The Young Warrior
on golden grass ‘neath
His fragile youth met claw and tooth
which saw the king within the coat of gently-dappled childhood.
this perfect paw will pad no more
on the warm apricot earth
The Story behind the Poem
June 2018. I was travelling in Ruaha National Park in southern Tanzania. It’s a relatively remote park and attracts far fewer visitors than parks such as the Serengeti.
On this day, I was being driven by a guide from Jongomero Camp, Theo, to a different camp, as I was researching the whole park and checking out all the lodges and camps.
Theo is an excellent guide and, since it was only me in the 4×4 with him, we were taking it slowly and seeing what wildlife we could spot on the way. Theo picked up the tracks of a lion on the dusty road we were following.
We followed the tracks for the best part of a mile before I shouted, ‘Stop!’
There, by the side of the road, sure enough there was a young lion. It had to be the one whose prints we’d been following. He was perfect. He looked to be sleeping, tired from his long walk. Theo recognised him and said he was about 18 months old; he still had his slightly spotted markings of youth.
But he wasn’t sleeping. Initially hidden by the long, dry grasses, we realised that his neck was bloodied. We sat for a while, looking at this perfectly beautiful creature, hoping for any sign of movement or life. Nothing. He’d gone. Probably only very recently. It was heart-breaking to see. Yes, it’s natural and the law of the wild, but that doesn’t make seeing such things any easier.
When he was certain that there were no other predators around, Theo tentatively got out of the vehicle. The body of the young lion was still warm. Theo took some pictures (the park would want to know about this for the records) and explained to me what he thought had happened.
‘He is a young warrior. He wanted to go and explore the world. I think this was his first adventure away from his mum and the family. Unfortunately, he’s strayed into the path of a large male lion from a neighbouring territory. He didn’t stand a chance.’
There was nothing we could do. We just had to leave him there. This was just one little death within a vast wilderness, but I’d seen it, seen him. I’ve seen animals die before, but this affected me more than I expected. I felt that this young life needed recognition. This poem is for him.