The Day a Lion Came to School

Life at a school in the Maasai bush is always going to be a bit different. We don’t have any electricity and books are scarce — you learn to become very creative with just a piece of paper and a pen! But rather than resources, wildlife has often been the biggest issue. Despite our best efforts there is always a bird’s nest in the staff room and they are not shy at dive-bombing your head. I have also lost count of the number of times either myself or my possessions have been used as a toilet. Scorpions and snakes live in the grasses around school and my netball court is now a thoroughfare for the cows (along with their child herder) en-route to their bomas or the watering hole. Clearing the concrete of dung is a constant battle.

Recently, however, the biggest worry turned out to be slightly more fearsome — an actual LION! The school is just a few miles from Manyara National Park, home to four of the big five including the infamous tree-climbing lions. Within a short drive there is also Ngorongoro Crater and Tarangire National Park and, because they are not fenced off, the animals often migrate between the three. As you drive out of Mto wa Mbu town you will often see giraffes or elephants grazing openly, and students often talk of the times various animals have wandered through their villages.

The day the lion came to school started just like any other. I completed my English literature class — coincidentally we are reading a play by Wole Soyinka called “The Lion and The Jewel.” After that I popped to the nearby health clinic to patch up a student who had fallen out of a car. As we headed back to school we noticed that dozens of Maasai in their bright red-checked shukas were streaming in their shoes made of tires in the direction of the school. Because of their height, they are very elegant when they walk, especially adorned with their brightly-colored beads. But there was something different about today as they walked with purpose, and most were brandishing spears.

There was a growing group huddled in a corner underneath the tree nearest to the netball court, which appeared to be the headquarters for whatever was going on. Because it is a school, security is tight and to have so many strangers just walking around is a bit odd. They soon explained what had happened — a few lion paw prints had been found around the school and they had come to protect the community by dispatching the lion.

The school is surrounded by Maasai bomas and around a third of our students are from the tribe. However, I have never seen so many Maasai in one place at one time. They arrived on foot, by tuktuk and motorbike. Word had got out that there was a lion in Mungere and hundreds flocked to the scene to help. After the talk underneath the tree, they began to spread out to search the bushes for the stray beast. Around 20 of the younger men were thrown out of the hunting party in disgrace because they had forgotten their spears. 
By now the school had stopped the pretence of trying to conduct classes while the drama went on and we were all outside watching. The boys were terrifying the girls by screaming lion and grabbing their friends — cue a few melodramatic tears!

The Maasai searched for the last prints of the lion to try to figure out which direction it was headed. It is currently dry season and the grasses are the colour of a lion’s mane. It would be so so easy to camouflage and then pounce. It could have come from the national park or, more likely, be wild and just roaming anyway.

From 3–4pm on a Friday it is school sports. However, I did not want my netball girls playing just yards from where a lion is known to have recently roamed. They were a bit more relaxed about it and still wanted to play. In the end we decided to send the students home early. A lion is most likely to attack around dusk and into the night. The students walk up to two hours to get to school but if they left at 3pm they should be safely home before the troublesome hours. We sent them in groups and ordered them to go straight back!

In the end no lion was ever found. Paw prints were tracked to the village of Majengo, which is where many of our students live and in the direction of Manyara National Park. The thinking is that said lion made his/her way back to the park and is now happily nibbling on the antelope in there.

There is never a dull day at Mungere Secondary School, but just when you think you are getting used to things being crazy — up pops a lion to remind you there is always more crazy in store. And a lion on the netball court is certainly the best reason I will ever hear for getting out of school sports!

  • Story by Jane Wharton
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