Hunters of the Plains

Hunters of the Plains

Pearson, John


Book ID 447

See also

Pearson, John Hunters of the Plains, 1979
Page Number: 040
Extract Date: 5 March 1977

Wild dogs at Nasera

At the entrance to the Angata Kiti there stands a rock the Maasai call Nasera. To the best of anyone's knowledge its overhang has been used by hunter-gatherers for at least 10,000 years.

On 5 March, Aajte ('Inky' for short) Geertsema, a Dutch girl who was working at Ndutu studying Serval cats, took her parents and some friends from Arusha across to the Gols for the day. Quite why she went there at just that time I do not know. But anyway, that afternoon they came across 1 female and 3 male hunting dogs. She recognized them as belonging to the Genghis Pack, so called by Jane and Hugo Van Lawick when studying them a few years previously. They were Marcus, Homer and Jinja, accompanying their breeding female Kali. Inky followed them until they settled into the den where, shortly afterwards, Kali was to give birth to her litter of thirteen pups. Jinja, Inky reported, wore a radio telemetry collar placed there some time ago by the Serengeti Research Institute and long since non-operational. I thought that the presence of this might prove to be a nuisance when filming them - it would hardly look wild or natural - but decided I would face that when it happened.

It was, to say the least of it, a monumental piece of luck. A day earlier or later, even an hour's difference in timing, and in all probability the pack would have denned and had their puppies out there in the wilderness and no one would have had the faintest idea they were there.

Extract ID: 4485

See also

Pearson, John Hunters of the Plains, 1979
Page Number: 047
Extract Date: 17 April 1977

Mishaps and Maasai

Chapter 5

Wildlife filming is a business and the more you can organize yourself so that fewer problems arise, the more successful you will be. There are enough unknown factors built into the game about which you can't do anything very much, without creating any unnecessary difficulties.

There are two things, above all, that you need to keep an eye on around camp - fuel and food. In 17 April I was nearly out of both. I shouldn't have let myself get so low of course, but filming with the dogs was going well and when that happens the last thing you want to do is spoil your luck. So when I finally decided I couldn't hold on any longer, I did my best to minimize the departure from our normal routine.

`What we'll do', I said to my driver, David, `is this. On Sunday we'll get everything together. Fill the Range Rover. Load a 44 gallon drum in the back and tie it down. Tools, mail, anything to go to Ndutu we'll load on Sunday. Then on Monday we'll go out and film the early hunt. Once that's finished I'll come straight back, climb in the car and go. I'm not going to hang around Ndutu. I'll just load up, come straight back and we'll go out again and film in the evening.'

At first, all went well. The dogs performed on schedule and by 7.45 I was well on my way to Ndutu. Nothing of note happened crossing the plains. It took me an hour to reach the Park boundary, which was about average. Then I turned left and followed the track as far as the main Ngorongoro-Serona road. There were a few puddles along the way but nothing more. By the time I reached the woodland along the edge of the Olduvai, though, it was downright slippery and I began to remember the big black thunderclouds that had hidden the sun during the evening hunts over the past few days. But nothing prepared me for the Olduvai Gorge itself.

There is a causeway that runs through the bottom of the gorge between Lake Lgarya on your right and Lake Marzak on the left. Actually, you'd have to be told it was a causeway to recognize it as such because it only stands a couple of feet above the level of the ground, a fact that tells you all you need to know about the amount of water that normally lies in the gorge even after really heavy rain. Now there was no sign of any causeway. I stopped at the waters' edge and got out. It was like a sea. Clearly there was no point in even thinking about driving across. But was it worth trying to go round Marzak? My memories of that end of the valley were of swampy ground, so I climbed back into the car and set off round Lgarya instead.


Lake Lgarya is now called Lake Ndutu and Lake Marzak is more commonly spelt Lake Masek.

Extract ID: 4487

See also

Pearson, John Hunters of the Plains, 1979
Page Number: 048

The six known packs of hunting dogs of Serengeti and Ngorongoro

Have presumed to correct the caption from the book

Extract ID: 4496

See also

Pearson, John Hunters of the Plains, 1979
Page Number: 049
Extract Date: 17 April 1977

Getting Stuck

There are two arms of the main lake to cross if you want to skirt Lgarya and reach Ndutu by this alternative route. The first wasn't a problem. The water was a little higher than usual, but the ground below was firm. Over I went. Then came the second crossing. When you get that far you are almost within sight of the lodge. In fact you can often hear people talking there. But the water was so high there was no point in going on. So I reversed a short distance and then turned off the track at a point where I'd crossed a few weeks back while out looking for cheetah. From the look of the ground, which was muddy with vehicle tracks, plenty of other people had had the same idea. Good. I pressed on. The water petered out and I turned left and crossed the valley on dry ground. Once again, the vehicle tracks turned left. I turned with them. Ahead of me now I could see the water gleaming in the grass. On my right, the side of the valley rose up steeply but not so steeply that I couldn't get up.

Perhaps that was the best way. What the hell. Everyone else had gone along the edge, why shouldn't I? Why waste time. I was an hour late already. The Range Rover is such a good vehicle in wet conditions that there is only one way you can really get stuck and that is to sink in so far that the chassis is in contact with the ground. And within 30 seconds of pressing on that is exactly what had happened.

A passing Thomson's gazelle spooked at the stream of bad language. Still, at least I had two jacks, blocks of wood to stand them on, a spade and so forth, so I jumped out and got to work. Not far off I could hear people at the camp talking and revving up motors and there was a considerable temptation to go and ask for a tow. But no. It is bad enough to get stuck by acting like a half-wit. One doesn't want to advertise the fact. So I got to work jacking and digging and fetching and carrying. It took me a whole sweat-stained hour to get clear. But at least I was mobile again, no one had seen me, and I was within 5 minutes of camp. I broke all records over the last mile or so and roared into the car park determined to get a quick turn round. If I could be on my way again within the hour I could still get back to camp on schedule.

Extract ID: 4492

See also

Pearson, John Hunters of the Plains, 1979
Page Number: 050
Extract Date: 17 April 1977

The tank leaked

The manager, Inayat Anjari, waved from the window of his office and came out to greet me. We exchanged pleasantries and I explained my position. `I've got a list of stuff I hope you'll be able to let me have: flour, butter, rice. . .' I went down the list and he looked over my shoulder as I read. `We've got everything', he said `except tinned meat. We're right out of meat.' I groaned. The prospect of living for the next couple of weeks on cans of curried beans, which I knew were the only alternative, was hardly enthralling. Still, we would survive. I put a ring round item ig on my list `meat', and drew a line through it. I was still standing there recovering from this blow to my morale when the manager fired his second broadside.

`I hope you don't need any petrol?' he said.

I stared at him for all of 15 seconds, not knowing quite what to say. `Yes, yes that's one thing I do want,' I replied. `You don't mean to tell me you haven't got any? What about all those 44 gallon drums you had when I was here last?'

`While I was away on leave,' he said, `our storage tank leaked. And when I got back I was just in time to stop them pouring the last of those drums in to replace it, the stuff that already leaked away.'

I was so taken aback all I could do was stand there like an idiot and repeat what he'd just told me.

`The tank leaked?' `Yes.'

`And when the level fell they poured those spare drums in to top it up?'


`I don't believe it. You're pulling my leg.'

`Come and have a drink,' he suggested. `You aren't in any hurry are you?'

`Well, there was a time about 5 minutes ago when I thought I was,' I answered. `But now you might well be right.'

Before long though, my feeling of dismay began to recede. After all, Ndutu wasn't the only place that had a pump. I could get petrol either at Seronera or Ngorongoro. It would involve a delay of course, but that couldn't be helped.

`Look, I'll tell you what,' I said, in a somewhat happier frame of mind. `If you can get my order ready this afternoon, I'll go to Seronera early tomorrow and then drive to camp from there. I'll lose two hunts but still . . .'

The manager shook his head. `You can't get fuel at Seronera either. Now they aren't getting any money from tourists, they don't have the cash to pay for more and they've run out.'

By this time I was becoming immune to shocks. `OK. then, I'll go to Ngorongoro. In fact, if you can get that order ready now I'll go to Ngorongoro tonight, sleep in the car, and be on my way back to camp first thing tomorrow.'

Extract ID: 4493

See also

Pearson, John Hunters of the Plains, 1979
Page Number: 052
Extract Date: 17 April 1977

I need a drink

The manager looked at me as if I was not far short of mad, but he was too polite actually to say so and went off without further ado to get my things. When these came I started loading them into the car. While I was about this, Rashid, one of the Ndutu drivers, came up.

`Salaama.' `Salaama.' `Is it wet at your camp?'

`No,' I replied, `It's dry. We could do with some rain though. Nearly all the wildebeest have left.'

Rashid looked sympathetic. `It's very wet here,' he said. `Yes,' I agreed. `Give me a hand with this box will you?' He helped me lift it into the back of the car. `Are you going back to camp now?' he asked. `It's getting late.'

`Tomorrow,' I said. `Right now I'm going to Ngorongoro to get petrol.'

Rashid shook his head. `The road is very bad. I went that way this morning trying to get to Endulen and there were five big lorries stuck in the mud. There's no way to get past.'

It was at this point that I began to feel perhaps I did need a drink after all. I thanked Rashid for his information and headed for the bar. I knew it wasn't going to do my morale much good, for Ndutu in the wet weather can be a pretty gloomy place if there are no visitors around. But still, there was nowhere else to go.

Inayat was at the counter immersed in his accounts. `Where is everyone?' I asked. Even when there are no visitors at Ndutu there are usually one or two people to be seen, since a number of researchers from SRI are also based there. Now, though, apart from Inayat and myself, there wasn't a soul in sight.

`Jerry and Suzie are out somewhere. I don't know where. Patti was here just now. Hugo came back yesterday and he is stuck in the mud with his friends. I've sent the tractor to pull him out, and Inky and Pradip are down at Marzak trying to find a new road.'

`Perhaps I should get on with accounts as well,' I thought. To hell with bloody accounts. I got out my book: Destination Disaster. It seemed like a good choice at that time, and I settled down to read.

Extract ID: 4494

See also

Pearson, John Hunters of the Plains, 1979
Page Number: 053
Extract Date: 17 April 1977

I have a 44 gallon drum locked in my store

After about an hour I heard footsteps. It was Inky back from her trailblazing expedition. She sat down and we exchanged news. `You know they have no petrol here?'

`Yes I found that out.' `What are you going to do?'

`Well, I intended to go to Ngorongoro, but Rashid tells me the road is blocked. Since I've only got just enough fuel to get there I suppose the sensible thing to do is sit here for a couple of days until the road dries out a bit and I can be sure I'll get through.'

`Won't that upset your filming?'

`Too right,' I answered with some feeling, `but there's damn-all else I can do.'

Inky looked over her shoulder. Then she leaned forward. `I have a 44 gallon drum locked in my store,' she said, very quietly. `If you swear you'll replace it by next week you can have that.'

The following morning, all arrangements for the replacement of Inky's petrol having been agreed, I set out for camp. There was no point in hurrying. The Range Rover with its load of fuel and food was pretty well weighed down and I picked my way around the potholes and past the worst of the mud as safely as I knew how. As long as I got back in time for the afternoon hunt, that was all that mattered.

In fact, the dogs didn't hunt that evening, but I was so relieved at being back and at having an adequate supply of fuel, when I could so easily have been sitting at Ndutu, that it didn't worry me unduly.

Next morning we were out extra early.

Extract ID: 4495

See also

Pearson, John Hunters of the Plains, 1979
Page Number: 061
Extract Date: 25 April 1977

boma near Piaya

He had come from his boma near Piaya because they had heard that some Wazungu - white men - were camped near Nasera. A Maasai man had been attacked by a lion, he said - or was it the other way around, I wondered - and the people in the boma were afraid he would die if he was not taken to hospital soon. Would I help them?

There is of course, only one possible reply to a query like that. There is no way you can, or would want to, refuse your help. But before agreeing I wanted to know a little more about what I was letting myself in for. Piaya I had heard of but never actually visited, so I had only a vague notion as to its whereabouts. `How far is your Manyatta?' I asked. They didn't know how far their village was. `How long had they walked to get here?' A discussion followed. `Three or four hours,' they thought. `Was it in the hills?' `Yes.' `Can I get there by car?' `We will help you,' they replied. `Where did they want to take him?" To Loliondo,' they said as one. `There is a good hospital there.'' How far is Loliondo?' They didn't know.

`All right,' I said, `I'll come. We will start tomorrow morning. It will be quicker in daylight.' `That is good,' their spokesman said, `but it would be better if we went now because the man might die.' I was pretty certain he wouldn't. And in any event, if he was really that far gone I doubted if a bumpy ride across country would do much for him. But I would have it on my conscience for ever if he died. And in any case, the sooner I started, the sooner I would get back.

Extract ID: 4488

See also

Pearson, John Hunters of the Plains, 1979
Page Number: 064
Extract Date: 25 April 1977

Lefti wheeli

It was nearly midnight when we reached our destination. The moon was up and in its light I could see people hurrying

towards us, not just from one boma but several. Most of the men appeared to be moran - young warriors. They were remarkably silent. On each forehead gleamed the silver ornament they use to tie the braids of their hair together. The uniformity of their dress and the stylized grouping of the warriors as they stood about us seemed utterly mediaeval. Our guides came up, said `Goodbye' and then departed. Several older men then approached and one of them spoke to me. I couldn't understand a word he said.

`First he say they want thank you for coming,' David translated.

`Now he say they give you goat for present.'

`Thank him for me please and ask him if they will keep the goat until we return.'

A lengthy discussion ensued. `He say they bring goat to camp tomorrow,' David told me. I guessed that he had decided the offer of the goat was too good to pass up.

`He say they want us to take this man to Loliondo. Not to Ngorongoro. Doctor at Loliondo very good,' David went on. This was Dr Wachtsinger, almost a legend in this part of Maasailand.

`Alright,' I said.

`Now he want to know if you want money for petrol.' `No.'

At this, the old man and several moran came forward and one by one they shook me by the hand. They asked if I would wait while they fetched the man's father from a nearby boma as he was to accompany us to Loliondo. After that the gathering started to break up and things became less formal. A crowd peered into the car. Several times I felt myself touched by people who, I don't doubt, had never been this close to a European before and couldn't resist the temptation to make, sure he really was flesh and bone.

After about an hour, all was ready. The injured man was led out, walking, but supported on either side. In the moonlight it was impossible to make out the extent of his injuries. They got him into the back sitting position and then four other Maasai crammed themselves in as well. One sat in the luggage compartment. The usual collection of spears and other assorted weapons of war was stowed away on the floor.

This time, unlike the first leg of the journey, our passengers were not moran but elders, and now a constant stream of advice flowed from the back. `Faster' . . . `Slower' . . . `Go back' . . . `Forward' . . . `Turn left' . . . `Now right' . . . one of them even knew a few words of English. `Lefti wheeli' he kept saying.

Extract ID: 4489

See also

Pearson, John Hunters of the Plains, 1979
Page Number: 067
Extract Date: 26 April 1977

What the lion could have done

While the water was being boiled I went over to the wounded man. All this time I hadn't had the chance to look at him and now that I did I could see why they wanted to get to Loliondo and not to the Ngorongoro dispensary. In fact, I think he had probably got off pretty lightly. His wounds looked horrible but were really only 'superficial' when I considered what the lion could have done to him. He had cuts in his scalp that had gone through to his skull. There were deep slashes on his left thigh. And it looked as if the lion must have gripped him by the arms and shaken him, for both his forearms had been broken and his hands and arms had been bitten and scratched.

The Maasai are really quite good at diagnosing breaks and setting them. Instead of using a conventional splint or cast, they wrap a piece of animal skin around the affected part. This sets hard and sorts things out very well except when they wrap the skin around a wound as well. The ancient habit of smearing cow dung over it doesn't help much either. Under this treatment the man's right hand had begun to swell badly. I cleaned him up as best I could and then covered each of the open wounds with antiseptic cream in the hope that this would at least prevent the flies from getting to work. We then gave him a mug of hot tea and I fetched a thick pad of foam rubber on which he could rest his arms at a convenient angle. By this time he had perked up considerably and had even begun to talk and smile again. Throughout the entire journey, which at times must have been very uncomfortable indeed, the only other sound I heard from him to indicate that he was suffering was an occasional sharp intake of breath.

Extract ID: 4490

See also

Pearson, John Hunters of the Plains, 1979
Page Number: 069
Extract Date: 26 April 1977

We reach the Loliondo Hospital

In daylight the journey wasn't difficult. We found where we had made the original mistake and it was exactly where Lefti Wheeli said it was. But Loliondo was much further on than I had thought - only 16 miles from the Kenya border, in fact. We'd never have made it on the one tank of fuel after first climbing up into the Gols. So at least I had the consolation of being right, even if not quite for the reason I'd originally had in mind.

We reached the Loliondo Hospital at 1 o'clock. The good Dr Wachtsinger came out, examined his new patient, and handed him over to the sisters to clean up. While that was going on he took me off to have lunch. The green lawns, the white paint, the neatness and order after the mud and shambles of the last few days made it seem as if I had suddenly been released from a lunatic asylum. `I'm always telling them not to treat breaks like that if there's a wound underneath,' said the doctor, `but they never listen. And those wounds aren't 3 days old like they say. It has to have happened at least 10 days ago for them to be in that condition. And if it happened all that time ago why didn't they bring him to me in Piaya? I was there last Tuesday.'

. . .

The Maasai's chances of survival would have been pretty slim if he hadn't received medical attention at that stage. In remote areas of this kind you frequently receive requests for help from the local inhabitants. To most of them though you have to turn a deaf ear. Of course, you would like nothing more than to drive one of the elder's wives 8o miles to visit her sick mother. But in the first place you are there to film and not to run a taxi service, and in the second there is always the faint suspicion that the heart-breaking tale of woe with which you are currently being belaboured is little more than a stratagem designed to achieve some quite different end.

Extract ID: 4491

See also

Pearson, John Hunters of the Plains, 1979
Page Number: 108
Extract Date: October 12 1977

John Pearson at Ndutu

October 12

Leave Ndutu later than anticipated but still in good time. However, I get even further behind schedule by calling in at the Ngorongoro Conservation office so decide to spend the night at Ngorongoro Safari Lodge instead of going on to Arusha.

October 13

A message has come through to say that the Land Rover which has just been purchased by the Ngorongoro Safari Lodge has broken down at the Lake Manyara Hotel. So before going on to Arusha I drive to Manyara and tow it back. One does these favours all the time in Africa. With luck, or perhaps bad luck, you'll one day find yourself on the receiving end.

Extract ID: 3132

See also

Pearson, John Hunters of the Plains, 1979
Page Number: 113
Extract Date: October 23 1977

We set out for Ndutu more or less as planned with jenny driving the Range Rover and me with the Land Rover. We plan to stay the night at the Ngorongoro Safari Lodge. It's such a restful, attractive place it's no hardship at all.

Going up the escarpment after Manyara the throttle linkage on the Land Rover breaks. To repair it is a simple job, but the only way to get your hand far enough into the engine compartment is to tie the bonnet up onto the windscreen and stand on the cylinder head. The engine is so hot though that it's going to take an age to cool down. So we hitch the Range Rover onto the Land Rover and pull both it and the trailer, all three vehicles loaded to the gills, to the lodge where we have tea and let things cool down before sorting the trouble out. The Range Rover is tremendously impressive when it comes to this sort of thing.

Extract ID: 4486

See also

Pearson, John Hunters of the Plains, 1979
Extract Author: Colin Willock
Page Number: 166
Extract Date: 3 March 1978,


John began to shoot footage on the Gorigor Pride and indeed it looked as though they might live up to his expectations.

One morning, 3 weeks after the account of his first day with the Gorigors was written, he got up as usual at 5.45 to make tea before he set out to find his lion.

Jenny Pearson heard him leave the tent. Almost at once there was a shot. She heard John call out: `What the bloody hell goes on?' Immediately there were two more shots, the first of which struck John in the forehead, killing him instantly. The other hit a tree.

What had happened was this. The game guard attached to camp by the Conservation Authority had heard Maasai shouts and cow bells. In fact, these were perfectly normal sounds made by Maasai herdsmen driving cattle down to water over the Crater rim. The young game guard, who was plainly terrified by the reputation of the Maasai camp raiders, panicked, imagining that they were about to attack the camp. The measure of his panic and the desperately random nature of the accident can be judged by the fact that he fired all three shots from inside his tent. John Pearson was carrying a torch at the time and it is thought that he probably shone this in the direction of the first shot when he called out to know what was happening. The second and fatal shot must have been fired in the general direction of the torch.

The game guard immediately placed himself under close arrest and was shortly afterwards taken away by the Conservation Authorities. It is not known what happened to him. Jenny Pearson returned to England with Rebecca but is back working in Tanzania at the moment of writing.

The missing cheetah sequence for Hunters was shot by one of John's Survival colleagues in Africa, Bob Campbell. But Hunters of the Plains remains John Pearson's film.

This book is John's too. All I have done is to edit and organize that suitcase full of notes that jenny brought back with her to England.

Extract ID: 4484

See also

Pearson, John Hunters of the Plains, 1979
Page Number: Front Cover
Extract Date: 1977

John Pearson was commissioned to film

In March 1977 John Pearson was commissioned to film a one-hour television special on the hunting animals of the African plains -wild dogs, hyena, lion and cheetah - and their prey. All predators face the same problem: how to catch something that does not want to be caught and often both predator and prey live virtually side by side in the same habitat.

This book tells of the things that John Pearson saw while he was making the film and what he felt about them; about the problems that arose and how they were solved. So besides giving a graphic account of the animals, their lives and their world, Hunters of the Plains is a personal account of John Pearson's journey through a world which within a very short time may well have disappeared for ever.

Extract ID: 2903

See also

Pearson, John Hunters of the Plains, 1979
Page Number: Rear Cover
Extract Date: 1978 March 3

John Pearson was a Captain with East African Airways

John Pearson was a Captain with East African Airways, flying DC3s, Fokker Friendship and then Comets. But he also managed to combine that career with his other great love: making wildlife films. In 1968 he gave up flying to concentrate on being what Colin Willock, Producer of The World of Survival calls: 'a member of that rarest and most specialist breed of people, a wildlife, or naturalist, cameraman.' John Pearson was definitely among the top dozen in his field. He made a number of films for Survival including Serengeti Had Not Died, Wings Over The Rift and of course Hunters of the Plains.

On 3 March 1978, in the Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania, John Pearson was accidently shot dead at the age of fifty.

Extract ID: 2904