Our camp had been pitched beside a limestone spring. Blacksmith plovers circled anxiously as we settled in. Buffalo weavers, the males with dusty red bills and white-flashed dark wings, nested in the acacias that provided our shade. Nearby were a group of stone cairns, lava black in the afternoon light. They probably date back to the earliest arrival of the Boran tribe in these parts. We pondered on the life-styles of the dead men lying under those rocks.
Shaba is Joy Adamson country, established largely through funding provided by her from the profits of her popular book Born Free, films and money raised by the Elsa Wild Animal Appeal. The park was opened last May, and we were only the ninth party to register at the Garba Tula gate. The Adamson camp lay across the lava plain from ours, and Mrs. Adamson was in residence and in the process of releasing back into the wild a leopard she had raised from a cub. One afternoon we set out to call on her.
A tall, lean woman of 68, her sun-bleached hair cropped close, she received us graciously despite the pressure of her work. "Penny, my leopard, is 18 months old and weighs 120 pounds," she said as we drank warm beer in her compound. "She's a proper scoundrel. All claws and teeth, as you can see." She indicated the healing scars on her arms. "I've learned to clear out whenever she begins chewing at her hind feet. That's the sign that she's about to chew my front ones."
Mrs. Adamson spoke with a heavy Austrian accent, quite a surprise to those who saw the film version of Born Free, in which perky Virginia McKenna. an Englishwoman, portrayed her.
"I spend about eight hours a day tracking Penny down with a direction finder," Mrs. Adamson said. "She's wearing a radio transmitter in her collar. You've seen Shaba—it's tough walking. But a short time ago Bob Aguya, the game warden at Samburu Park just west of us, gave me a lion cub. Now I have both Penny and the cub to deal with. Would you like to see him?"
We went into the wire-fenced cage and the lion cub looked up at us. Then he scooted to a grassy corner and flattened to invisibility. "I call him Kula, the Swahili for 'eat,' " Mrs. Adamson said. "He's a darling, but I don't know what to do with him. By the time I'm finished with my work on Penny, I have none left for him. Some nights I've sat up with him for hours, just chatting. Baby lions need a lot of attention. But I haven't the time. Would you like another glass of beer?"
The talk swung to the poaching problem, and she agreed that the government's closing of the curio shops was the most important step thus far. "But the real salvation of East Africa's wildlife won't come until foreign demand for animal products ceases," she added. "Leopard-skin coats, ivory gewgaws and the Chinese belief in the medicinal properties of rhino horn. Education of the public to the plight of the game is all-important. That's what my Elsa clubs all around the world are about. If we can save just one lion or leopard or giraffe or zebra, we'll have done something."
A brilliant red sunset illuminated the mountainous horizon. A herd of oryx, more than 50 strong, galloped across the track ahead of us, their long horns spiking the oncoming night. Ayan, Winter's second tracker, a husky, one-eyed Turkana, watched them go wistfully. "Picture safaris make my blood bad," he gruffed in that deep, raspy voice all Turkanas affect. "Hunting is better for me. I love to watch animals and to kill them and then eat them." And Joy Adamson prays for "education." I wondered if Ayan would care for an Elsa club membership.
That night, as we lay reading in our tents, I suddenly heard a loud rumbling directly outside the canvas. Lion? Not likely. It sounded more like a cement mixer going berserk. Then I caught the strong barnyard odor—elephants! Eating 300 pounds of greenery a day, their stomachs are always churning. Peering out the side flap I saw the starlit sky suddenly go black. Not 10 feet away an elephant trumpeted. Any moment now they might blunder into the tents. If so, we would soon be squashed as flat as hammered tin cans.
Winter leaped out of his tent with a flashlight, swinging the beam wildly at the herd. It stampeded—an earth-quaking roar, punctuated by squeals and high trumpeting. I ran out to watch them go. On the hillside opposite us was a wall of dust punctuated by the gray, sinuous trunks snaking high as the herd fled.