"We should see lions," Harry said as we moved out of the compound and onto the sand road leading north to his concession. "Whether we'll see a good male or not is problematical. Lions in Africa today are quite scarce. They're bad breeders. The females turn the cubs loose far too early and they are killed, or starve to death, before they can fend for themselves. The lion population is pretty rapidly declining. The lions here, what are very loosely called black-maned lions, are much fiercer than the ones in East Africa, and a little bigger, and I've noticed they're even aquatic when they get around the swamp. In 1965, when we had a dry year, actually the last year of a four-year drought in Botswana, there were a lot of lions down on the water. The pans back in the heavy woods had dried up. We got 19 lions that year. Last year it was wet, and they stayed back up in there. They wise up, you know. And we only got nine. But one's chances of getting a lion today are better in Botswana than any part of Africa."
The 75 miles to the concession took four hours. The sand is deep, and, as the wheels dug in, Harry dropped into four-wheel drive. In Kenya, where the plains are hard, cutting trails was not necessary. In Botswana the thickness of the mopane scrub, the grass and sand demand it. Setting a grass fire and letting it run is often necessary. He has cut 250 miles of crisscrossing trails through his concession since 1963, and as the game gets more wary he will have to cut more.
The vast K-D-S concession covers 4,800 square miles on the northwest edge of Botswana, near the Chobe Game Reserve. Harry spent 20 hours on reconnaissance flights over the concession before moving in in 1963. The principal landmark is the River Kwaai, where the game flocks. Harry could not resist building a bridge over the Kwaai a couple of years ago but did not bother to rebuild it when it collapsed. The Land Rover can ford the river without a bridge.
By estimates, his is the best hunting area in Botswana. It has all the requirements: plenty of water, plenty of grazing land, plenty of tsetse flies. On the road up we passed the government outpost for tsetse fly control, and it was not long before the tsetses had joined us in the cabin and were digging in. At first contact, Peter reached for the aerosol can. "You aren't begrudging the famine-ridden Botswana tsetse fly a little blood, are you?" Harry said.
"Listen, Harry, you've overrated the tsetse," I said. "It does not pack the wallop of the Bahamian flea or the Florida mosquito and, being larger, it is easier to swat."
"Wait'll one gets you blind, through your pants," Harry said. "But after a while you won't even notice, so please do not kill them all. We worry enough about losing them as it is. When they start putting pressure on this country to kill the tsetse it'll be that much more wilderness gone. Look there, see that village? That wasn't here when I first came. There are four or five through the concession now.
"You can't have a wilderness forever because the land is too valuable. The thing to do, of course, is to make game more valuable than the scruffy cattle they bring in. Make game pay for itself. Last year game licenses alone brought $150,000 into the tribal treasuries, which isn't much to a highly developed country, but to a poor one it is a bundle."
The camp was set up in a wooded area near the Kwaai. We settled in, and in the late afternoon went out to look for a decent impala to shoot for the pot. Except perhaps for springbok, there is no sweeter venison in Africa. With the sun going down, there was a great surge of activity around us. Five o'clock rush hour in the bush. Great herds of wildebeest and sassaby and impala momentarily stopped to stare as the cream-colored intruder blundered past. We saw giraffe and, moving far off, a herd of zebra; in a short span we caught glimpses of waterbuck, sable and sitatunga, of lechwe, warthog and a small sewing circle of lovely kudu females.
Harry had me try out the 7 mm. on a mark on a tree. On the recoil the edge of the scope banged against my forehead, leaving a crescent-shaped canal of blood. "It'll make an impressive scar," he said. He gave me two trial shots and said that would be sufficient. We eventually picked out an impala and went after it on foot. I followed Harry, trying to imitate that stooping, mincing, pigeon-toed walk he goes into when he is stalking game. He can walk that way for hours. We got into position and I bloodied my forehead again. The shot was high, and there was a flurry of vanishing camp meat. "Bad luck," said Harry. We went further into the bush, and Harry stopped and pointed. "There. That one. Plunk it." This one I hit in the jaw, being more careful of the recoil than the aim, and, when it stopped a way off to see what devil had suddenly brought the fire into its life, I put another in its side, and we had our meat. I said I was not proud of that kind of shooting. "It's the little quick ones that are hardest to hit," said Harry. He looked at my forehead. "At least you've quit wounding yourself."
The camp was a reflection of Harry Selby's good taste and efficiency. The individual tents were of a comfortable size and could be zipped tight. The cots were sturdy, and there were always fresh sheets. Laundry service in a boiling pot every day. The cook, Mukoma, knew his business. In the days ahead the impala and others like it would come to the mess tent as steak and gingery stew.