The lioness, Seba, sniffed the air for any scent of danger. She watched her cubs play with rounded stones and bits of twigs as she sat and purred with contentment. Both paws were neatly tucked under her so that the knuckles touched.
The cubs played in the shade of a few scraggly trees and rocks, not far from the den where they’d been born a few weeks earlier. A boy and a girl cub, they still rough-housed with each other as two brothers might in playtime. They instinctively knew to keep their claws retracted.
Seba felt her empty stomach churn and noticed the bare thigh bone the cubs also used as a playtoy, leftover from the last meal a day ago. Time to go hunting. The cubs cried for food that morning but distracted by the current play, and they were content.
Seba rose, stretched, and arched her back and tensed up every muscle to loosen and prepare for what she hoped would be a successful hunt. She moved over and gave the cubs a gentle swipe of her immense paw and pushed them towards the den. With only a bit of complaining, they did what they knew to do. Soon they were nestled in their shelter and ordered to stay as they had learned, while mother went looking for food.
Seba had traveled quite a distance in the direction near the edge of the preserve where hunting was better the past few weeks. Keeping a keen eye looking and nose in the gentle breeze, she stopped to listen as well.
A small alarm went off in her head as she smelled something she didn’t like. Man. And not just any man-smell, this was the one of sweat that came with the native bearers of a hunting party. But one of the man-smells was the worst of all. It was a smell she learned to fear.
After freezing and deciding the direction of the smell, she ventured carefully, working to stay hidden either behind sparse bush or in and out of gully washes as she neared. Her eyes were alert as a slight movement far off caught her gaze.
It was Kaba, the father of her cubs, turning his immense head and proud mane of hair while perched on a protruding stand of rocks, probably looking for prey as well.
The man-smell grew more potent, and her eyes searched the horizon. She saw them—the hunting party. Downwind of Kaba and partially hidden from his view, he didn’t see or smell them. The group’s progress was slow in his direction. They clearly spotted him.
Seba’s eyes darted back and forth from Kaba to the hunters. She was closer to the hunters as she crept between cover and crouching low to the ground. She saw them clearly. There was one well-fed human with tan clothing, and he was carrying one of those sticks that spewed fire and emitted thunder just before an animal dies. There was another with very dark skin, dressed in skimpy rags, who also carried a similar stick. The other three in the group were further to the rear and carried packs on their backs.
At the group, the hunter with white skin whispered to his buddies, “OK, take it very quiet and easy, guys. Let Norubu stay with me, you three hang back now and wait.” Everyone else nodded, and the three in the rear stopped walking.
“Mister Joe, we are getting close. Can you make the shot from here?”
“I want to make sure. We need to get closer. I want another good trophy on my wall back home.”
“We’ve come far into the preserve. We should not be here. The punishment is very severe if we get caught.” They continued their cautious walk.
“Don’t worry. Soon as I get this big boy, we’ll radio for the truck and be outta here long before the game patrol can begin to find us. We’ll be back in safe territory without a trace, lion under a tarp in the rear.”
The stalking continued, and still, the massive male lion didn’t spot them.
Seba certainly saw what was about to happen, and there was no way she would allow that. The risks were great, but her instinct was greater. A hunter had killed her mother before they came to the safe game preserve. The sight of them stirred a wave of old anger and unfinished score to settle. She crept closer. Their scent was overwhelming, and she could see the expressions on their faces. Seba stared at the men as she got within fifty feet of the men. She stifled a throaty growl so as not to break the silence.
The white hunter motioned the other to stop. He slowly drew the black stick from his waist area to his chest with one end against his right shoulder. He leaned his head down on the black rod and closed one eye.
Seba knew what was about to happen, and she didn’t wait a blink. She took mighty leaps and bounds with only a low rumble of a growl coming out. Her blur of speed caught the peripheral vision of the black man, who emitted an audible gasp.
Bounding at high speed, closing the gap, Joe, the hunter, looked around and saw the danger almost upon him. He turned his rifle towards the onrushing threat. It was too late.
Seba sprang and was on him with both front legs, claws bared, and caught him shoulder high. The rifle exploded into the air—the bullet hitting nothing. Razor claws dug deep into flesh, and the weight of the two hundred pound cat caused him to topple into his partner like dominoes in the wind.
Coming to the ground in a heap, Seba didn’t pause as she ripped the neck open, and the big white hunter stilled. Another swipe and the rifle in the hands of the black man sailed away, breaking on nearby rocks. She hovered over the hunter’s body as the helper scrambled to his feet and ran with every ounce of strength left.
The sounds and gunshot had Kaba, off in the distance on full alert, witnessing what had happened. He dashed over and understood what had taken place. Seba was thanked with a gentle rub from his body and a lick of her face.
The lions were not man-eaters and instinctively knew to leave. Moments later, they parted. Seba was heading home to her cubs.
As she neared the den, she was fortunate enough to find a rabbit hobbling around with a broken leg, which she quickly dispatched and proudly took the small meal home for dinner. It was not much, but she and her cubs would not go hungry tonight. She was already filled with satisfaction.