Sunset (or dawn) deep in the African bush is unforgettable; the Turneresque sky, relative coolness from the heat of the day, the calm from the night cacophony, and the animals are more active than during the day and, if lucky, bringing some delightful displays of tenderness, playfulness and live and let live. Indeed, stunning beauty, but not for the sentimental, foolhardy or squeamish. Where elephants use telegraph poles as backscratchers and Cecil, the lion, roamed and roared before his demise, he was not the only danger; the long list includes malaria, bilharzia, bubonic plague, tick bite fever, sleeping sickness, poisonous snakes, venomous spiders, scorpions, hyenas and leopards. These are the less visible hazards Dr Palmer, Minnesota’s now famous or infamous and allegedly unlawful bow and arrow hunter, faced as he stalked (surely a primeval survival instinct inherited from our ancestors) the twitterati’s favourite feline. Incidentally, we would be a far less free nation today without the Royal Air Force fending off the Luftwaffe in the summer of 1940 accompanied by hunting calls of ‘Tally Ho’ or were these made up for cinema audiences?
The African bush, or bush veld, is an unforgiving, unpredictable place; failure is often punished severely. Not so much survival of the fittest, fastest or strongest, rather as Bruce Henderson (who also coined the term ‘cash cows’) noted in The Logic of Business Strategy, survival of the ecologically best adapted into specific niches; a useful business management concept and a lesson from Nature, perhaps applicable in politics as well ? Richard Frank, noted more generally in Northern Memoirs (1694) ‘Art imitates nature, and necessity is the mother of invention’. And so it was in Joseph Paxton’s Crystal Palace which owes much to a giant water lily.
Yet, perhaps it is in the Big Cats and the other animals of the bush veld that we can learn much in the defence of freedom, our collective heritage and our country. An earlier People’s Army, the Boers/burghers (farmers/citizens) of the then South African Republic and Orange Free State, defying a great imperialist power of the day, (our forebears), certainly did. Obvious really that any Boer out to protect his livestock from predators would have known something about their behaviour and like David (the slayer of Goliath of Gath) would have sharpened his own skills against theirs. Winston Churchill was also happy to imitate such methods and fighting units during the dark days of 1940, and a new awe inspiring word entered the English lexicon, commando. And as a scholar at Harrow, a much younger Winston, would probably have come across Richard the Lionheart and Shakespeare’s Henry V before Harfleur somewhat graphically calling upon his army to imitate the actions of a tiger; they won.
It may seem fanciful to try to learn from or adapt some of the behaviour of lions or leopards (or even tigers) in taking on the Yes, let’s stay in European Union Campaign, in the coming Referendum. However, when their campaign has overwhelming advantages of size, money, media support, something extra is needed; cunning art imitating nature perhaps? Lions are of course highly territorial; their roar, teeth, speed and considerable strength mean business, and readiness to defend their land and pride. Tucked away in Yellow Moepels, one of the short stories of Herman Charles Bosman, is something of this deep territorial imperative which infected lions and Boers and part motivated the latter to doggedly resist imperial conquest; the other part being the prospect of taxes being imposed without their consent – cash cows to be milked then.
The British Lion is much diminished these days, the pride, majesty and virility has largely gone whilst the European Union and fellow travellers wait ready to deliver the coup de grâce. As is so often visible in the African bush, especially at the water holes or on the fringes of the peaceful grazing herds, eternal vigilance and rapid response to impending peril is the price of freedom and survival.