Hyenas Eat Hot Sauce

Photograph by Cheryl Merrill

This is an updated version of a post I did back in 2014:

During my first visit with Sandi and Doug, I heard about the thieving hyenas of Stanley’s Camp when its manager pointed to the banks of a nearby lagoon. “Hyenas dragged our sofa out there and ripped it apart.”

The leather sofa never had a chance. A pack of hyenas can devour a four- hundred-pound zebra in less than half an hour, eating its bones, skull, hair, even its hooves, leaving only a smear of blood on the ground. With a bite pressure of over a thousand pounds, hyenas pulverize and consume enough bone their scat is chalk-white.

They eat almost anything that moves: wildebeests, warthogs, rodents, hares, snakes, crocodiles, turtles, lizards, birds, caterpillars, termites, and every species of antelope in Africa. They eat things that don’t move – such as dung – or flesh so putrefied and full of maggots it’s the consistency of cottage cheese. They eat anything not locked up: boots, toothpaste, shaving cream, soap, even bottles of hot sauce. What’s glass to a creature that can snack on a zebra’s hoof?

At Stanley’s the hyenas climbed into the dining lounge in the dead of night, shoved aside several tables and chairs, pulled the sofa down a set of wooden steps and tugged it four hundred feet to the banks of the nearby lagoon. They ate its leather and left a gnawed wooden frame.

I asked the manager, “Why the sofa?”

“Just the oil from human hands.” He rubbed a palm across the sofa’s replacement. It was leather, too. Doomed, I thought.

Last night, I remembered the sofa and mentioned it to Sandi, asking her many sofas had been destroyed over the years.

She thought for a moment. “One or two,” she said. “And a couple of chairs.”

Then she told me the story of the hyenas who killed an eleven-year-old American boy at the Xakanaxa Campground, thirty miles to the northeast.

A mother and son on an overland camping safari stopped at Xakanaxa with their guide. The mother allowed her son to sleep by himself, against the guide’s wishes. According to some accounts, the boy left the zipper of his tent open, hoping to photograph the hyenas circling their campsite earlier in the evening. According to others, he may have even brought food into his tent to lure the hyenas closer.

Awakened by shrieks and crazed laughter, the guide saw a huge female hyena dragging the boy into the bush. Men from nearby campsites helped locate his body, drove away the hyenas, and guarded his remains until daylight.

Last night, in the middle of the night, I was awakened by a clatter. Something was rearranging everything in the kitchen shelter. Aluminum chairs scooted across the concrete floor. Silverware rained. A large enamel pot crashed. A long, long silence followed.

I replayed what I’d just heard. Yes, that had to be the enamel pot we cook in, stored near the sink.

I reached under my cot, retrieved my glasses, grabbed my flashlight, rose and tiptoed to the rear end of my tent. Lying flat on my belly, I unzipped the mesh, then the canvas, just enough to allow out a beam of light. The sound of the zippers ripped through the darkness.

The light barely made it to the end of the kitchen shelter. Nothing. I flicked it around as best I could. Nothing. No reflected eyes, no movement, nothing. The silence was deafening.

I zipped the tent shut, went back to my cot, and, oddly enough, fell asleep.

We found the pot today on our morning walk. They tried to eat that, too.

4 responses

  1. That is, uh… just a little bit terrifying! We grow up in the US being told that lions are the scary creatures but it sounds like hyenas got them beat.

    1. Hyenas often chase lions away from their kills, if the hyenas are many and the lions few. But lions often kill individual hyenas caught out by themselves and dig into dens to kill hyena young. No love lost between the two, only somewhat of an evenhanded warfare.

  2. I would be terrified!

    1. Ahh, nahh. If you’d been around them and knew that it wasn’t prudent to blunder around in the dark, you’d be careful and excited, but not terrified, I think.

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