate…the full story below.   The 10,000 word Kindle Select is available for $.99 — (Cheap) as they used to say on the cover of the now defunct Mad Magazine.

The Men Who Stare Down Large Carnivores : An Account of Life and Death on the Bleeding Edge of African Conservation

  

By Robert R. Frump

Of my four friends who stare down large carnivores, I always figured I’d get the call about Dairen Simpson first, that he was most likely to get clocked.  He had to run into a lion, a big hyena or a leopard someday that then ran over him.

Sure he was careful.  They all were.  But Simpson, a humane trapper considered the best in the world, brought the feel of the American West.  “Showdown” was evident in his dress and manner: Bill Hickok goatee and mustache, wide brimmed hat cocked at a jaunty angle, and a slow western drawl. He was there to bring the fight to the wilderness and it was, he would tell you, quite personal.

“You’ve got to meet him,” said my South African friend, Gerrie Camacho, the head of Mpumalanga Park’s Large Carnivore Program in South Africa. “He is the living incarnation of Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett.”

Second up on my list was Albert Msese, a wildlife ranger in Southern Tanzania.  Underfunded, under-gunned, Msese was in charge of dispatching man-eating lions. He was careful, he was skilled.

But business was so good that Msese’s string had to play out some day.  “Have Gun, Will Travel” was a tough job. One day you get the man-eater.  One day, the man-eater gets you. After 20 years at this, in the rough mud-hut regions of Tanzania, in the worst human-animal conflict zone in the world, some day, Msese would lose. The odds just told you that.

Camacho was the third party in the big cat pool.  He seemed the smart choice to survive.  He had the body of a rugby lineman, but he was reserved, almost a nerd, a poor candidate for death by lion, leopard or hyena. He was a scientist and an expert in relocating and resettling lions.  Besides, lightening did not strike twice in the same place and Gerrie already had been struck.

And the guy who I just kicked out of the big cat pool automatically was Harunnah Lyimo, my whip smart young guide, a zoologist who was street smart and bush smart – and far smarter than me.

“Hey, Bob, can I walk with you?” he asked me one August night in the Selous area of Tanzania, not far from where a lion named Osama had killed 51 villagers and led the entire Tanzanian army on a two-year chase.

I was walking to the outhouse of our bunker – an old Chinese 1950’s blockhouse from the Tanzanian days of socialism – under an epic Tanzanian night sky. No electric light in a hundred miles helped pop out the stars. It was grand.

And I was buzzed. Blissed by beer. We’d worked hard in the field for three days and the German documentary crew broke out some lager on the fourth.  The amped up speakers we used to broadcast out dying zerbra calls were plugged into Dairen’s iPod.  Bono and U-2 wailed over the savannah.

“These big cats, Bob, you’ve got to watch them all the time,” Harunnah said as he fell into stride with me.  I scoffed. “Harunnah, we’ve been here three days, man, they could not possibly read us that fast.”

“Hmmm,” Harrunnah said.  It was what I came to call the Tanzanian hum.  It could mean thoughtfulness.  Or in this case, a polite way of telling me I was a dumbass.

“Perhaps you are correct,” he said. And then swept his million-candle power floodlight across the edge of the bush 50 feet away. Dozens of eyes stared back at me, some green, usually herbivores, some red-orange, usually predators.  Some knee high.  Some head high.

I gulped, doubled back and for the rest of the expedition peed indoors into three-liter water bottles. No one or no animal was going to fool Harunnah.

Continued at Amazon Kindle Select.  (Free for Kindle subscribers.)

Lion
Specie panthera leo family of felidae

In the meantime, if you’d like to read it all now, it’s available on Kindle for 99-cents. 

The Men Who Stare Down Large Carnivores

An Account of Life and Death on the Bleeding Edge of African Conservation

(As I state in Part One, (click here) of my four friends who stare down large carnivores, I always figured I’d get the call about Dairen Simpson first, that he was most likely to get clocked.  He had to run into a lion, a big hyena or a leopard someday that then ran over him.

Others in the running?  Conservationist Gerrie Camacho, Guide Harunnah Lyimo, and Game Ranger Gaspar Msese.)

Part Two:

These four men are notable and at risk because they live on the very bleeding edge of conservation, which I had covered as an author and journalist for nearly 15 years.  It is every one’s Disney fantasy to live out a conservationist’s dream and save a leopard cub or watch a lion and an antelope nuzzle each other in Disney-movie harmony.  Those are the documentaries that grab eyeballs and set hearts aflutter.

Real nature is a bit different.  Nature has not read the Disney script.  Life here does include wonderful moments but the worlds of Simpson, Msese, Lyimo, and Camacho more likely involve stings, bites, fractures, scrapes, claws, stampedes, itches, stitches, flying hooves, bruises and rashes.   They love nature for sure. But at times, it’s like a bitter Pat Benatar song. Nature doesn’t always love you back and when nature hits you with her best shot, you can’t always take the punch.

Gerrie Camacho learned that at an early age. He is the chief scientist of the Mpumalanga Parks Board, the coveted equivalent of being head field researcher for all state parks in, say, Montana or Idaho or Alaska. His curriculum vitae say officially, “Zoologist (Scientific Specialized Terrestrial Fauna Projects),” but everyone knew him as a lion man.

Much of his career has been devoted to re-settling lions in land reclaimed from ranching or agriculture. He does his best to convince ranchers that lions and leopards can be controlled so they are not a threat to livestock.  To say that he loves lions is to say Escoffier liked food. He is a go-to expert in the world in his specialty.

He has raised lion cubs in his home and become very attached to individual animals. He senses distinct personalities of lions he observes.   He sometimes spends an entire year building a pride’s skills in captivity so they can be released into the wild.  He knows lions not just by their markings but by their movements, their manes, their moods.

He knows too that the “Born Free” scenario never works. You can’t just release individual lions into the wild and expect them to live long.  They must be trained as prides first in safe enclosures and then released.  Camacho has done this hundreds of times successfully but he’s also collapsed heartbroken after a year’s effort when successful training is undone by an outbreak of disease. One documentary shows Camacho gently euthanizing an entire pride infected and diseased. He stays by each lion until its eyes flutter them out of this world. The tenderness is evident—that of a hospice caregiver. You have to call it love.

But lion love also can hurt. And it hurt him specifically and physically when he was a younger man.

The situation was this: for days in the winter of 1988, in a private area just outside Kruger, Camacho and others had been attempting to dart and treat a pregnant lioness who seemed infected. They had lured her into a large fenced-in area, but always the pride followed her. One day in July, helpers called excitedly to tell him the pride had left the area, but the sick lioness and one young male remained.
Camacho and Johan Vander Walt, a conservation worker, piled into the Land Rover and rushed to the area, so excited that Gerrie left his .357 revolver at home on the kitchen table.

The hurried trip was worth it.  They could see the pride on one side of the fence and the pregnant lioness on the other. They could be certain now that she would get treatment if she needed it.

Vander Walt parked at the fence entrance to prevent the pride from reentering. Camacho hurried to the lioness on foot, thinking to scare away the one young male. Camacho, at six foot four, flapped his arms and the youngster lion bailed. The lion was big but green and fled toward the pride. All was well.

But then the young lion turned back.  No one could figure why and Gerrie had no time to noodle the question.  The lion was nearly upon him. and Camacho could only “make the stand” against the charge.

The stand is all important to check mock charges, and now Gerrie hooted and waved as the young male neared. Gerrie “looked large,” as large as he could, with his hands above his head.

But this was no mock charge. The male hit Camacho and knocked him backward, as if he were an aluminum struck by a flying anvil.

It was at that moment that Camacho learned a fact known by only a select few people: the one good point about being eaten by a lion is that sometimes it does not seem to hurt much.

That fact has been memorialized at least since Dr. David Livingstone, the explorer and missionary, was seized in 1844 by a lion and wrote later, “…. the shock produced a stupor similar to that which seems to be felt by a mouse after the first shake of the cat. It caused a sort of dreaminess, in which there was no sense of pain, nor feeling of terror, though I was quite conscious of all that was happening…. The shake annihilated fear, and allowed no sense of horror in looking round at the beast. The peculiar state is probably produced in all animals killed by the carnivora; and if so, is a merciful provision by our benevolent Creator for lessening the pain of death.”8

And such was Camacho’s experience exactly.

“You do feeleverything,” he said.  “It is as if you have been seized by a vise. Such strength! You know you are powerless against it. You feel your muscle ripping and tearing. You feel your meat separate from the bone. You feelall that, but you do not feel pain or really care. You are in a dream state, not unpleasant at all.”

The other fortunate matter was that the lion had knocked Camacho against a tree. He did not go down. If he had, he would have been killed. The lion seized and worried Camacho’s right calf in the vise of his teeth and mauled his upper body with box-cutter like claws. Periodically, the lion would attempt to move its grip upward, up toward Camacho’s softer parts, for the kill.

Camacho, meanwhile, fought the daze and began pummeling the lion’s eyes.

“It was the only soft spot I could reach, you see.” He hit the animal with big roundhouse lefts and rights. And whenever the lion tried to move its grip up, Camacho would pull with his leg. The smell of the lion—a sweet and powerful odor of urine and defecation— was all about him, engulfing him.

Vander Walt watched in horror, but was more horrified when the pride, triggered by the sounds of the attack, began streaming toward the hole in the fence, on a sortie line to Camacho. This would make short work of Camacho, Vander Walt knew, and he looked in the Land Rover. Normally, they would have a rifle, at least a .375 clipped to the dash.

But they had rushed! They had had one shot at isolating the lioness. The rifle was not in the landie and Gerrie’s pistol was back on the table. So now, as he desperately searched the vehicle, Vander Walt came up with … a tire iron.

The lion pride rushed toward the hole in the fence to join the young male lion attacking Camacho. Vander Walt grabbed the metal tool, jumped from the Land Rover, and ran toward the hole, waving the tire iron like a scimitar. He made as much noise as he could and looked as “large” as he could. Most assuredly, this was all improvisation; no manuals recommend charging an adult pride of lions with vehicular repair accessories.

It worked though.  The pride wheeled and retreated, confused and stymied. Then Vander Walt charged back toward Camacho and the young lion yelling and again swinging the tire iron. Camacho was still pummeling the lion, swinging great, powerful roundhouses as the lion clawed his thighs and lower arms, tried to get Camacho in a clinch, and move its bite upward to softer, vulnerable zones.

In the end, it was all too much for the young male. The punches. The madman with the tire iron. The pride retreating. He let loose of Camacho, who immediately wrenched his leg free. The male lit out for the hole in the fence, and it was over.

Camacho, still pumped and in a dream, thanked Vander Walt for his kindness, limped to the Land Rover, and asked to be driven back to the office, as he still had lots of work to do.

Leopard shot for carnivores

Vander Walt looked at Camacho’s leg and saw a calf muscle that drooped downward like a pot roast. On Camacho’s thigh, four severed tendons stuck up like stiff, busted banjo strings. On one arm, exposed tendons had looped up, like bunched shoestrings doubled in their eyelets.

“Ah, yes, very good and of course, Gerrie, the office,” Vander Walt told him. “But perhaps we should stop by the hospital justfor a moment to prevent infection.”

A half hour later Camacho was in severe pain. Sixty-four stitches later, and after weeks of rehab and healing, he was back in the field searching for lions—but not vengeance.

“In no way could that lion be held at fault,” Camacho says. “I was stupid. I caused the attack.

“I was stupid,” he says again. “Always, when you are around lions, you are working a thin edge. But you become too comfortable, you assume.”

So Camacho was off my list.  He’d paid.  He’d learned.

———————————————————————————–

In contrast to Gerrie, Dairen Simpson would never leave his pistol at home. When last I worked with him, we were chasing man-eating lions in the depths of the deep bush in Tanzania, an area where Simpson, hands down one of the best trappers in the world, could make a fortune in the poacher’s game without even working the rainy season.

Instead, the American risked his life daily on behalf of scientists conservationists, trapping large lions without harming them and then attaching to them GPS monitors.  He long ago had given up killing wildlife and devoted his skills to humane capture of large carnivores.

Still, he cut the cards and he had rules. On each trip, even if it meant days waiting to clear customs, he packed in a lethal looking Remington pump shotgun and a long pistol chambered in a caliber famous for its ability to stop grizzly bears — a big framed Ruger revolver chambered in .454 Casull.

“The things I do, the risks I take, I just have to have some fallback, for me and for those on my team” he told me. “I never plan to use them and you don’t do these things without understanding you might be killed and you never want to hurt an animal but it is irresponsible not to have the weapons if you are trapping man-eating lions.”

Up until our trip, he had never used them, and on the first live trap site, where it clearly had been sprung, he figured all would work out as it always did.  The animal would be held on the leg by a steel cable small enough to hold but large enough not to damage or cut.

Simpson, who had earned the look of an old west frontiersmen, would then toss aside his Stetson and with a thick wire loop encircle the animals neck and control it while he darted the animal and then attached the GPS.

This he started to do on a sunny dawn day in August, just south of the Great Selous, in a region where man-eating and human-animal conflict is the most severe on earth.  In our Toyota Land Cruiser, you could see the rustling of small trees and plants and hear the popping of branches and ground sticks 50 yards to the front where a trapped animal – species unknown — thrashed in the trap.

It was a hyena as it turned out – not the lion we wanted, so Simpson needed to free the animal.

He popped the door of the SUV, said, “Here we go,” took a half step out, paused, froze in mid-movement, then rocked back halfway into the vehicle.  He had the pistol, strapped in cross-draw on his left hip and the Remington shotgun to his side, which he intended to leave in the car.

“Got a bad feeling about this one, Bob,” he said quietly, turning to me so the Germans did not hear.  “Take this will you and if it gets on top of me do whatever you can.

“Seven in the magazine, one in the chamber,” he added.  “Just pump it once if you’re not sure.”

“You got it,” I said, as I took the shotgun, but he was already striding toward the trap and I had already begun wondering:  Remington 870 pump. Does the safety slide forward or backward?

Simpson liked hyenas.  His girlfriend then, a professor at Duke, studied them.  He trapped them.  This was the life he loved.

“It’s just you and your critter, man.  It’s the greatest feeling… in the world.  Time just stops …. and there is nothing else.  A hyena can be just as dangerous as a lion…and anyone who thinks they are cowards… has watched too much outdatednature television.”

“They are hugely fierce animals,” Simpson said.  “In many ways more dangerous than a lion when in a trap…but I look in those big dark eyes and I just disappear, I’m just so damned in love at that moment.”

So how do the shotgun and figure into that?  And my role. Dennis Ikanda, a Tanzanian scientist and ever-so-serious leader of our expedition, had given us darkly humored instructions on how to behave before we drove to the site.

“Hmmm. All of you will stay in the vehicles as we check the traps, please,” he said in deadpan.  “First Dairen will check the traps.  And when he is killed, I will go to his assistance.

“Then, when I am killed?” he said. “Then and only then will you be free to make your own decisions on when to leave the car and you will have full and free press access to the areas unhindered by any restrictions.”

Funny then.  Funny now.  But it was a little too real now as we watched Simpson close with the hyena.  When did I go into action, if actions were needed? Because, well, that’s where it all seemed headed.

All of us, crowded into our two overland vehicles, craned forward – me with the shotgun close by — and watched Dairen 60 feet away, as if we were at a small drive-in theater.

The feature began.

Simpson may have loved those dark, dark eyes of the hyena, but the hyena trapped this day – snagged by Simpson’s thick stainless steel cable tight about her leg – seemed uninterested in affairs of the heart.

She made one half-hearted dash for freedom, was way too smart to think that would work, was turned by the trap cable on her foot and without hesitation or further struggle faced Simpson head on.   Never did she cower.   She was an old girl and this seemed to be her last stand and she faced that inevitability with grace and courage.

Then you could see it happen as Dairen said it would, see them lock eye-to-eye and begin the dance.  Her mouth formed a big dark oval – like a jet intake scoop — and she sounded a booming click, a soft noise – ohhhhhh-ko-ko-ko-ko-ko.

It was one of those quiet sounds that somehow carried in the air and into your bones — ever so ominous, close kin to a Steven Spielberg soundtrack just before the raptors attack.  Simpson moved to his left, long stick in one hand, neck loop snare on a pole in the other. She followed the arc of the locus of her allowed outermost points, proscribed like a protractor by the snare’s cable anchored to a sturdy tree, eyes locked on Simpson’s as he said they would be.

Simpson then gave her his long and sturdy hardwood stick, about two inches in diameter, as a diversion.  He’d had it for a while.  There were teeth marks on the end.  She cracked off the bottom six inches as if it were a clown’s balsa prop.  The bite force of a hyena is about double a lion’s and equal to that of a Great White Shark.  Then she grabbed the next six inches and pulled Simpson forward into her reach, torqued the stick to her right with powerful jaw and neck muscles and nearly flipped Simpson on his side.

He teetered to his left, staggered, fought the stick with one hand, tottered then and started to fall in and over into her, it seemed.  He was going down.  He seemed beat, seemed done, off balance and falling over, over, over and down into the red dust of Rufiji and the savannah of the Selous, far too close to the hyena’s jaws.

“In case you need to know,” he had said of the shotgun, and it seemed I did need to know.

Now I grabbed the pistol-grip part of the shotgun with one hand and put my other on the door lever.  I was familiar with the gun – a model I’d grown up with in farm country. I was not familiar with the concept of shooting a hyena mauling a human in close quarters.
I popped the door latch and lifted the gun when a low, collective, “ohhh” came from inside our Land Cruiser.
I looked up and Simpson had flipped the tables on the old girl.

In one movement, he awkwardly had steadied himself, stuck the stick back into the hyena’s mouth and as she was again shredding it, looped a coil of stainless steel wire over the chew pole from there then onto her neck.   The wire was in turn attached to another pole where at its end Simpson could cinch the noose.

Then it was rodeo time.  With one powerful arm, he cinched and then kept the choke strong, cut her air, and with the other flipped the big female on her back, jaws snapping at nothing, neck pinned to the ground by the loop stick.

Now one knee pinned her thorax and stomach as if she were a roped doagie.   With his other hand, Simpson used a pair of pliers to loosen the bolt on the snare that held her left hind foot.  A twist, a twist, a twist, another twist and the foot was loose.

Now he worked the hyena to her feet and loosened the snug chokehold slightly.  He pointed her away from him, at pole’s length, then slipped the cable gently off her throat.  She seemed to hesitate for just a moment, but Simpson kept his hand on his pistol without drawing it.
But he knew what the hyena would do now.  What he wanted her to do.  He knew she was too wise to attack.  She was old for a reason. There were no long, lingering glances.  She looked back just once to confirm he was not in pursuit, then loped forward without a limp and that goofy, effortless unexplainably ever-so-efficient gait hyenas have carried her into heavy bush and obscurity within seconds.

Dairen shook himself and stood there for a solid minute, back to us, staring into the bush, doffed his hat, wiped his brow.  He seemed with one hand to gesture a subtle goodbye to the old girl, then walked back to the overland vehicles.  There was silence when he returned and a sort of awed respect among us all when he walked back to the Toyota Land Cruiser and the beaten up but ever-durable Land Rover Defender.

Africa happens. It confounds the best plans.

But on this day, Davy-by-God-Crockett incarnate did indeed stand before us.

“God help me, I love that,” Simpson said a few moments late.

“Man, those dark, dark eyes. “

——————————————————————————

Gaspar Msese, Assistant District Manager of Wildlife, was my fourth entrant in the informal contest that coursed through my mind. The nomination was a no-brainer.  He hunted down man-eaters.  He killed them before they killed him.  It’s hard to find a riskier job.

If it sounds cruel to animal lovers, keep in mind that he is the only official presence standing between the poor mud-hut villagers of Southern Tanzania and lions that many times stalk them ruthlessly.  If he can locate the specific man-eaters, he can avoid what sometimes happens in Africa:  a mass kill-off via rat poison by scared villagers, or sweeps by the army.  Some lions even have been strafed from the sky.

As to his chances, well, while Camacho and Simpson may sometimes confront lions in the wild, that act is Msese’s job description.

Case in point:  It’s December 2004 and a plague of lion attacks on humans hit the village of Negara. As usual, word of the man-eating reaches Msese in Lindi City by bicycle, 15 hours late. Msese waits – for approval of a Land Rover, for requisitions of ammunition. Then he fills out forms to seek approval to use the big pump multi-shot shotgun. And waits.

Two days later and many dollars short, wearing his Tanzanian Wildlife Department uniform of drab olive, one epaulette dangling, and the jaunty burgundy beret with the Cape buffalo logo, Msese sets out in a rented Land Rover on a trail that is cold. In the interim, the lions have killed four more villagers.

Msese accepts the blessing of a local healer. ‘Yes, it slows me down,’ he explains to me through an interpreter. ‘But if I did not take the time, then the villagers would say that the reason I did not get the lion was that I refused the blessing and could not see the spirit lion. Then they would not help me or respect me.”

Perhaps it is the blessing, or maybe he just gets lucky. They pick up fresh tracks that match those of the killer pride. The tracks lead into head-high, thick grass. Visibility nil. Eleven villagers volunteer to help and with machetes head into the grass, hacking and shouting, ‘Simba! Simba! Simba!’ None of this spirit stuff. These are mortal lions and they will drive them into the open. That, at least is the plan.

It all goes wrong. The lions don’t scare. They don’t care. They don’t even blink.

They are not afraid of humans. Three lie in ambush and barely 45 meters from the villagers, they charge.

Lions can cover 45 meters in about the time you can read a sentence that says, ‘Lions cover 45 meters in the time it takes you to read this sentence.’

Grunts and coughs, then fast-moving waves in the grass tell the men with machetes that the lions are coming. Msese thinks to cover them all, but knows he cannot.

He picks one lion. He fires, pumps, fires, pumps. The lion weaves, swerves, comes for him again – 180 kilograms moving at nearly 50 kilometers per hour. Msese fires, racks the pump. Fires. Over and over until shot-shredded grass floats in the air and, in a bloody mess, the lion falls dead 10 meters in front of him.

Now he thinks of the others. He can reload and cover them. Perhaps they can chase the other two lions. He fumbles for shells.  Then looks about him. He is the last man standing. The lions have shredded his small platoon. All 11 are down, many horribly wounded.

‘That was the worst, Mr. Robert,’ he says of the tall grass, in English that he is still learning. There is a distant stare on his face. ‘That was the worst. December, 6, 2004. Nangara. Amboozhus. Ambush us. That was my second lion – and I was very scared.’

He has killed 13 more since then, 15 in all. He would prefer not to do it, but if the lions learn that humans are hard targets, he thinks perhaps they will not attack. He also protects wildlife from poachers and that is his preferred presence. Fact is, he has killed more poachers than lions, and would prefer to shoot neither. He simply has to, for the sake of both lions and humans.

But he is also second on my list in the “big cat pool.”  Simpson? Camacho? All contenders.  A guy whose full time job is to seek out and kill lions that have killed humans?

The smart money really should be on Msese, I think, but as with most things in Africa, I’m wrong.

Part Three

Editor’s Note:  Thanks again for helping make this more widely read. Amazon says this article is now, “#1 New Kindle Release in Cats, Lions & Tigers Biology” You can read the full 10,000 word article now for 99-cents on Kindle.   Just click here.   That will keep me in coffee as I queue up the next two installments. 

Here’s the third installment about conservationists who risk their lives on the front lines in Africa protecting wildlife.

You can read Part One at this link.

Part Two is here at this link. 

And Part Three of Four Parts is below.  (The Fourth and Final will follow later this week.)

Lion
Specie panthera leo family of felidae

Part Three:  The Men Who Stare Down Large Carnivores

An Account of Life and Death on the Bleeding Edge of African Conservation

(As I state in Part One, (click here) of my four friends who stare down large carnivores, I always figured I’d get the call about Dairen Simpson first, that he was most likely to get clocked.  He had to run into a lion, a big hyena or a leopard someday that then ran over him.

(Others in the running?  Conservationist Gerrie Camacho, Guide Harunnah Lyimo, and Game Ranger Gaspar Msese. The smart money, I figure, is on Simpson or Msese. [See Part Two] But as with most matters in Africa, I am wrong.)

Here’s the next 2,000 words.


At the Thaba Tholo private game reserve in Mpumalango. September 2012. Simpson is trapping. Camacho is observing – not really a part of the team this time around.

This is essential work and the Camacho-Simpson partnership in more than ten years has had no accidents. In trapping the cats, “belling” them for tracking, they have helped conservationists understand how the cats move.

But on this site, inside the Thaba Tholo private game reserve west of the huge Kruger National Park, near Lydenburg, in the Northwest part of South Africa not that far from Mozambique, the leopard is caught by the trap but the team is slow to dart the leopard.  And the leopard it is fair to say is pissed about the whole deal.

First the catraced toward Simpson, full-speed, putting incredible force on the leg hold. She then retraced her steps so there was maximum slack in the line and raced again at break-neck speed at Simpson.

And suddenly, she was loose, and leaping toward the trapper.

Dairen took the attack head on and the leopard chewed his left arm. “Jesus, that hurts, don’t let anyone tell you it doesn’t hurt, or if it didn’t for Gerrie Jesus, it did for me – like fire,” he said.  Flat on his back, with no pistol this time, he went for his knife, and the cat popped off him. Simpson grabbed a loaned pump shotgun then – not his trusty Remington — and fired off one half-aimed shot. That seemed to catch one of the cat’s back legs. It darted away into the bush.

Gerrie rushed to his side, consoled him, saw that he was whisked away to Nelspruit Medi-Clinic in Mbombela 20 miles away.

And now Gerrie Camacho had a tough task.

There was no doubt or debate.  There now was a wounded leopard in the reserve in an area where humans were abundant. Leopards, like the coyotes of America, often lived close to humans, but they were for the most part as invisible as the coyotes.  They did not seek confrontation and in Africa rarely saw humans as a food source.

But wounded? Clearly enraged?  There were far too many codes of honor and common sense to let this happen. The cat must be killed.  Or less likely, captured.  If she survived, she would be lame – and live off cattle or even humans.

It was rare for leopards to turn into “man-eaters” here.   But when they did, they were perfect killing machines of lightly armed humans or children. The world record for man-eating is not held by a lion or tiger.  It’s held by a leopard in India that neatly downed more than 400 humans, or four times more than the famous “Man-eaters of Tsavos” lions of “Ghost and the Darkness” Hollywood fame.

So it was that Camacho, after bidding Simpson good luck and goodbye, picked up the shotgun and set out after the cat.  He carried the 12-gauge “pump” shotgun – a weapon known by anyone who watches movies and has heard the famous “racking” of a pump gun.

“Chunnk!” is the hollow metallic sound as the pump is pulled back throwing out a used shell, and “chinnk!” is how it sounds as the pump is thrust forward, inserting the live shell into the barrel of the gun, and snugging up nice and tight the steel of the gun and the brass of the shell.

This short-barreled gun, designed for defense and riot control, held three shells.  Simpson had used the first one.  Camacho already had racked the gun and a live shell now sat in the barrel, with the last shell waiting in the tube magazine that ran under the barrel.  Inside each shell were six or seven heavy lead pellet-balls, each about one-third of an inch in diameter.  This type of “double ought” or “OO” size shell was for ugly close-in work.  In a very rough way, firing one shell from this gun was the equivalent of seven people firing seven .357 pistol rounds all at the same time.

At the trapping site, Camacho talked with his friend and colleague, Game Ranger Brendan Mandy, and agreed they would go after the leopard together.  Brendan carried only a large piece of wood, what seemed to be a sturdy, twisted vine, which fell into that diverse category of self-defense weapons informally known as “better than nothing.”

They looked at each other, knew what they had to do and set off after the blood spore to track and kill the leopard.

It is a mission that even hardened professional hunters fear.  The writer and hunter Peter Hathaway Capstick told a tale of a leopard wounded by a client of a professional hunter.  The professional went in after the cat in trees and vegetation, and emerged bitten and scratched, and on his way to the hospital. Two others followed in sequence and were dispatched by the leopard.
Then they called Capstick. He came in with his “kit.”  It included a short-barreled shotgun, the equivalent of body armor, hard helmet, and a special accessory – a Marine Corps fencing team leather guard for his neck.  With a dog as his eyes, ears and nose, and a local guide as backup, Capstick was able to shoot the disagreeable leopard, but he marked it as one of his most feared tasks of all time.

Camacho knew the dangers he faced.  He just did not know any other options.  The cat could kill humans in the next few minutes.  It was justly enraged, and though wounded, not dying.  It was the most dangerous four-legged animal in this part of Africa for the next two or three hours at least.

The other ethical concern was for the animal.  The leopard was injured and in pain.  ‘Camacho did not take this lightly. Letting animals suffer is a cruelty and sin to him.

If the leopard was injured and in pain, he was ethically compelled to find her and end that pain. At the very outside of all chance? The cat might be disabled and recoverable.  Thousand to one shot, yes, but it could happen.

Before the two men set off, Camacho cracked open the shotgun loading breach slightly to check that the shell was well aligned with the firing pin, and softly slipped the pump forward to close the breach.

And so they slipped into the sandy bush of South Africa, the dark maroon of the blood trail bisecting the tracks of the leopard.

That lead them to a dry gully filled with tall grass, where the two saw the spoor of the leopard lead straight ahead.

Clever cat, Camacho remembers thinking.  The tracks led forward, but the attack came from behind.

Gerrie hears the leopard behind him and knows the wounded cat is already charging

She is enraged.  The sound is that of an overloaded semi-truck with pressure air brakes hissing, engine roaring out, great contained anger, expelled in the rumble of a baritone roar.

And then he turns and there she is, at-speed, undulating toward him.

Such beauty! He cannot turn off his scientist mind.  He cannot stop taking mental notes.  Logging it all somehow.

Time slows for Gerrie, as it sometimes does for adrenalin-filled mammals in life-and-death situations.  He feels for a moment that his mind is looking down upon the scene.  He sees himself amid the rough bush in a dry gully, tall grass all about, light brown earth underneath, all hemmed in by nearby mountains that form the Drakensberg range of South Africa.

And the spots of the leopard, moving so fast, turn to stripes.  Her front paws tuck gracefully under her legs as she flows toward him over the contours. The colors!  The zychomatic arches!  That face!

He had been gob smacked since youth with the big cats.  He is middle aged now — 47 and no longer an obsessed kid. But he is gob smacked still as he watches her come at him even though he knows she means to kill.

He sees her muzzle hairs. Beautiful! A cloud of white around the teeth and black lips. As a scientist he cannot help it: he refines the data. Could be a young male, but the canines are too big, so probably a mature female. Around 110 pounds.  Big girl!

Camacho the mammal has a cool split second of clarity.  He knows he can swing the big shotgun around in time.   And he knows he will be all right.

There is no satisfaction in all that. There is no wish for this face-off.  If irony were a fluid, the cat and Camacho would be swimming in it, swept upside down and spun about.  Neither wants to be here.

But here he is and all thoughts of compassion vanish as he scans up from her   canines and locks in on the eyes of the leopard. Those fierce yellow orbs lock back onto his.

The agony there! Camacho thinks. The focus, the intensity and rage of those bright yellow eyes!

They burn down into Camacho’s brain, to the amygdala, the auto command center of flight, fight or freezing.  Those eyes stamp themselves deep inside his system. And he knows the eyes never will leave him. Ever.

Instants seem like seconds and seconds are minutes.  Time aplenty. How smoothly the shotgun swings around, he thinks. All the time in the world. Whatever drugs the amygdala sends him, damn, they are good ones!  And they are meant for “fight,” not flight.

“Swing on to the animal and wait, wait, wait,” Camacho’s brain says.  “You cannot aim a shotgun like a rifle, so make sure the cat is very close. Keep both eyes open.  Do not ‘sight,” and do not fire too soon…. not with a shotgun.”

As he swings the barrel around toward the leopard, he checks again with his thumb on the hard metal to make sure the “safety” is forward into firing position.

It is.  All set, he thinks, but wait, wait. Wait until the cat is almost upon you and fills your sight picture.

Both eyes open, watching down the barrel, that moment arrives where the world ahead is filled with the beautiful markings of a leopard.  He already is mourning the loss of the animal, but he must fire. Gerrie Camacho pulls the trigger in order to destroy one member of a species he has fought decades to preserve.

No bang.  Not a click.  The trigger works.  He has pulled it.  But the firing pin does not fall forward.  The shell does not explode.  The leopard does not fall.  The world is not right.

Camacho utters one word, not sure really if he says it or just thinks it.  Or if it floats above him somehow like a comic book caption.

“Oops.”

He pulls again on the trigger, this time harder, but it is already at its maximum arc backward.  He is pulling harder and harder on a fully pulled trigger that can be pulled no farther.

In front of him, the white paws with claws out hurdle toward him, and he sees the cat’s jaws extended widely now, and those eyes.  The leopard aims at Camacho’s eyes, not his hands, neck, or head.

“Protect your neck and throat,” he thinks. He has no time or thought to pump the gun and load a new shell.

 Next:  The Final — Part Four

To read the full 10,000 word story now, go Amazon Kindle.  Free to Kindle Unlimited.  Or 99-cents for others. 

Trigger Warning.  No pun intended.  This gets pretty intense and bloody. The subtitle here does talk about the bleeding edge of conservation.   This is it.

Here is the fourth and final installment of this 10,000 word story.  You can buy the entire piece for 99-cents on Kindle here.  Right now, the title continues to hold down the Amazon’s #1 New Release in Lions, Cats and Tigers.  Thanks!

“The Men Who Stare Down Large Carnivores: An Account of Life and Death on the Bleeding Edge of African Conservation”

By Robert R. Frump

Part Four

Both eyes open, watching down the barrel, that moment arrives where the world ahead is filled with the beautiful markings of a leopard.  He already is mourning the loss of the animal, but he must fire. Gerrie Camacho pulls the trigger in order to destroy one member of a species he has fought decades to preserve.Leopard shot for carnivores

No bang.  Not a click.  The trigger works.  He has pulled it.  But the firing pin does not fall forward.  The shell does not explode.  The leopard does not fall.  The world is not right.

Camacho utters one word, not sure really if he says it or just thinks it.  Or if it floats above him somehow like a comic book caption.

“Oops.”

He pulls again on the trigger, this time harder, but it is already at its maximum arc backward.  He is pulling harder and harder on a fully pulled trigger that can be pulled no farther.

In front of him, the white paws with claws out hurdle toward him, and he sees the cat’s jaws extended widely now, and those eyes.  The leopard aims at Camacho’s eyes, not his hands, neck, or head.

“Protect your neck and throat,” he thinks. He has no time or thought to pump the gun and load a new shell.

Use the steel barrel, he thinks, and he reflexively moves the still-shouldered shotgun and aligns it directly with the mouth full of teeth.  The cat drives its mouth into the barrel of the gun.

Camacho absorbs the impact through the gunstock into his shoulder, and the 110-pound leopard running at 30 miles per hour jackhammers the gun into him.  He is not sure his shoulder is functional now. The joint may have popped. He has little time to think of it.

The leopard slows not at all.  A few inches from Gerrie’s face, she glares into his eyes.   Though he knows it is a matter of seconds or less, Gerrie feels as if ten minutes might pass as their eyes lock.  It strikes him: “This must have been how it felt to fight duels in Medieval times, when you know one of you will die.”

Then the slow-mo effect stops.   The serious work of the leopard begins.  She is all jaws, teeth and claws.  She works as efficiently and viciously as an industrial food processor, with metal blades everywhere run wild and churning.  Or so it seems to Gerrie.

First to go into the processor is his left leg.

Dizzying blurred speed! Too fast to defend or anticipate or cover up.  Or even comprehend the sequence and order of the bites.

Whatever drugs had created the “slow mo” perception are gone now. Others rush in.  Amphetamine. Dopamine. Something. Some merciful, pain killing thing.

Camacho feels the leopard’s attack.   Good lord, how could he not? The jaws feel like steel, surgical clamps on his left knee. He knows his left leg is worthless.  The leopard shakes it like a bone, which of course it is.

He feels the tearing of his flesh, too. He hears the click sound when the canines go all the way through and slam into his bones.

And within his body, the impact and sound waves of these massive thrusts and crunches – the tearing, the bone clicks — hum up through his fluids, organs, body cavity and bones and are experienced internally as well on a sort of second interior sound track, almost like underwater sound.

But again – like his lion attack decades earlier — the excruciating pain that one would expect from such battery?  It is not there, dimmed by the flow of the body’s drugs.

So in this way, he is aware of the strength of the animal and the leveraged force of jaw against bone and muscle, and he knows he is taking an awful beating.

He knows too how leopards work their prey.  They bite in, then twist, then move up, bite, twist.   Rake with claws, flip the antelope, reach the underbelly, disembowel with scooping hind claws.  Or go for the head, the throat, suffocate or strangle, or bite into the spinal cord. This is how they work.

And without a working gun, without a knife, with only the shotgun barrel as a tool or weapon, Gerrie is essentially an antelope, without the advantage of the antelope’s sharp hooves or hard antlers.

But he does know the likely moves.  He knows what he faces.

“Don’t go down,” Camacho thinks.  His legs are close together, his left leg now useless.  The cat chews on his left leg and is grasping and ripping too with its front paws.

But he still stands. He moves his right leg slightly back to get a wider stance and feels the claws rake that leg back in.

He wonders how to bring the gun into play.  How to reload.  How to keep it firmly grasped as it is in his right hand.  He constantly moves the safety lever back and forth, thinking perhaps that will free the stuck firing pin.  He maneuvers the gun toward the cat, poking at it, still pulling back hard on the trigger, hoping the shell will explode.

And in doing all these things, he unthinkingly reaches down and touches the top of the leopard’s head as she chews his leg.  And so it is that his fingers, hand, and left arm are introduced into the food processor.

He is amazed at the technique, almost as if he were taking field notes for zoology, or as if this is an animated illustration.  The cat would bite hard with its canines, but keep its left canine anchored and then pivoting off that base pivot and slash up with its right, obliterating tissue, and then bite down again as the left canine pivoted too.  It seems to be a clockwise motion. Noted. Logged.

All this he feels and hears, but not as pain.

Then, as she works over Camacho’s left arm, the cat releases Gerrie’s right leg with her hind claws. Camacho then moves his right leg back.

But the cat’s hind legs and claws now are free, a fierce, flailing weapon aimed at his abdomen. They kick, they “jack rabbit” out simultaneously together — reaching for Camacho, powerful sets of box cutter claws searching out for him.

Gerrie in turn moves the gun barrel onto the cat again, pressing into her soft white underbelly, poking hard on her.  The jack rabbiting hind legs of the cat reflexively move toward Gerrie’s gun hand. The cat’s chest is rumbling with a low roar. Not a growl, Camacho thinks. No, this is non-stop andcoming from a very deep and intensely strung hyoid apparatus. This is what places these cats in the Pantheragenus, he thinks.  Cheetahs don’t have them Leopards do. The fact that they can roar! Exactly like this cat was doing! Noted. Logged.

The eyes are a foot from his and stop any zoological musings.  Gerrie does not pretend that animals talk.  Nor does he anthropomorphize.  But he feels now that if this one did talk, the message was clear, “No mercy for you!” or maybe, “You were asking for this to happen!”

Lion
Specie panthera leo family of felidae

All true, Camacho thinks.  But any sense of justice here now is useless.  Because Camacho’s eyes, he was certain, say much the same back to the big cat.  “Oh now, you’ve messed up.  You will not win this!”

His chief worry now is those big hind leg claws moving toward him.  He backs off more with his right leg, and puts the barrel squarely in the cat’s belly. He continues to squeeze the trigger.

But this maneuver allows those hind legs to reach the gun.  They are not reaching Gerrie’s hand, but they batter the shotgun, and the jackrabbit kicks deliver powerful jolts to the trigger guard.

“Boom!”

All was silence.

Then the cat’s roars and the report of the shotgun echoed back off the walls of the canyon.

What Gerrie has been unable to achieve, the cat has.  The kicking back legs and jiggling deliver enough force to drive the firing pin into the chambered shell and the explosion jolts both the combatants.  The recoil drives the shotgun back into Gerrie’s arms and nearly knocks the gun to the ground.

But the deadly pellets of the shell fire not into the leopard but off into thin air, Gerrie believes.  Not only was the cat uninjured, the explosion seems to kick it into a higher degree of frenzy.

Worse, she moves up. Either as the shot was fired or right after it, the cat shifts her attack.

Claws rake Gerrie’s face; then his forehead.  She is at his neck, his skull.

One canine — or is it a claw? — penetrates well into his forehead skull bone. And sticks. She shakes Gerrie’s head like a rag doll until she is free. She bites again on his face and head, and rakes his scalp with her claws.  Then as suddenly, the leopard is back to his left arm.

Camacho is stunned.  Even under these circumstances, he feels the hair on his neck stand erect and a chill ripple down his spine.

He cannot see.  He cannot see!  The cat has blinded him. The cat has scratched and bitten out both eyes!

And that thought is followed by this complaint: “How unfair!  How are we supposed to fight if I cannot see you? How unfair!”

Mercifully, he is wrong. Blood covers his eyes, but also some other dark matter is there. He remembers thinking he is being touched by something far softer than the leopard.

His outrage eases when he finds he can see out of half of one eye.  Blood is blocking his sight.  His eyes are intact.  They are covered in blood and also by a loose part of his scalp raked down by the cat.

Still, he is done for, he figures. He has slumped now to a sitting position as the cat continues to maul his left leg.  The cat now just needs to attack his throat and Gerrie will be dead.

He will be dead by the cat’s teeth, that is, if this madman figure rising in front of him with this huge twisted vine swung like a baseball bat does not kill Gerrie first.

Brendan’s first strike at the cat seems not to faze her.  The cat is too tweaked and enraged, Camacho thinks.  He is nearly unconscious now and he is thinking what the odds are that Brendan will bean him before the cat gets him.  He is at the edge of consciousness as Brendan changes his grip on the big vine-log, swings it from his heels like an axe, and strikes the cat squarely on the back with a great hollow thump.

Camacho’s mind melts into sheer darkness but for how long he does not know.  He fades out.  Then wakes, sitting, hunched, head down, in pools of his blood.

He turns sideways and through one good eye sees the cat and Brendan in a dance.  The leopard is attacking Brendan but the big vine he brought fends off the cat. Then the cat, insanely fast, moves through the defense and bites Brendan squarely on the chest.

Shotgun, Camacho thinks.  That is the only way to help Brendan.  He looks around and tries to move his left arm and hand.

Worthless. How could he reload the gun with one hand?  Where was the gun?  He has only one-half of one good eye, and alternates it between the Brendan battle and the search for the shotgun.

He finds it, grabs the shotgun and places the weapon butt to the ground, barrel up between his legs, and then moves his good right leg to clasp the gun against his ruined left leg.

How to eject the shell with one hand? How to make sure the new shell is loaded properly?  He is quarter-sighted, half-conscious, full out of luck.

In a horizontal world, the load sequence is simple.  The shells behave well because gravity schools them.  The spent shell flips out as the pump is racked, and the new shell slides elegantly into a mechanism that lifts it up and into the breech and then as the pump is racked again the firing pin faces off with the shell center fire neatly with a nice metal sound.

In a vertical world, with a gun held toward the sky, shells wobble.  Gravity is a spoiler. Camacho racks the shotgun once and the spent shell flies out, as it should.  He racks the pump mechanism forward and the new shell should now be placed into the chamber.

But it just feels wrong, sounds wrong. There was no “ca-chink” of metal upon metal.  It was more a “ca-thunk” with the sound of the cardboard-like husk of the shell being pinched somewhere.

It is not loaded right.  He knows that.  You grow up with pump shotguns in rural South Africa. But now how to fix it? Re-rack and the last live shell will be flying off into the grass.

To his right, he hears terrible snarls and growling and shouts from Brendon.  It occurs to him that the tenor of Brendon’s yells are not so much pain or terror, but diversionary – the type of yells one would use to distract your own dog if it was headed toward the postman.  The leopard, he assumes, is making a break back toward him — toward Gerrie.  He is the postman.  The leopard is coming any second.  Brendan is trying to keep the leopard occupied.

Hmm. The trick of the gun, Gerrie decides, is to tilt it around so that his one good eye can peer into the chamber and see what’s what. So there he sits, like a near-sighted watchmaker, tinkering with it, opening the rack just a millimeter or two, craning around with his one clear eye.

There sits the shell, goofed up on the feed mechanism, out of line on the chute.  Pinched in wrong.

He braces the gun, steadies it with the dead side of his body and his good right leg, and then reaches in with his good right fingers and nudges the shuck with a bit of pressure. Then moves the pump rack forward ever so slowly to drive it home.

“Ka-chink.”  The metal sound is there.  The gun is properly loaded.

Well, cold comfort.  Nice that the shell is snug in the chamber. So was the first round that did not fire save for the leopard’s help.  Might be hard to get a second assist from the big cat.

But then here she is.

Done with Brendan, she turns again to Gerrie.  Seated now, weakened, nearly blind, he is even more vulnerable.

“Keep your right arm protected,” he thinks, but that is where she attacks.  He grasps the shotgun with his one hand, and it waves.  Back and forth in the air the shotgun waves as if twirled by a drunken conductor.

He cannot shoot the cat with the gun so far forward and calls out desperately,

“Brendan come take the gun! Brendan come take the gun!”

Nice thought, and as if she had understood it all, the cat whirls and now attacks Brendan.  She mounts a full-out and furious leap at his throat – and finds instead in her mouth the woody, twisted vine Brendan had carried into battle, the good enough weapon.

The cat mauls and bites him but cannot not kill him and as sudden as she had charged, in she charges out away back down the gully as Camacho slumps to the ground.

Brendan watches in wonder and shock. He sees Camacho unconscious now, slumping spread-eagled on the ground.

It is over now, Brendan thinks. But he also knows for sure that Gerrie is dead.

Gerrie is in and out of the darkness and light, unfocused and helpless. But as he lays there, he hears a distant, familiar sound.

It is the sound of a long haul trucker, riding his air brakes so, so hard. A furious hiss of rage fills the gullies, a baritone-bass roar of anger and hissing under great pressure.

Gerrie knows the cat is attacking again. Gun still firmly grasped, he sits up slowly.

He finds the moments of time frozen again, as if the world about him, the grasses, the clouds, the dust, is moving through liquid nitrogen.  He tracks her first by sound as she gathers her speed in the charge from 30 yards out.

His blurred vision then picks her up at ten yards – her leopard spots merged into stripes again by her speed and motion.  She is coming up a small rise, an upward slope.

The thoughts about the gun race through his mind and scatter all order in his mental wheelhouse.  What if it doesn’t work? What if doesn’t work?  What if it doesn’t work? What if it doesn’t work?

He is pathetic, sitting crookedly, drained of blood, scalped, near blinded, barely conscious, finally panicked in full.  And then he is struck by it.

He recalls how in hospital when his father died there was this brief moment when Dad seemed to summon all his strength for a final time for the family, to say goodbye.  He had seen the same in friends passing from cancer. There is this last moment of strength.

And it seems to him now, he should find that moment, that if he is to die now, he should look all about him and gather all his remaining strength to make sure he did as good a job about it as he could. Do as well as Dad.  Honor that. It would be a good way to go.

He calms. There is a peace of mind. What is there to do, he asks.

Just wait for her, he answers.  Waitfor it to be right.  He rootches about so his useless left arm serves as a brace to help prop up the shotgun he holds in his damaged right arm.

And then she is just there, one meter away.

He sees the saliva flecked on her yellow canines.  The jaws are widespread, ready. He sees the short bristles on her tongue. Lord she is beautiful. Charismatic.  That is how he thinks of them, one reason he loves them.

He raises the barrel an infinitesimal part of an inch, and looks into those yellow eyes.

“God, please help!” he mumbles, then pulls back on the trigger hard, his damaged finger making it a crude yanking motion.

The recoil knocks the loosely held gun nearly from his hand and bucks it hard into his bicep.

A slight smoky haze hangs above the barrel and Camacho sees the cat close both eyes tightly.  Her snarled lips too curl in and gently cup over her teeth. Some of the short hair on her face dances in a fierce wind and then flies off and he knows buckshot has struck home.

And then, the cat, standing before, opens those yellow eyes again. Still they are fierce and burning and Camacho thinks, “No. No. Not again. I have nothing more.”

The cat blinks. The eyes soften, confused.  She wobbles then sits back slowly on her haunches.  The eyes finally break off contact with Gerrie’s.

She turns and walks, with a list to the right, then goes into a crouch and as cats do, “cat crawls” back the way she had charged.

Camacho looks down.  One of his canvas boots is ripped off his foot and filled with blood.  He sits at a funny, broken angle on his other boot.  He pushes his drooping scalp flap away from his eyes, back to his head and then pats it down like a cap.

He wonders whether the cat will come again, but some part of his brain had done the math.  She has taken a full load of buckshot to the face and chest. If that did not kill her, the slugs definitely would put her on defense.  The second team could handle that. Dogs were coming to help, he would bet.

The two men stand silently for a bit, but not long.  Gerrie knows they must get moving to find help.  Brendan is injured but not as badly as Gerrie and helps Gerrie gain his feet. Oddly, Gerrie finds that he can do a shuffle walk well enough and they move at a decent clip propelled in part by the knowledge the cat might still be more mobile than they thought. And that Gerrie might very well bleed out.

At one point, Brendan glances over, winces, and says, “Gerrie!  Your arm!”

Gerrie is blinded still by blood in his left eye and cannot not see the mess of it.

They walk on until they are swarmed by help from the base camp, and then taken to the hospital.  He learns there that the dogs had found the corpse of the leopard back at the gully.

Before he even hits the ER, Facebook lights up reporting his death and this is how his daughters hear of the attack.

Online news reports correct those reports, but there ensues an online battle between those who wish Camacho had died rather than the leopard and those who explain how many leopards and lions he has saved.

Six weeks later, Camacho’s parts had been sewn back together and healed enough that he could begin the long painful work on rehab and learning to use his shattered hand and limbs again.  He is back on the job now with all systems functioning.  He has helped protect the lives and habitat of hundreds of leopards in his corner of the world.

He hopes to hold that job for the rest of his life — however long that may be.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.