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That evening, as shadows started to lengthen over the forest, they gathered in silence and stealthily went towards the watering hole. There, the sight that greeted them was one of mayhem, slaughter and unspeakable cruelty.
It is that time of the evening in the jungle when the lion, the leopard, even the langoor are in close proximity of each other. Jungle birds in their exotic plumage swoop down from their high perch to observe the ritual of coming together. It is almost as if the entire forest population is heading to a ceremony. Soon the great golden sun will sink to rest in the western horizon, and the entire Serengeti will take on a sullen silence.
This is the moment when the hunter and those who have been hunted congregate in one superlative exodus to the one place where all of them — the predator and the prey — come together in a primordial ritual. Nowhere is the phenomenon of the forest family more evident than here. It is the one common denominator that prompts a natural truce to come into play in an unforgiving habitat where only the fittest survive. For this is the source of all life, a gift from the torrential rains that came and swept the dry parched savanna, leaving its wet footprint in the shape of large pools of water. The savanna and the forest reinvigorated themselves only to burst into a kaleidoscope of colours and the sight and sounds of this formidable yet fragile system that the animal kingdom calls home.
The lordly lion, leading his pride, takes to the water under the watchful eye of the cheetah sitting in a tree, waiting his turn. Somewhere in the distance, a thumping sound rents the air as an army of apes rhythmically announces its arrival by thumping their chests for the happy hour. The chatter of monkeys and the myriad fauna come shrieking through the trees to take up a pecking order. A spotted deer nervously observes the unfolding circus in front of it. Tentatively bending its neck to drink from the pond, it sees the cheetah reflected in the shimmering water from its perch and intuitively darts away into the safety of the forest.
Geese serenely glide across the pond. Suddenly, the shriek of monkeys noisily announces the arrival of their cousins: the chimpanzees. Larger, defiant and self assured, they make their way through the trees in familial groups. The oldest in a grey and black coat leads the way, his demeanour of a family elder separating him from the rest. The females jealously guard their offspring, and bringing up the rear, a grunting gang of male stalwarts. Among them, a frisky little chimp ventures out towards the thick foliage of the forest, away from the safety of his mother’s embrace, his curiosity taking him further and deeper into the trees. Overhead, the parakeets scream at the young intruder as he, now having lost his bearings, finds himself alone in the bewildering thicket of trees and shrubs.
He hears a sharp sound, as if someone heavy has stepped on a dry twig, and then pandemonium: shrieks and screams shatter the air as birds take to the wing, monkeys come crashing through the trees, followed by the staccato sound of gunfire. Poachers! These are the true predators of nature’s delicately balanced habitats. He had heard of them: his grandfather would tell of this cruel breed that would descend on the forest with their fire-breathing weapons that spat death and destruction. No one in the forest was safe from them. Not the mighty elephant — it was his tusks they killed him for. Not the mighty tiger — they hunted him for his golden skin and his viscera to rob him of his power. They hunted his fellow chimps for experiments in faraway places. Those they couldn’t use were taken alive to be put into cages in distant lands.
Amid the chaos and the stampede of all who had gathered near the watering hole, he heard a loud familiar grunt and a pair of powerful arms swept him away into the trees. It was his grandfather, bleeding from the mouth and yet gathering his grandson in his powerful grip he swung from tree to tree, leaving the sound of gunfire in the distance. But his grip suddenly weakened as blood oozed out of his mouth, and then with a heart-rending groan he came down crashing through the branches on to the ground.
The others found him there the next morning with his mighty arms around his young grandson, his body acting like a shield to protect the trembling frame of the little one. In life, the grand old chieftain may have been a storyteller but in death he would be remembered as a valiant warrior.
That evening, as shadows started to lengthen over the forest, they gathered in silence and stealthily went towards the watering hole. There, the sight that greeted them was one of mayhem, slaughter and unspeakable cruelty. The skinned torso of the stately lioness; the giant carcass of a once noble elephant, its tusks gouged out; a hyena dragging away the skinless torso of a cheetah and countless dead corpses.
Among them the young chimp recognised the outstretched arms of his mother — she had been shot in the stomach. His father — a giant specimen of his breed — had taken a hail of bullets, his one arm still cradling his mother’s body. Missing was his infant sister. She, his friend’s mother grunted softly, must have been taken alive.
Raja, the lion king, surveyed the ground littered with bodies and ordered, as only he could:
“When the sun rises tomorrow, no trace of death or destruction must be seen on this hallowed land. Take your loved ones, take everyone away from this well of life. Let this watering hole be a sacred place. We will always come to this sacred spot as we have and before us our forefathers have, and as will our children and the children of their children to pay homage to the ones who have gone from us this day. Remember them with every drop of water you drink from this pond. Let this be remembered — let this be done.”
The gathered inhabitants of the forest bowed their heads in obedience. On a mound not far away, a grey wolf let off a mournful howl, as if to say: “We will endure and we will survive.”
The pregnant silence was broken by a howl of anguish that came from the young surviving chimp, now an orphan. His friend’s mother quickly moved to hold his body wracked with sobs.
Raja cast his royal gaze upon the young thing and asked: “Who cries in my forest?”
“It is the young orphan chimp, my lord,” cried the mother of his friend.
“Let him speak for himself!” thundered the lion king. “Speak, young one: why do you weep so?”
Still sobbing, the young chimp stood up and said: “My lord, I am left alone. I...I am lost!”
“Know this, Lost, you are not alone. Look around you, all that stand around you, including the trees and I, are your family. You are not alone. We will not allow that. Ah! You said you are ‘lost’ — indeed. That is a good name for you. We shall all from this day onwards call you by the name ‘Lost’. In the dangerous world we live in, it is better, my young friend, to be lost then to be found! Do you agree?”
“Yes, my lord.”
“Good. Remind me then, why it is that you are not alone, eh?”
“Because, my lord, everyone in this forest is my friend.”
“True! And what of the forest?” asked Raja.
“My lord, this forest is mine!”
And so it was that the young orphan chimp came to be known as ‘Lost’.