The Savanna is a grass plain where all living things exist as if in a collage. Guinea fowls wander among grasses; secretary birds stride around glaring; a fierce hyena trudges on with head bowed; giraffes munch the leaves of tall acacia-trees; and there are flocks of herbivorous zebra, buffalo, impala, and gazelle scattered here and there.
Suddenly our Landrover plunges off the road into the bush and rattles along to a point where a male lion, slightly apart from a group of lionesses, is napping on its side in the shade of spikes of tall, withered grass. Our guide explains that the pride had eaten this morning – and will hunt again in three or four days’ time, when we might well see some drama.
The reclining posture of such magnificent lions, which I am watching for the very first time, is disappointingly slovenly. However, one of my companions in the vehicle says that this is precisely why the lion is called the ‘King of the Beasts’: for he alone can nap in this reckless style in a savanna so full of dangers.
The lion’s belly bulges almost to the point of bursting and distends along the ground. As ruler of this pride, he must just have devoured a large quantity of gnu or zebra, which no doubt only yesterday had been running about freely in the grassland. Right now, in his stomach and gut, the organs of the victim – such as its liver, which he probably wrenched off and swallowed whole – will be undergoing biochemical degradation by digestive enzymes, and beginning to be absorbed by his body. The victim’s dried blood still adheres to his face, about which countless flies now swarm.
One bullet would be enough to kill this animal. Human intelligence went into both the invention and the manufacture of the gun. Human intelligence has also been at work in the very act of allowing the lions to nap here. Was the intelligence behind these two quite separate things, I wonder, the result of quite different neurological wiring?
The lion turns over lazily on the soil, eyes half-closed. In the distance extend the Hills of Olololo… like a folding screen shimmering in the afternoon sunlight. In Masai, olololo means ‘zigzag’.
(From “Hills of Olololo”, Chap. 1 in ZIGZAG by HM, 2010. This excerpt was translated by HM & SG.)