When to approach a hyaena with a butter knife

It was getting dark, and the deep sandy track we were on was forking into more deep, sandy tracks.

We took one, then the other, then the other, and churned through the sand,watching the silhouettes of the ilala palms fade against the evening light, until darkness prevailed.


Somewhere in the moonless darkness we found the real, hardcore deep sandy tracks, and they threatened to relegate us and our four wheel drive to playing in their sandpit for the next few weeks.

Somehow, I turned the vehicle around, and ploughed our way out of there.

We had travelled for twelve or thirteen hours, and were tired, hungry and had seen enough sand, without even on glimpse of the sea.

After another ten minutes or so, we saw a small structure lurching against a tangle of jungle about forty yards or so off the track.

We ploughed our way up to it, hoping it would offer us shelter for the night. It was a half built, or half demolished, reed and palm leaf rickety thing. Yet, over one of the two imagined rooms, there was a square yard or two of palm leaf roof, and a corner that was woven together enough to form sort of walls on two sides. It was enough.

We hadn’t brought the tent, as we were going to stay in an actual log cabin on the shores of the third lake at Kosi Bay. But we had brought a gas cooker and some food, so we made the most of the balmy night and the plentiful wood debris, and made a fire and dinner.

Because the big members of the Big Five (Lion, Elephant, Buffalo, Leopard and Rhino) were not around, we (my partner Mandy, and myself) ate our fill of pasta and sardines,and

relaxed. Then we scooped out two comfy hollows in the sand, and curled up to listen to the night sounds, looking up at the crisp stars blinking inquisitively down at us.

I was quietly drifting off when the first hyaena whooped.

This is a nice sound when you are in a five star game lodge safely tucked up in your four poster. It’s not so good when you’re lying in a scrape of sand in the open.

Especially when other hyaenas joined in the chorus. Mandy was asleep and the blissful

look on her face read, ‘hyaenas be damned’.

I was rigidly awake, eardrums straining at every sound.I could even hear the mutter of hippos far off in Kosi lake.

So I followed the hyaenas around with my ears for some time, plotting their ravening course around the neighbourhood with not a little wariness.

Hyaenas, and don’t take it just from me, are seriously dangerous animals.

Their powerful jaws can leave an unsuspecting outdoor camper footloose in one bite.

There was always the prospect of us going to the truck and trying to sleep in there, but that

was quite a sell out to the adventure we had planned.

I was also exhausted. So I lay there hoping the marauding clan would find a suitably rotten carcass far away.

And they must have wandered further off, for I fell asleep.

The sand was comfortable, and the air was warm.

I awoke in the early blue of morning ,to the sounds of sniffing and snuffling just near my head.

In my fuzzy, half awake state, I managed to find a knife in amongst the cutlery things,

and apprehensively looked around the loosely knit reed wall.There was a dash and a rustle into the thick bush behind the hut, but it was still too dark to see the animal. It didn’t sound as big as a hyaena, and was probably a jackal. I looked for spoor, but the animal had kicked off at such a speed that all I could see were sandy holes in the ground.

Mandy was awake when I returned, and she started burbling with laughter.

‘What were you going to do? Butter the hyaena’s nose?’

The knife, which had looked quite shiny and impressive, was a butterknife, and about as sharp as a lump of butter. I could’ve asked what the hell we were doing with a butterknife in our camping kit, but didn’t.

We were lucky though. Many who have slept out in the open have had serious injuries inflicted on them by hyaenas, which are not the cowardly scavengers they are made out to be, but large and highly intelligent predators. I have to say that since then, I have made a point of taking a ‘backup’ little tent on my travels.

It was a forgiving start to our adventure at Kosi, an amazing estuary, with several interconnected lakes, all with varying levels of salt water, leading out to the Indian Ocean.

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