Years of flood, drought, and war drives refugees from Mozambique into South Africa, searching for a job, food, and a life of any kind different from their daily torment. Their hardships are of such magnitude that they are willing to go through a wildlife park, most often at night. They walk through Kruger National Park without food or water or much of anything but the clothes on their back - at night, when lions hunt, because the fear of being killed and eaten (not necessarily in that order) is less than fear of the horrific events they leave behind.
Left behind is Renamo, an anti-Marxist guerilla force within Mozambique. The U.S. State Department berated Renamo in 1988, claiming it had committed “on of the most brutal holocausts against ordinary human beings since World War II.” This in a continent which has known no small share of plagues and brutal leaders.
There are three strategies for crossing the Kruger, Frump tells us. The first is to just start walking west; second, to obtain muti – magic from the local healer, sometimes a hyena’s tail – which is said to repel lions; and third, to hire a guide. None of these methods have any guarantees, of course, and the third is the best bet for survival, if a starving person can come up with the cash. If caught by the authorities, refugees are sent back and most immediately try to return. South Africa holds their only hope for survival.
Kruger National Park is a tourist attraction and a source of income for the region. Its importance to the economy was recognized by Nelson Mandela, who emphasized the need for tourist dollars to park employees. It is estimated that one lion’s ability to draw tourist dollars outweighs the lifetime earning ability of a refugee. Lions are essential to the park, which is the animal tourists come to see; without them there is no Kruger.
Frump approaches the problem of man-eaters from multiple angles, including mythology surrounding the great cat, differences between various conservative camps, and the guides themselves. He is a man careful of his facts; for example, the estimates of how many people have been killed and eaten by lions range from very to extremely conservative. The conservative view counts the number of refugees lost to lions since 1960 puts the total at 13,380; the ultra conservative count is 1,650.
Above all, Frump reminds us that lions, like humans, are predators. They are not characters from Born Free or The Lion King. They catch and kill refugees because they are available, comparatively slow, and have no defenses. Africa is torn apart by famine, war, and disease. The problem of man-eaters often gets lost in that equation; at the very least it gets little news coverage. Frump’s book is a powerful examination of man versus nature, and I cannot recommend it too highly.