As it was now 4 p.m., I knew, if I once began cutting it up, that natives would come in the dark and help themselves ; so I told them they would have to wait until next morning, when I would reward all who had helped with plenty of meat.
Then I got some men and started off for a walk in the surrounding bush. Game was evidently plentiful, but I found it very wary, as several white men had been shooting there, and the natives are constantly ranging the country with their dogs in search of pig and small buck.
The sky was black, and the air had that sultry and oppressive feeling that portends an approaching storm, so when I got back to the path I made a. run for the village and got there just as the storm broke.
It rained hard for over two hours, and the earth could not take in the great quantity of water, so it soon looked like a lake, and all hollows became rushing torrents.
The next day I returned home ; there were no more hippo about and elephants seemed scarce, as I had only seen some very old tracks.
Before closing this chapter I would like to give my reader some idea as to the damage elephants are capable of doing to native crops.
The late Mr. G. P. Sanderson, author of "Thirteen Years Among the Wild Beasts of India," in that volume gives details about the appetite of Indian elephants, and, as the African species is larger, their daily rations will be as great, if not greater. Sanderson had great experience of Indian elephants, as for years he was in charge of the Government keddahs in different districts in India, and he made a special study of their habits.
He remarks that an ordinary elephant will consume 6oolb. to 7001b. of green fodder in eighteen hours, and that a big tusker can dispose of quite 800lb.
Let us take the figure 7001b. as the average amount for a single elephant in twenty-four hours; then a herd consisting of thirty animals, not an exceptionally large herd in parts of Africa, would eat 21,000lb. weight of green stuff every day.
This is a large amount to be consumed daily, or rather nightly, for elephants, although they often ravage native crops in daylight, prefer the night as a rule. It can, therefore, be easily imagined that in districts where elephants are numerous the damage they do may cause famine among the natives.
Hippos also do great damage to the native gardens, and near large rivers they leave the water at night and feed on the green crops, and, as they weigh about half as much as an elephant, we may calculate that a single hippo can eat 35olb. of fodder during a night's feeding.
Then, other game, such as eland, kudu, sable, roan, and hartebeest, all invade native gardens and do great damage. A herd of eland can eat and destroy just as much grain as would a herd of large cattle.
In this district (Central Angoniland) elands are very plentiful, and the natives have to make strong fences to keep them out of the fields, but they push these down and find an entrance, and commit great havoc among the green crops.
Pigs are extremely destructive, and they are particularly fond of rooting up ground nuts and sweet potatoes; and all the smaller game animals, such as bushbuck and duiker, have a tendency to invade the native fields.
The natives, therefore, have to stand all this without the chance of reprisals, except against the smaller game, which can be hunted and killed with the help of their dogs and spears.
In parts of Nyasaland and North-Eastern Rhodesia these garden-feeding elephants get very dangerous, and, as the natives run from them whenever they are seen, they lose their natural fear of man and are inclined to become most troublesome.
I have been charged twice by garden-feeding elephants, and on both occasions I stood my ground and shot as carefully as possible. One of these bull elephants fell within fifteen yards of where I was standing, and I stopped the other and killed him with a lung shot as he swerved and gave me the sight of his shoulder.
Neither Nyasaland nor North-Eastern Rhodesia has a game warden, and it is time they did, not only to help the natives, but to supervise the game country and the more valuable game, and also to see that white poachers do not exceed the number of game allowed on their licences.
In British East Africa the game is now treated as a valuable asset, and there is a game warden and a number of game rangers ; but I believe there are not enough to keep their eyes on such a vast extent of country, and much poaching and game slaughter occurs, principally by Boers from South Africa. The Boer is usually a fine, manly fellow ; but no one can deny that he is a fearful slaughterer of animal life. I have met many Boers in Cape Colony, Natal, and Southern Rhodesia, and seen a few in British East Africa; but I never met one that was a true sportsman at heart—that is, a man who was interested in wild life from a natural history point of view. Their one idea is to kill, and they only keep a few skins and heads good enough to sell. They seldom take an interest in game trophies, except when they expect to get a few shillings for a good pair of horns, and very few take the slightest interest in field natural history.
Some of them are good shots, and many of them are good hunters as far as the killing goes ; but few are good sportsmen, and the authorities should make an example of some of the worst of them and send them back to South Africa, where they have left little game to slaughter. Doubtless there are many Britishers whose methods are quite as bad as the Boers', and similar treatment should be meted out to them, for they are a nuisance of the worst description.
However, British East Africa has at least one very large reserve where the game is protected, but the settlers now think that land so near the railway should be opened for settlement; and doubtless in time they will manage, through legislation, to get rid of the large southern game reserve, which would be a mistake, I think.
Reserves which are far from communications are difficult to supervise, and it will be a pity if this splendid haunt of wild life is done away with.
Nyasaland and North-Eastern Rhodesia being well bushed countries, the game has a better chance of survival, and luckily there are no Boers there yet; but I think the Governments of these territories should try and protect the game by appointing game wardens in each territory. All licences issued should pass through their hands, and the power of refusing a "big-game" licence should be given to them. Also they should be given full authority to arrest poachers, either white or black, and any such case should be tried by the magistrates.
In these countries a great outcry has been made against the game, as it is supposed to tend to the increase and spread of sleeping sickness.
The only thing to do in this case is to deport the native inhabitants and leave these areas vacant for some years, when the disease would die out. It is useless expecting that the game can be exterminated in such vast stretches of country, for an army of good shots would make little difference to it. Doubtless many animals would be killed, but the majority of the game would only leave for pastures new, and this, instead of getting rid of the disease, would only tend to spread it through the country.
If some contagious disease could be discovered to sweep away the tsetse flies, this would be the best way, but that seems almost impossible ; so the natives should be moved, and, before being sent to another district, they could be carefully examined and segregated for a certain time in camps under medical supervision.
The extermination of game in a short space of time is absolutely impossible in such countries as Nyasaland and Northern Rhodesia, for these are heavily bushed and grassed regions, and game, when much molested, simply moves on until it discovers a locality where it is safe from molestation.
Those who agitate for the slaughter of game should bear this point in mind, and remember that tropical Africa is not a country of open plains like many parts of Southern Africa, where it was a comparatively easy matter to exterminate the game.
In any country where game can be hunted on horseback it would not take long to exterminate it or drive it into other districts; but in Nyasaland and Northern Rhodesia this could not be done, as the vegetation is too dense. Moreover, horses cannot be used for hunting there, as they cannot stand the climate and the bites of the tsetse flies, without dying very quickly of horse sickness.