It was a holiday like no other.
In 1950, Moroto District Commissioner J Watney from Uganda had corresponded with his counterpart, Leslie Whitehouse and secured permission to pitch camp at Fegurson’s Gulf along the shore of Lake Turkana. Here he hoped to relax with his family as he fished and hunted.
The DC at some point turned his attention to a crocodile that was lounging in the lake and seriously wounded it. But he made a near fatal mistake. He went over the dying creature which was motionless and dragged it ashore and started prodding its rugged body in search of the exact spot his bullet had smashed it, to the jubilation of his family members.
The crocodile, subdued but not yet dead, made a last attempt to even the score. It grabbed him and badly mauled his hand. And for some horrifying seconds the DC’s wife and children watched as he fought the beast to save his life.
When the news was communicated to Whitehouse, it set off a flurry of activities. First the family was evacuated to Lodwar and an airplane secured to fly the injured administrator to the nearest hospital.
And since there were no mobile phones then, a signal had to be sent to Kitale via Posts and Telegraphs when the station opened the following morning to raise an air charter in Nairobi so that the patient could be flown. The DC’s life was saved although the crocodile died.
Watney can count himself lucky as he was now in an exclusive club of hunters who cheated death by a whisker after their hunting went awry. One of the luckiest survivors was Lord Delamere who had been mauled by a lion in Somali-land long before he settled in Kenya.
Another pioneer administrator, Francis Hall also escaped death narrowly after a lion breached his tent and ate his donkey while he was camping near Nairobi.
However, George Hurst, pioneer of of Kenya Breweries with his bother Charles, was not as lucky when he walked into a herd of elephants in 1923. A year earlier he had lost an argument with an injured elephant in Ngorongoro crater in Tanzania.
George, just like the Moroto DC, had made a mistake of taunting an injured elephant which deployed its last ounces of energy, in its final thrust against the hunter who was trying to cull the jumbo.
But the most epic battle between man and beast had been fought much earlier on in December 1898 when Col J H Patterson shot dead two lions that had terrorised railway workers at Tsavo. He, however, had to climb a tree when one of the lions defied death and charged at him although it was mortally wounded.