Adventures in Bolivia, Chapter 9

The Loathsome Verni Fly

The Third Attempt, Part 2

Three days after our big jaguar hunt and two days after Mendizabal and his men had left, an Indian came to the camp early in the afternoon to tell me he had seen what he called a black tiger. He said that the beast was well known to the Indians for leagues round; it was very savage and as large as a big donkey, and killed cattle and mules frequently. They were afraid it would take to killing people. I thought the size was exaggerated, and in fact I took it to be an unusually large black puma. As the native told me he had seen it cross the path in the forest about two leagues from the river on the other side and nearly opposite my camp, I hoped to be lucky enough to get a shot at it, so I crossed the river on my good little white mule, and walked about or sat on logs of wood on the banks. About 6 p.m. I was rewarded by seeing the beast. He crossed the path in the forest, walking slowly about two hundred yards up the hill. I took my father’s good double barrel sixteen bore rifle by Holland and Holland, put the sight at three hundred yards, fired, and missed him; the bullet appeared to strike the ground just about a yard or two exactly below him. The Indian had not exaggerated; he was no black puma, he was a black jaguar and seemed to be as large as the one I got on the banks of the Challana River, which was 9ft. 2ins. long. He was black and looked in splendid condition, and I thought what a pity it was that Mendizabal and his son Juan were not with me, as if we had all of us taken a shot at him one bullet would have hit him. Anyhow, I am sorry to say I was duffer enough to miss this beautiful and rare specimen and never had the luck to see him again. The next morning after my bathe in the river, I took my gun with me and strolled along a small stream that runs into the big river, to have some pot shots at the parrots as they settled on a big wild cotton tree. This tree was a very favourite one for birds of all sorts to alight on, and nearly every morning and evening you could be pretty sure to get either parrots or bush chickens for a savoury stew. Before I got to the big cotton tree, I saw a young bull calf standing in the stream, about a year and four or five months old I should say, fat, and in nice condition. He was standing on three legs and easing his near fore. On closer examination I found that he had been wounded in that limb, so I thought to myself somebody has been after the wild cattle, never thinking for a moment it could have any connection with our late cattle hunt. I returned at once to the camp and brought Manuel with a lasso, which we threw over his neck. With the help of four Indians we dragged the calf ashore and after killing and skinning we found that one of my bullets had penetrated the flesh, injured the bone, and lodged in his leg. The only way I can account for it is this. When we were shooting wild cattle five days before, one of the three that fell to my rifle was a big fat cow, I aimed behind the left shoulder and hit her just above the root of the tail, breaking the bone. We went up and killed the cow with a shot in the head behind the ear. There were seven or eight head of cattle stampeding in a body quite close to us, and as they passed I aimed at the big cow with the result described, and the bullet must have glanced off the cow, and lodged in the shoulder of the year and half old calf. So I had killed two head of wild cattle with one shot, which does not occur very often, I should say. The wild cattle live all through the forest round hereabouts; you can see their fresh dung in different Indian paths every now and again. There is very little grass about and yet the cattle are all in good fat condition; the natives say they eat leaves from the various trees and guavas. My mules got very thin on being turned into the forest to cater for themselves, and the only thing they seemed to go for was the wild guava. When I found they were losing condition I sent Manuel’s son José up the mountains on part of Mendizabal’s estate to cure the mules and graze them, leaving only my white saddle mule and one of the donkeys in camp, with plenty of barley in bundles for them. Another reason for sending them up the mountain was that the dun-coloured mule had been bitten by a vampire bat three weeks before. I healed it up and washed it every day, morning and night, with lysol and water and plugged it up with a little cotton wool dipped in balsam, sprinkling the withers over with a powder of iodoform and zinc mixed, to keep off the loathsome Verni fly.


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