The dry tawny-colored grass twitched ever so slightly. It had barely moved, but it caught the ever-watchful eye of a mother gazelle. Her head jerked up, and her eyes fearfully surveyed the grass. Her young fawn lay sunning himself in the warm African sunshine only a few feet away. Until now, he had no knowledge of terror; his short life had thus far been filled with carefree play, contented nursing, and peaceful slumber. And why should he fear, with his cautious, devoted mother to watch over him?
Danger was plentiful in this wild territory. Many were the predators that leapt at any opportunity to kill a wounded gazelle that could not keep up with its herd, or a young, vulnerable fawn. Lions, hyenas, and wild dogs were among the main threats on the ground. From above, it was an easy matter for an eagle or hawk to swoop down unseen and snatch a tiny, helpless fawn in its talons. Now, with so many newborns in the herd, predators were never far away, always ready to take advantage of the vulnerable young.
Finally, somewhat satisfied that danger was not present, the young gazelle’s mother lowered her head to the short green grasses once more. Every few seconds, she would glance up to make sure her baby was still within a safe distance.
Suddenly, a flash of tawny brown sprang out of the grasses just a few hundred feet away. A lion! The herd of grazing Thomson’s gazelles scattered like feathers in a strong wind. The little fawn’s mother gave a special call, meaning “Run!” He was on his feet almost instantly. His mother was already bounding away with lightning speed. Though his legs were no bigger than tiny saplings, he managed to catch up with his mother in a short time. Behind him, he could hear the roar of the lions as they mounted an attack on the herd.
Soon the two fleeing gazelles reached a patch of clumpy grasses that grew higher than the little fawn’s back. His mother’s horns were visible above the grass and might give away her location. She must hide her fawn and move away to protect him from the attacking lions. She guided him to an especially large clump and urged him to lie down and be still. He knew what to do; he flattened his little body out in the grass until he was nearly invisible.
Once she was satisfied that her baby was as safe as he could be, the frightened cow turned tail and dashed away. A lion was approaching the place where her little one lay, and she must lead the hungry predator far away from him.
Meanwhile, the herd was under full siege from the pride of hunting cats. A few of the older, slower gazelles soon fell under the lions’ powerful claws and piercing teeth. A young cow with a lame foot stood no chance against the huge cats, which didn’t have to chase her very far. More than one-quarter of the fawns would never reach adulthood.
The little fawn’s mother ran as fast as her slender legs would carry her for nearly half a mile before she lost the lion that had been relentlessly chasing her down. Her coat was dripping with foamy sweat, and her breath came short and quick. Her heart was beating rapidly, and her veins coursed with adrenaline. Her ears stood straight up, and her eyes never closed for more than a few milliseconds. The danger was still very present. Her attention turned again to her fawn. Had he stayed where she’d hidden him? Had he been discovered?
Cautiously, she began the long trek back to the spot near the water hole. Every few steps, she stopped stock-still and scanned the area around her. Two or three lions still terrorized the herd, but most were content with their kill and had settled down to feast. She circled widely and kept to the tall grasses. Finally, she neared the place where her fawn had lain down before she left him. She began to call, ever so softly, calling her little one to come to her.
She looked around frantically, and called again and again, but no little fawn came creeping out of the grass to meet her. Had he been taken, like so many other unfortunate fawns, by the prowling cats that hunted their kind with relentless fury? If so, she would never see her little one again. What if he had been discovered, but managed to evade the lion and was now hiding in the grass elsewhere, waiting for her to find him? She had to keep looking, to keep calling.
She looked and looked. Her call was ceaseless. But all the while, she received no answer. Still, she did not give up hope.
The lions finished their raid. The day waned; the sun sank lower and lower toward the wide African horizon. The scattered and scarred herd of gazelles regrouped, though smaller than before. A few mangled carcasses remained from what the lions had dragged away, and vultures had flocked by the dozen to feast on the leftovers.
The frantic cow continued the desperate search for her missing baby. Her call became more strained, and her legs more tired, but she would not give up. Night was coming quickly, and if the fawn was still alive, he would need her milk.
The sun had sunk below the horizon. A few bright stars were appearing in the sky, and most of the animals on the savannah were beginning to bed down for the night. In the distance, a large thunderstorm was rising. It would soon drench the dry landscape in trillions of gallons of rainwater.
Still there was no sign of the missing fawn. His mother, devoted as she was to her little one, could not search for him forever. Finally she gave up and headed into the trees where the rest of the herd was settling down in the protection of the acacias. Most likely, he had been one of the many fawns to be taken in the fatal attack that day.
She nestled down among the thorn bushes at the roots of an ancient acacia tree. Nearby, a mother gazelle whose little one had emerged from the attack unscathed bedded down with her fawn curled against her side. A pang of longing washed over the bereaved mother for her little son. He had been so healthy, strong, determined. He would have been a handsome bull, standing tall with two long, twisted horns gracing his head, his glossy coat shimmering in the bright sunshine. He might have made a fine father someday. But now…
A faint rustling caused the whole herd to snap to attention. Perhaps one of the lions was still hunting them, crouching in the darkness, waiting to launch another raid on the scarred and tired gazelles. All ears stood straight, all eyes peered anxiously into the shadows, all muscles tensed, ready to leap away at the slightest hint of danger.
Suddenly, a small cry came from somewhere. It was very faint; so faint that the human ear could probably not have heard it. But the mother gazelle did. She heard that little cry and immediately recognized it. She gave her special call once again, this time more eagerly than ever before. A few seconds later, a small form appeared in a circle of soft moonlight. It crept slowly into the open, its tiny hooves pausing in mid-air with each step.
The eager mother stood and called softly to her little one. He bounded to her side, overjoyed to be with his dear mother at last. He bumped his head into her, meaning he wanted his dinner; it was long overdue. He was not hurt; not even a scratch marred his newborn coat. His little tail flicked in glee as he suckled furiously.
In the distance, a low rumble of thunder announced the advance of the storm. Within minutes, the sound of rain filled the night. Torrents of cooling water poured down over the sun-dried plain, refreshing the African landscape. Jagged spears of brilliant lightning tore through the sky, briefly illuminating a tender scene under the acacias. A tiny fawn, exhausted from his close call with a hungry lion, was curled sleepily against his mother’s warm side, full, content, and safe.