This is my twenty-first (U) entry for the Blogging From A to Z Challenge.
The dark figure slinked around in the shadows, not quite ever slipping into the light, but not quite completely out of sight either. The high shoulders gave it away immediately, once enough illumination was provided, and the tell-tale gait of a hyena is unmistakable as well. Our dinner under the stars would not go uninterrupted.We had been on our evening drive, capping off a great day of wildlife viewing. There had been lions, elephants and rhinos, big herds of buffalo, and the magical bush baby (see my post for J). The only thing missing was the leopard, but that was to be expected with that elusive beautiful cat. Luan had steered us right all day, and as we approached a plain where earlier that day we had seen a family unit of six rhinos lumbering around, the lanterns guiding us into a circle painted a different story. This was what an African safari was about – a meal under the stars. Not normally done outside the confines of the open-air boma at the lodge; this one would be iconic in so many ways. Leaving the camera gear in the jeep, we hopped down and were told that the food would be ready in about 10 minutes, and to help ourselves to the bar table, where one of the lodge staff was waiting to help us with our drinks order. My safari partner in crime, Kim, noticed something lurking before any of us (You can read her post on the same dinner right here). She grabbed my attention and asked if I saw it too. At that moment, I hadn’t, so I wasn’t sure what she was talking about. She mentioned it to one of the guides, who grabbed a light, and before we knew it, the shining eyes of a hyena were staring back at us, with another two positioned on the main road we had travelled in on. Curious scavengers, the hyena also has the strongest bite strength of any animal in Africa that isn’t a crocodile. It can and will eat bones, and once I learned that there were ribs on the menu for our bush meal, I found a certain sense of irony here. The bones would be the only part of the meal I wouldn’t eat, but here we were, nearly surrounded by one of nature’s most effective garburators. Despite this presence of one of Africa’s top carnivores, we all took our seats around the big dinner table with little fanfare. The guides walking around the table casually, none of them with a gun, and the women huddled over the braai doing the cooking didn’t even bat an eyelid. The hyena nearest the table never strayed nearer than about 10 foot away, always looking like he wanted to, but never actually doing it. The two hyena on the road, stayed on the road and didn’t come any closer. As mentioned before and on every nature show you’ve probably ever seen – they are more afraid of us than us of them. This guy was curious, but his curiosity wouldn’t lead to the massive amount of bravery he needed to run towards the food, steal it, and do all of it with 20 people standing around watching him.
Dinner went off without a hitch, the array of salads, rice, chicken and ribs all cooked to perfection by the able hosts of nThambo Tree Camp and Africa on Foot. As dinner was being served, one of the guides decided it might be fun to see just how close a hyena would approach him. He kicked off his boots and lay on his stomach, mere metres from the table, but outside the barrier of lanterns that served as our dining area. The other guides watched at first, but soon one was joined by another, and they both lay face down in the dirt, bare foot, hoping to entice a hyena close enough to feel the wet of its nose on their feet.We all sat or stood and watched as the hyena got within a few feet of the guides, before suddenly turning around and hopping back to where he had started. He just couldn’t muster up the courage to smell our guides’ feet. I sat there, licking BBQ sauce of my fingers for the umpteenth time, all the while wondering if the guides would let take off my boots and join them on the ground. I didn’t ask, I just assumed the answer would have been no. I figured if they won’t let you drive the jeeps or sit on the little seat on the hood of the jeep, there was no way they’d let you lie down and entice a hyena to have a little lick of your toes. The guides get to have all the fun. After dinner we continued the drive in the dark, the spotlight hoping to catch eye shine of anything that comes out at night. We were rewarded with some half sightings, the skittish night creatures all heading for cover too quickly for us to fully see them. But all in all, my dinner with hyenas was pretty damn good.