If you are visiting South Africa and embarking on a proper Kruger Park safari, you will be able to see a plaque commemorating the story of Harry Wolhuter and his fight for survival just east of the Tshokwane picnic site. And if you ask your guides what happened to Harry Wolhuter on that fateful day in 1904, they are sure to be able to recite it for you as this story so well known.
Back in 1904, the Kruger Park was known as the Sabi Game Reserve. A young man known as Harry Wolhuter had just served in the Anglo-Boer War, today called the South African War, fighting for Britain.When the war ended he was offered a position in the park as a ranger by Major James Stevenson-Hamilton.
On the 26th of August of that same year, Wolhuter was travelling south near to the Olifants River, on a routine patrol. Riding his horse, he was accompanied by 4 policemen, a couple of donkeys and his faithful dogs. His plan was to ride to a nearby watering hole and camp the night with his companions, but upon arriving, he found the waterhole dry. They needed water. The next known watering hole was 19km away, and dusk was already settling. Instead of waiting out the night, Wolhuter told his companions to follow behind him while he rode ahead to the next hole. His large dog Bull ran alongside him as he set off.
He followed along the banks of a dry river. Twilight was fast fading, something common in this part of the world, but he felt no need to be afraid. When he came across a patch of long grass along his path, Bull began barking. Wolhuter saw forms in the growing shadows but dismissed them as reedbuck. He didn’t realise that they were in fact lions.
He had no time to lift his rifle. He whistled for Bull, and by the time he realised a lion was close enough to spring an attack, it was too late. He buried his spurs deep into his horse, missing the lions pounce by mere inches, but his attempt to get away was not enough. The lion buried his claws into the horse’s quarters. The panicked horse caused Wolhuter to lose his grip and fall to the ground at the moment the second lion attacked.
The lion grabbed him. These were no man-eaters, they simply saw easy prey. The lion dragged him by the right arm and shoulder, and with each step, the lion’s claws from its fore paws cut into his thighs. He had lost his rifle, and the sound of a satisfied, purring big cat ready for a meal was filing his ears.
In his agony, he remembered he had a small knife. He always carried it in his belt but was worried he had lost it in the attack. The blade was only 3-inches long, but he was relieved to fell he still had it, and once he could hold it, he gripped it tightly. His life depended on it. The lion had dragged him for what seemed like kilometres before dropping him beneath a tree.
But he forgot about the other lion. Having chased after the horse, and losing his prey, the second lion followed the blood-scented trail left by Wolhuter and soon came rushing from the bush, the dog Bull, right behind him. Wolhuter scrambled as best he could up the tree. Bull taunted the lion, staying out of range of attack but never letting up. With the lion being unable to get to Wolhuter, he sulked off in the direction of his companion, who Wolhuter had managed to mortally wound.
After what seemed an age, Wolhuters companions caught up with him and helped him out of the tree. Together, the group eventually managed to walk to huts, while his companions went to get water for him.
It took 6 days to get Wolhuter to the nearest hospital, which at that time was in Barberton, Mpumalanga. His arm and shoulder were infected but he managed to make a full recovery. The knife and the skin of the lion have been kept at Skukuza in the Stevenson-Hamilton Memorial Library.