The lion awakes
Issue 4 (May 2009) Hu Berry was chief biologist at Etosha. Once, alone in the park’s office, he came face-to-face with a confused and dazed lion.


“It happened on a Sunday morning. You don’t work normal hours in a park larger than the size of Wales, where wild animals require management, often at the most inconvenient times. I was engrossed in assembling equipment for working in the veld when a thumping sound from the nearby veterinary section reached me. It was followed by a clatter, then a tinkle of breaking glassware. Although other people may have been in the laboratories, the sounds I heard told of something unusual happening. To access the veterinary rooms, I walked along a corridor and opened a door leading into the large post mortem hall. The sight that met me peaked my adrenaline within seconds, making my pulse race and the hairs on the nape of my neck rise. Making its way towards me was a large male lion, which groggily stumbled and slipped on the smooth, tiled floor as it tried to find an escape. My presence drew a confused growl from the lion. I smashed the door closed behind me and ran towards the safety of another room, locking that door as I entered.


I tried to calm myself and assess the situation. Piecing the scene together, I realised that the lion must have been brought into the laboratory in an immobilised state, and was now recovering unexpectedly from the anaesthetic. But where was the vet? Had the lion attacked and injured him? Why was the vet not there? I scrambled through a window and ran to the vet’s house. “The lion’s awake!” was all I could utter. The vet grabbed his heavy calibre revolver and we sprinted back to the lab. Looking through the windows, we could see no sign of the lion. Entry was best through the rear door.


The vet prepared a tranquilising drug and, holding the syringe in his hand, he took a medical trolley and pushed it ahead of him. I followed with the revolver. We moved slowly along the corridor and found the lion slumped on the floor of the post mortem hall. He staggered up when he heard us. The lion and the vet squared up to each other – the tail twitch and flattened ears told me what the lion’s mood was, but luckily his muscles could not coordinate with his intentions.


Telling me to distract the lion, the vet approached from the rear, using the trolley as a shield. I tried to steady the .44 magnum revolver at its huge head. The thought flashed through my mind that I might well miss the target and hit the vet. As if in a dream I saw the vet’s arm extend and sink the sharp needle into the cat’s haunch. A long minute passed before the powerful drug took effect. I stood motionless until my adversary’s eyes glazed and the pupils dilated. The massive head slumped onto awesome paws. For a moment the vet and I stood there. Then he said matter-of-factly:  “Alright, let’s get some help to load him, and clean up the mess”.


Later we placed the great limp body under a shady tree on the savannah. After a check of his condition, we returned to the safety of our vehicle and watching our opponent groggily regaining consciousness…. for the second time that Sunday.”

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