Sport In Somaliland – An Armchair Safari with Count Joseph Potocki

A wealthy Polish hunter, Potocki spared no expense on producing his book and hunting in Somaliland. It garnered such attention that the noted Rowland Ward produced a very limited edition English language edition. To this day, it is considered one of the rarities of big game hunting collections.

When hunting with a partner, it is sometimes advantageous to separate. And when you meet up again, how delightfully the hours pass in mutual conversation, narrating the adventures experienced. And there was much to tell.

Grudzinski had secured splendid trophies of two rhinos, hyenas, dik-diks and two leopards, one over a live bait and the other at the carcass of his rhino. With this last, he had an exciting encounter. He found the leopard in the evening at the carcass of the rhino, near which he was to pass the night in watching. The sun had not set when, as he was approaching, he noticed that the whole skeleton was being moved by a violent tearing. It was a leopard so absorbed in its occupation that it had crawled completely inside the immense body, and thus took no notice of the approaching hunter and his men. Only the top of its back was exposed above the ribs of the skeleton, and at this one of the men aimed and fired, upon which the stricken beast fled roaring into the brushwood.

All rushed after it through the bushes with the main shikari, anxious to scare the animal, went a few steps ahead of the others. Immediately a roar was heard and before anyone could come up with their rifle, the leopard had sprung on the shikari and, seizing his head with one paw and his arm with the other, tore and mauled and unhappy man severely. The valiant Somali stood his ground and defended himself as best he could with the butt end of the big bore, upon which the marks of the sharp claws of the leopard will always be conspicuous.  Meanwhile another man attacked and pounded the leopard with his club. A third man, standing close by, could not use his rifle lest he kill the shikari. After a few seconds, the leopard sprang aside and dropped the shikari, whereupon he was shot by one of the other men at three yards. Although the wounds of the shikari were rather deep, they were not dangerous and he was able to return to camp to be cared for. With the exception of carrying his arm in a sling, he recovered before my next hunt.

Our record lion

Five rhinos and three leopards were added to our collection in the next seven days, but lions avoided us persistently and there seemed no way of getting at them. Twice one group followed fresh tracks, one of two lions and then of four lions. The tracks led into an open place where it seemed as if the lions might charge at any moment. One of the men even asked if there was enough ammunition to take them all on. You can imagine their excitement.

After a while, the trains unfortunately turned and entered a jungle so dense that two steps away one could see nothing. One lion was seen by the men to dart into brushwood, but in consequence of the undergrowth, there was no possibility of going after it and the pursuit was ended. My companions had no better luck in the night watch than I did. For a fortnight, none of us had missed a night but still no sight of a lion. Victory is often on the side of the lion.

We decided to head to another spot with the men and camels and supplies taking one route and myself and other hunters taking a different route. The question of water was exceedingly important since for four days of the journey we would not encounter a single drop and just in case, the entire ten days’ supply had to be carried with us. The camels will not be watered at all and the ponies will drink only on alternate days. One day we came upon fresh rhino trail and one of the men went after it while I remained in camp sorting and making general provisions. Late in the day, the men returned to camp with their rhino trophy, taken after only a three hours’ march.

The next day was a full day of marching and we pitched camp at dusk in an open place where a few mimosas and acacias were growing. We had seen fresh lion tracks on the way and decided to tether an ass as bait at the enclosure of the camp, a few yards from the tent. That night would become memorable and so I note the incidents as they unraveled.

The ass in her final agony – upon her were two lions.

We were sleeping soundly under the tent, glad to enjoy a good rest after many nights spent in zaribas, and had altogether forgotten the poor ass tied in the camp enclosure, condemned to the sad role of bait. About four in the morning, an uproar in the camp roused me suddenly. The camels, bellowing and trying to run, were breaking their fetters while the ponies were neighing and tearing the ground with their feet. All men were up and crouching like apparitions among the fires, while above all sounded the terrible and prolonged roar of the king of the desert, which emanated from the enclosure itself. I was barely awake when one man came to me and said, “Up, master, two lions are on the ass!”

I snatched the rifle next to me, loaded it hastily in the dark and, in very light clothing, preceded by one of my men, groped my way out to the enclosure. No proper zariba had been made, only a few thorny bushes thrown in crosswise and covered with camel skins from the inner side. Beyond this, at half a yard distant, lay the ass in her final agony, striking with her hooves the branches behind which I was crouching. Upon her were two lions, one at the shoulder, the other at the flank of the victim. But it was so dark and the branches encumbered the view so much that I could see nothing clearly and only heard the growls of beasts in front. They suddenly became broken roars and sounds of the struggles of the dying ass in the claws of her devourers.

One of the men crept up with me and we tried to select a proper moment for firing. But we could not distinguish the outline of either beast against the background of the earth, which seemed black, and the jungle behind it, which seemed blacker. Only once did I see the head of the lion as he looked directly towards us. The glimpse lasted but a second, then his head disappeared and again I could see nothing.

Meanwhile, the Somalis were running around, the camels were disturbed, the whole camp was on its feet and the freshly stirred fires cast their ruddy gleams upon us all. The daring of the lions was simply astonishing. They were totally indifferent to the movement in the camp and showed no signs of withdrawing from their victim. After a while, they became suspicious, and roaring more loudly, sprang from the ass and galloped off into the brushwood. Immediately we returned to our tents. I ordered the men to spread the branches of the fence and enlarge the loophole, and we held a council as to what should be done next. But not fifteen minutes had passed when one of the men who had been posted at the enclosure watch, ran up with the news that the lions were on the ass again.

Head of black–maned lion

This time I loaded my big bore rifle carefully and stationed myself at the enclosure. The men had so conscientiously carried out my command to spread the branches that there were really only a few little twigs between me and the lions. I saw him this time, outlined sharply against the background of the horizon and appearing gigantic. The lion stood directly in front of me, two yards away, and I looked straight through the twigs, between which I aimed the barrel. I fired a little too hurriedly and, at the moment of firing, was under the impression that I had hit too low. Anyway, the lion turned to one side and went off at a gallop. After a while, I could hear him stop, begin to breath hard and groan.

“Killed lion!” cried the whole camp as if in a chorus. The men began to pat my shoulder and press my hand congratulating me at the prize bagged under such conditions. Of course, there was no sleep that night. I waited impatiently for daybreak. Barely had it begun to dawn when we pushed out of the zariba to see what had happened to the lion. Unfortunately, he was not in the position where, according to his voice, he should have fallen. But along the path there was a trace of blood visible, indicating that the bullet had not missed and giving hope that the prize would not escape me. Taking six men armed with rifles and spears and the usual quota of shikaris, we started after the wounded animal.

Only a sportsman will understand the feeling experienced in following the blood trail of a wounded lion, what moments of excitement are passed while wading in tall grass passing through dark thickets, with nerves tense as a chord, and finger on the trigger, awaiting every moment the attack of the wounded beast. The blood was abundant in places. Here and there the wounded lion had lain down and after a while it became clear that he was shot low in the shoulder, or on the leg, for he dragged one paw along the ground. The trail of his companion, evidently a lioness from its smaller size, ran parallel with his own. After 100 yards, we came to a place where the lion had only just left, for the blood was quite fresh and liquid and had not yet dried on the ground. The trail of the other lion disappeared in the bushes.

The country was open and level, with tall grass and dotted with mimosa brush. One of the Somalis thought he saw the lion escaping before us, so he rushed ahead with some of the other men while we followed. But he was wrong, he could see nothing. So we halted and began to look for the trail we had lost in the thicket. I walked somewhat ahead, shading my eyes with my hand, while one of the other men tried to find the trail. I started to watch one of the Somalis on the plain front. I was certain that the lion, which one of the men thought he had seen fleeing a little while before, was really far ahead of us.

With my left hand, I held the barrel of the small Holland express which rested on my shoulder. The rest of the men were strung out just behind.

At this very moment, from under a bush not five steps in front, and with a terrific roar, sprang the lion, like a thunderbolt. He charged directly at me. Springing to one side, and trying in haste to aim, the beast was almost upon me, when one of the men, himself as bold as a lion and protected only by his shield, threw himself in front of the charging beast with his spear as the sole weapon. The lion turned from me and immediately sprung on the shikari.

A duel of the most terrible nature that can be imaged between the valiant man and the fierce beast, protecting himself only with his shield from the teeth and claws of the lion, defended himself with the spear, thrusting its point across the jaws of the lion. I was able to seize the moment for a shot. I aimed at his side a little in the rear. I could not aim at the head or shoulder for the lion was too near the man and a shiver went through me as I thought of how near the man’s body my bullet might pass. At my shot, the lion turned away, towards another man, who greeted him in the chest with a 10-bore bullet. On receiving this he tottered, sprang aside a couple of yards, struck his head against an ant heap, curled up onto a lump and was dead ten paces from our feet.

What is just described lasted only a few seconds. But the roar of the lion, the screams of the men, the grating of the enraged animal’s teeth on the spear, and finally the whistle of bullets from the rifles, which threatened the lives of our own men more than the lion, made up a scene so dramatic and so exciting that he who has not been in such a position will scarcely understand the horror of the situation. But after a few seconds of intense excitement, what joy enters the heart of the sportsman when he sees the noble beast stretched out at his feet.

The most marvelous part of the whole affair is that the shikari, in his encounter with the lion, which literally lay on him for a couple of seconds, received no wound, nor even a scratch. Fortunately for him, one paw of the lion had been crushed by my shot in the night, and was disabled. The other paw was fastened into the linen cloth the Somali had wound tightly around his loins. It was torn to shreds so that the claws never reached his body. From teeth and jaws the man was able to defend himself with both his shield of rhinoceros hide and his spear that the lion has chewed and bent with his powerful jaws. The shikari presented me with his spear, which I preserve in perpetual memory of his pluck and my fortunate rescue from a perilous position. “My day has not come yet,” said the brave Somali with a smile. He blindly believed in fate.

The sun was low when we returned to camp, from which the scene of this encounter was not a thousand yards distant.  Late in the afternoon, I prepared a place from which to watch for another lion.  The ass might still be a tempting morsel, but there was little hope that the lioness would have the courage to reappear. During the night, nothing happened, and at daylight we left a place that will always be memorable to me. It was not long before we ventured out into an open plain to have some fun with antelopes. Two days later, and without nearly as much fanfare, I would bag the finest and largest black maned lion of my hunting career.

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