This article won a $1000 Award of Outstanding Merit from the Amy Foundation in May of 2006.
Mutual of Omaha’s “Wild Kingdom” recently ran a story of an incredibleevent that occurred in Northern Kenya. It was reported that a lioness had adopted a baby oryx antelope.
Saba Douglas- Hamilton, a naturalist who worked in the area, was skeptical when she heard the story. Who wouldn’t be? A lioness in the wild, or one in captivity for that matter, is ruled by its instinctive drives to kill and to eat.
Hamilton drove around where the two had been spotted until she found them. She could not believe her eyes. The oryx was about one month old, not yet old enough to live on its own. These animals suckle for three months before they are weaned. The chances of this animal surviving without its mother were very poor. Strangely, the mothering instincts of Kamunyak, the name given to the lioness, overrode her instincts to kill, and the need to be mothered overrode the oryx’s instincts to run.
As a naturalist, Hamilton sought clues to the animals’ strange behavior. She concluded that the lioness was a single; that is, she had been separated from her pride at a young age. Although lions will hunt alone in an established territory, lionesses live together and hunt together.
This gives them a greater chance of survival and of raising their young. Hamilton pointed out that Kamunyak’s behavior would have not been possible in a pride. The oryx would have been killed quickly. Kamunyak’s separation from the pride had changed her instincts in some way. Perhaps taking care of the oryx was a way of playing out a deep desire to have her own cubs, made more difficult as a single.
Word spread about Kamunyak. The indigenous people were told of the pair and they did not believe it either until Hamilton showed them video of the two. People in buses rode out into the bush to get a glimpse of this once-in-a-lifetime oddity of nature. Of the incident, the people said,
“God has come.”
Amazingly, Kamunyak cared for the oryx for 16 days. Neither of them ate in that period of time. The relationship ended when the oryx was ambushed by a lion and eaten.
Hamilton reported that Kamunyak went on to adopt five more oryx antelopes. One was actually reunited with its mother. Kamunyak eventually disappeared. Perhaps she was able to reunite with her pride and later had cubs of her own but no one knows.
I thought about this incredible show after I read an account of Ashley Smith’s encounter with Brian Nichols, the man accused of murdering four people, including a Fulton County judge, in Atlanta last week.
The killings had the entire city of Atlanta on edge. A predator was loose and there was no indication that the killing would end, but it did. It ended in the most bizarre of circumstances. The predator didn’t kill when he had the chance and the kidnaped victim didn’t run when she had the chance.
Smith disarmed Nichols with kindness. Against the normal instincts most would have in such a setting, she treated him as a human being even though he had brutally killed others and had taken her as his hostage.
Through the night these two people talked. Smith spoke of her five- year- old daughter and of the loss of her husband who died in her arms as a result of a stabbing. She also spoke of God and her faith in God. What is more important, she spoke to Nichols about what God might yet have in store for his life, even though it would not be as a free man but as a prisoner behind bars.
Later she read to Nichols the 33 chapter of Rick Warren’s book, “The Purpose Driven Life.” The chapter begins with these words: “We serve God by serving others. The world defines greatness in terms of power, possessions, prestige and position. If you can demand service from others you’ve arrived. In our self- serving culture with its me- first mentality, acting like a servant is not a popular concept.”
As if to live out the words she had read to Nichols during the night, when morning came Smith decided to make Nichols some breakfast, an act of hospitality that seemed to touch something inside him, something still good, even amidst the savagery he’d displayed in recent days.
Afterwards he told her he wanted to return the car that he had stolen the day before, an odd gesture for a man who had committed four murders.
He told Smith to follow him to the site and then bring him back to the apartment. Against all instincts, Smith chose not to escape. Instead, she followed Nichols, picked him up and returned to the apartment. He then allowed her to leave to keep the appointment with her five-year-old daughter who has been living with a relative. Just a few moments later,
Smith dialed 9-1-1 to report Nichols’ location. Nichols surrendered to police without a fight. In an effort to turn her life around and move beyond her own mishaps with the law, Smith seems to have found purpose in her life through Christ and has been seeking to find her way back to a stable life. She believes that her role in the capture of Nichols is a part of God’s purpose for her life.
Who can argue with that? Whoever heard of a defenseless woman disarming a murderer with kindness? The killing instincts of a madman changed or were at least muted. Perhaps something inside of him connected with a woman who wanted to raise her daughter and have a future with purpose.
If so, the feelings came in time to keep this woman and others from dying, but too late for four others he apparently killed.
This story teaches us there are times when savagery can be tamed with kindness. Acts of hospitality, even to those most undeserving, can touch a place in their hearts they may not have been aware was there.
How this story began seems to epitomize the world we live in now. How it ended seems to epitomize a world that God is seeking to create. Isaiah prophesied that a day is coming when the “The wolf will live with thelamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them. The cow will feed with the bear, their young will lie down together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox. The infant will play near the hole of the cobra, and the young child put his hand into the viper’s nest. They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.” Isaiah 11:6- 9 (NIV)
Such a world where animalistic instincts give way to peaceful actions seems light years away. But every now and then, we hear a story that just seems unbelievable: a lioness adopting an oryx antelope; a woman disarming a murderer with kindness. Amidst the carnage of the world, stories like these give us hope. Perhaps we can even agree with the indigenous people of Kenya that such stories mean God has come. Come more often, Lord. Come more often.