The day lions of Thika defied Winston Churchill

Thika is not your everyday game sanctuary, although it gained notoriety the other day when roving hyenas made headlines for tearing up drunkards staggering back home.

Long before Witeithie, where the hyenas mauled their victims, came into being -lions, buffaloes and other big game owned these plains. And they were unwilling to yield even to British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, an outstanding wartime leader.

Shortly after Churchill became deputy to the Secretary of State for the Colonies, he brought his restless energy to Thika.

He arrived in Thika on November 5, 1907 hoping to hunt lions, but soon left disappointed. He wrote to his mother Jennie Jerome, how the lions defied him and he had to depart to Nairobi the same evening without a kill.

Earlier, when he arrived in Mombasa on October 28, he was given a certificate by colonial governor James Hayes Saddler “to shoot such game as is allowed by the schedule of the game regulations, during his tour of East Africa.”

The International Churchill Society describes how the future PM had a special train at his disposal to link him to the interiors of Kenya and Uganda at Mombasa.

In yet another letter to his mother, Churchill wrote: “As soon as we saw anything to shoot at — a wave of the hand brought the train to a standstill and sometimes we tried at antelope without even getting down.”

His adventure in the area was unimpressive compared to the fun former US President Theodore Roosevelt had when he came to Kenya in 1910 and was hosted by William McMillan at his palatial home in Ol Donyo Sabuk.

His joy was indescribable, “I cannot describe to you the impression produced on the mind by the sight of the grim black silhouette of this mighty beast — a survival of prehistoric times — roaming about the plain as he and his forerunners had done since the dawn of the world. It was like being transported back into the Stone Age.”

Before he left Kenya, there were efforts to hush the mistreatment of Africans by their colonial masters. His parting shot to the officials was that they avoid scandals relating to labour issues. At the time, African labourers were being forced to work on farms belonging to Europeans.

According to International Churchill Society, Churchill was offered £150 (Sh20,400) for each of five articles by The Strand Magazine about his travels. He was further given an additional £500 (Sh68,000) for the rights of his book My African Journey.

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