By Charles Towne
I screamed and struggled but there was no release from those terrible, tearing jaws. The lion tore and ripped at my tortured body…
The telephone ring jolted me awake, and it was with some relief that I woke from that nightmare. I was wet with perspiration, shaking in fear, but thankful that it had only been a dream. And then the message on the phone chilled me to the bone.
“Mr. Towne, come quick, the lions are loose!” It was one of my assistants at the small zoo I directed, her voice full of tension and concern. If there was one emergency I was not prepared to face, this was it. I hung up the phone, trembling.
I don’t mind telling you that at that moment I was frightened almost to the point of immobility, but I was the only one with the suitable experience to handle the big cats.
What could cause me to react with such apprehension?
Three weeks previously I had been mauled by an African lion.
The mauling happened while transporting the animal from Chicago to the zoo I had been directing for the previous two years. Needless to say, it was not something I wanted to repeat any time soon.
So… I believe I had every reason to feel like running away. It was an act of sheer will that enabled me to drive the short distance from my home to the zoo, and I must say, I was prepared for the worst.
When I stepped from my car I was carrying a double barreled, ten gauge shotgun at the ready. The gun was loaded with a solid slug in the left barrel and a load of double-aught buckshot in the right. This is a dose of medicine that will stop almost any thinner-skinned animal at close quarters.
As I stood there alongside my car I half expected to hear screams and see people running in fear, but all was quiet.
As I approached my office, Phil, my assistant, came running to me with an expression of fear on his face as he quickly explained that he had locked the lions in their exterior cages, and then he had begun cleaning the cages. When finished cleaning, he had opened the door separating the big cats from their indoor cages. He had then left the building, not realizing that the lock on the door separating the lions from the main portion of the building, had not latched.
Now we had two, full grown African lions prowling the corridor that ran the entire length of the building that housed leopards, tigers and other animals.
Tentatively I unlocked the door, opened it a crack, and immediately found myself eyeball to eyeball with the large male lion. He snarled and slapped at the door with a huge paw, and I slammed that door so fast – way faster than the few seconds it takes to tell about it.
We tried to coax the lions to their outside cages with some nice, fresh, horse meat, but they weren’t having any of it; they liked their new quarters.
I realized that my problems with the lions could be compounded swiftly, because opening into that same corridor were other cages, one of which contained a very friendly chimpanzee.
I could just see Junior, the chimp, reaching through the bars of his cage to grab one of those lions by the tail, as he had done with my lion cub. The difference was that the cub would play, whereas these adult lions would rip his arm off.
The other problem was that the zoo was old. Antiquated, really. The building had been built many years before, with no thought about such a thing as this happening. (The reluctance of the city fathers to spend funds on a refurbishing program for the zoo eventually led to my resignation.) At the rear of this decrepit building where now roamed these two lions, there were a number of windows. Those windows were all that separated the cats from the total freedom of the park, and I could just envision two African lions prowling down main street, U.S.A.
My problem was immediately clear: how was I going to get those lions back into their cages?
I had an idea. A ridiculous idea that I wasn’t sure would work… but I had to do something.
Cats might be inquisitive, but all animals fear the strange… the unexpected. So why not chase the lions back into their cages with insect fogger?
Like I said, the idea was ridiculous. But faint of heart never won fair lady, nor herded a pair of lions!
Working swiftly we plugged the exhaust vents to the building, and then I did it. I took that insect fogger in hand, flipped the switch, waited impatiently for the seconds it took to heat up, and pressed the trigger. The machine started to roar, spewing forth a thick white cloud of insecticide. I hoped it would work as well on lions as it did on flies and mosquitoes. Without the dying part, of course.
As that fogger cloud billowed out, I stepped to one of the windows, and with the aluminum end of the fogger, smashed the glass and thrust the nozzle through the opening into the room. Thankfully the lions fled from the loud noise and thick fog to the outer cages… but I knew they might just as easily discover that the fog was simply that – fog – nothing more, and re-enter the building at any moment.
I opened the door and stepped into the corridor – the one the lions were just in – and closed the door securely behind me.
The fogger was still pouring out its cloud and roaring like a banshee in the close quarters.
Moving as quietly as possible, but with all the speed I could, I moved to the door of the lion’s cage and slammed it shut. Only then did I give a sigh of relief. I had done it!
I am certain this was the only time in history that two African lions were herded by someone wielding a mosquito fogger.
There was one beneficial side affect of my experience: never again did I have a nightmare wherein I was being mauled by a dream lion.
What a wonderful God we serve. Where else could the idea to herd the lions with that insect fogger have come from, if not from Him?
No matter what the challenge, no matter what the difficulty, be it a pair of lions in your dream, or reality, or a dragon in the form of a virus, Papa God is watching over us.
Thank you, O Holy God. In Jesus’ most wonderful name, Amen.
Charles Towne is first and foremost a Christian. An octogenarian, author, journalist, wildlife photographer, naturalist, caregiver, and survivor, his life has been and continues to be, a never-ending adventure filled with possibilities never imagined. He has adopted the philosophy that to Live fully, laugh uproariously, love passionately, and learn like there is no tomorrow, is a formula for a long and joy-filled life.