I’ve never been much of a morning person. I consider 6:30am an ungodly hour to be awake, so when the designated lodge alarm clock—a burly guide who went door to door knocking in the dead of the night—came calling at 3:45am, there was nothing I wanted more than to burrow under the covers and never come out. But alas, we were in Africa and an early start means a better chance to spot some stellar wildlife, so Mom and I begrudgingly got out of bed, dressed in our warmest clothes and were to the safari Jeep by our departure time of 4:15am.
Apparently, those who reside in the bush don’t keep similar sleep habits to mine, as once we set off for our morning ride, the game park was alive with sounds and animals stirring. We immediately came across a family of hyenas. And by family, I mean a mother, a father, lots of cubs, and plenty of aunts, uncles and cousins (maybe even a red-headed stepchild or two). There were hyenas everywhere we looked. (And no, not a moment passed when I wasn’t wondering if Scar would lumber out from behind a bluff.)
While adult hyenas make the most ear-piercing cackle and emit this stay-away-from-me vibe, the babies are adorable. I wanted to scoop one up in my arms and give it a good cuddle.
They gave us quite a fright, though. Playful as household pups, the babies kept running up to our Jeep and batting at the tires. The way the adults were glaring at us, we were just waiting for them to come charging in defense. Agile as they are, we probably wouldn’t have had nearly the time to start up the vehicle and go speeding off as we would had the lion decided to make lunch out of us.
The adults were nowhere near as endearing the babies, though.
In fact, I found them downright ugly. I know, I know, it’s like children—no animal is truly ugly. But aren’t they quite sinister and ominous in appearance?
Particularly the really mangy one with the missing eye. That’s right, that hyena had an all-white, dysfunctional eyeball that seemed to be watching us from every direction (in keeping with the pop culture reference, it wasn’t unlike Mad Eye Moody’s). Creepy.
Eventually, the babies sleepily retreated back to their dens—it was barely 5:30am by this time, after all—but the adults stayed alert, ears perked and pointed toward the west. We thought we might get to witness a kill, and in an attempt to do so, driver Dyke sped alongside the pack as they ran through fields of tall grass.
They led us into a huge pond and went diving in, splashing one another and nipping at each other’s necks. We never did see an attack, but we watched swimming hyenas frolic, which I can’t say is something I’m used to seeing every day.