I now introduce you to Ringo. He was as formidable a lion as you ever saw. He was part of a coalition of two impressive brothers that ruled a pride with twenty two members in the South Luangwa Valley. Of the two brothers, Ringo was the fiercest. He was always at the heart of any large kill. He loved to hunt and murder hyenas and killed just about anything that crossed his path.
His name derived from the fact that he had ring worm, obvious by the perfect rings and blemishes on his belly and hindquarters. This parasite may have given him his name, but it equally gave him his rage. It eventually took a toll on his health but for years he carried the itchy annoying parasite and it surely contributed to his temper.
The local conservation society darted him once and tried to treat him, but it did not help and as one is not really meant to interfere unless it’s an unnatural influence, he was left to see out his days.
He was always grumpy, still a pride male but he became reclusive, happy to steal kills from the females, but not interested in any other form of court. He preferred to live alone, still king, but in self-imposed exile. What he lost in weight, he never lost in ferocious anger. His rage burned so bright in the final days that nothing and no one could go near him. Ringo became like an insane murderer, ferocious in nature.
He eventually came into my bush camp and decided to live by the waterhole in camp. He was functioning but weak and he was extremely territorial and paranoid. No other animal could get to the water unless they were prepared to run the gauntlet of his ire. His first major kill was a buffalo, he dragged her into the mud and throttled her, very proud of his new conquest he did not bother to eat it. He simply guarded it day and night, waiting for any challenge.
This was bad news for us in the camp as in these temperatures, the buffalo started to stink and we were really getting the worst of it. Ringo seemed content to lie around in the stink but we had to do something. Our first attempt to move him was with the tractor. We thought Ringo would be intimidated by the big noisy diesel engine, but he was not and after one very threatening growl the driver lost courage and retreated.
Ringo lived with us but with his rage so intense it was too dangerous to have him so close to camp. Our chalets were made of reed and thatch and lots of mosquito gauze windows. Nothing that would really deter a lion in his kind of situation.
Fortunately, the conservation society were coming the next day to dart him and move him to a place 40km away. A place where he would have water and all the anger he wanted.
However, the day before that was about to happen, Ringo lay exhausted at the waterhole. The guests closest to the waterhole had an early start, they needed to be up at crack of dawn. I went to get them and wake them. In the semi dark, casting around with my torch I was within 15 metres of the guest bathroom when Ringo let me know he was there.
His menacing growl came across the grass at knee height. It impacted my legs and travelled up my body in a terrifying resonance that left me almost running for my life. But there is one thing I know – you never run from a lion encounter as they can’t resist the cat and mouse scenario.
Nevertheless, it takes a great deal of control not to run. I stopped in my tracks with all sorts of thoughts going through my mind. I knew how crazy this guy was and how desperate. I was surely moments away from a charge and a mauling.
Ringo stood up. He was terrifying. His mane was matted with bloody dreadlocks, his eyes murderous, red rimmed black holes boring into me. I could hear his breath rasping in his throat and I could see the saliva dripping from his slack jowls. I couldn’t breathe at all. His next menacing growl galvanised me, pushing me to retreat.
One slow step back, eyes fixed on his, another step, another.
I can’t tell you how time slows or how far 30 metres can feel. He stood rigid watching me while I took each agonising step, his breath rasping in his painfully thin lungs.
What saved me this time? Pure luck basically, he was exhausted and injured and just about out of life. Only his rage was keeping him alive but his body had failed him. I think if this had been one day earlier, I wouldn’t be here telling this story.