acacia blossoms

acacia blossoms

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

queens of darkness



A hyena lies at the edge of a muddy waterhole.  She is grubby looking, her fur filled with ash from the recent grass fire that swept through the savannah woodlands.  She raises her head looking left and right, drinking the scents on the wind.  Her deep set eyes do not sparkle with life like other creatures, yet they are alive.  They look like deep dark holes - an abyss into which you could fall forever. One can only imagine the horror scenes they record at every nocturnal kill.  The eyes are portals to store experience in the library of the brain.  With each fresh kill more skills are learned, stored, referred back to when needed.

 Her fur is matted and short, the spots stubbornly showing through the ash brown mud that clings to her.  Around her mouth pieces of last nights meal cling to the fur, all now a uniform unrecognisable brown.  I imagine the smell of her breath close to my face as the last thing i might smell in this life.

She is not pretty in our terms. The rules are different here.  Hyena pups can be pretty and endearing - they look like fun to hang out with.  A mature male or female however, shows no such charm.  It is important for them to clan, to find acceptance among each other.  Females are generally larger than the males.  To add to their strangeness female genitalia closely resembles that of the males. They are not apparently hermaphroditic as has been suggested before, but it does get confusing.  Nearby a sister is sleeping, her distended belly resting in the depression made by an elephants foot when the mud was wet. Symbiosis. Elephants are kind to their neighbours.

The alpha females stands and starts to move off into the tree line.  She moves with powerful grace; head down shoulders high - her stride surefooted and strong.  Hyenas are in their own niche in the world of species. Somewhere between a pit bull terrier and a wolf.  They hold the power of the night and every thought that makes you uneasy.  Like the executioners in days of old - its just her job.

Legends abound too - in this area, if you see a hyena go past with a man riding on its back, its your time to die. Technically this would probably be quite difficult as their hind legs are somewhat shorter than their forelegs and they are not that tall - he would have to be small. But still - watch out at night and in your dreams.



27 comments:

Angela said...

Oh God, Val, what a description! I am shivering and yet fascinated! Yeah, it is just their job, to kill the sick and wounded, and to clear up behind the other predators. But are they scary!! Pit bull teeth, and relentless, but necessary. No friends!
I will definitely try to avoid dreams of them, especially with a tiny man on their backs!

Janet said...

Hyenas are the most maligned, misunderstood and underrated mammals in Africa. I love them and their intelligence and I love their social structure.

Go Val, more pics.

(Pity they do smell and are not beauties of the Miss America or rather Miss Africa class to most of us)

I don't particularly want to dream of anyone riding them! That's shades of the Disney movies

Food, Fun and Life in the Charente said...

Brilliant description, not my favourite animal. We used to have one when I worked for the wild life research officer in Zimbabwe and I hated dealing with it. I am certain it knew how I felt and reacted to my feelings. Diane

Lauri said...

Lovely photos. Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder I think because I love hyenas. I think it might be Disney and other cartoon folks who have a case to answer to regarding the bad rap hyenas have. They are fascinating!

Kristin said...

I fear what I might dream tonight, but for now, I'll just shiver deliciously and wrap myself up in your words.

Lori ann said...

I like your comparison between the hyena and the wolf. I have seen both and very much agree.
There is something quite dignified in the hyena, even if they are intimidating. Must be their reputation.
Still, to see one is a huge thrill!

Rob G said...

Fabulously written post Val. You have described these fascinating creatures so well.

I've loved these intriguing creatures since I did a school project on them many years ago.

Fire Byrd said...

I guess we all have to make do with what we got. And they might not win any beauty pageants, or feature in any toothpste ads, but a hyena's got to do what a hyena's gotta do. And the males love'em!
xx

Friko said...

hyenas have a bad press, always have had. we call rapacious humans hyenas.
they are such ugly creatures, is that why we dislike them?

karen said...

Absolutely.. they are such intriguing, and rather intimidating creatures. The eyes, the sloping gait, and the eerie night time cries..

Nancy said...

Whoa, this gave me chills. Great writing.

Susan Erickson said...

You really grabbed me with your description of this wonderful, intimidating creature. He has his admirers somewhere but I don't think I would want to run into one...or see him in my dreams either. I guess all carnivores witness fear and use it to their advantage....it worked on me!

Lauri said...

Hi Val. I need to speak to you (through email) about a read-a-thon I'm trying to get going in Bots. Could you email me at lakubuitsile@gmail.com? Thanks!

Friko said...

Val, I've just got round to putting your award up. Sorry it took so long.

Thank you again.

Paul C said...

I'm spooked by the nocturnal creatures who stalk and forage in the middle of our darkness.

e said...

Every animal has its place and its own beauty, though I will take care in my dreams. I was just getting caught up on your wonderful posts. Your award is well deserved.

What is marmite??

Val said...

Geli - i think the sinister thing is a necessary part of their act! it works hey? sweet dreams x

Janet - ja, whats not to love? :)

Diane - woo spooky! i bet it was too...

Lauri - they truly are fascinating and i love hearing them whoop away in the dark of night :)

Rob G thanks - great subject for a school proj!

Amanda said...

yet another lovely, haunting post that offers a portal into life in the bush. you do this so well, val - thanks for this - your words are so well chosen that for a moment i felt right next to this mysterious creature.

xx

Land of shimp said...

I do wonder how ungainly and wrong we must look to the creatures of the world. How can we get up any speed, walking like that? We're so delicate.

I do wonder what the hyena thinks back at you. "What's wrong with its eyes, is it always frightened? All that white. It's not natural. It doesn't smell right either. Normally I'd think 'lunch' but that ones gone and seasoned itself wrong. Pity, no way it could get away on those ludicrous pegs. It's bad smell must be part of its defense mechanism."

Lovely post, and well written. You clearly live in a fascinating area of the world. I've always thought that hyenas look like a cross between a cat and a dog, by the way.

Val said...

wow guys i have been trying and trying to answer your comments so in haste, but i love hyenas, i love the sound of them calling in the dark of night, and the slightly sinister, mystery that shrouds them. Thanks so much for your comments - interesting that we all feel something for these extraordinary creatures - love or hate :) its hard to stay neutral. Sweet dreams one ad all, and my you never see a tiny chap riding by on one of these xxxV

Vagabonde said...

I wrote this comment yesterday but I guess it did not take – I must have used the wrong word ID – here it goes again: I have seen a series of pictures of hyenas on a South Africa blog and do think that they have their own beauty; however….. I would not like to be close to them at night. I was just reading the story of Mahabouba, an Ethiopian young woman, who was suffering from fistula after childbirth. She was placed in a hut outside her village because they thought she was cursed – they took off the door so wild animals could eat her. All night she fought with a stick the hyenas who circled her. You can read the end of the story in “Half the Sky” by Nicholas D. Kristof. It is a book about how women are oppressed in the world today, really worth a read. So, I’d rather look at them from a distance.

Reya Mellicker said...

They're so alien looking to my eye at least. But they're terrestrial, indeed they are. Wow.

Margaret Bednar said...

The lions, kill too. Maybe they aren't as aggressive? Do hyenas kill only when they are hungry or will they kill for sport? I can understand an ugly body but, those eyes. Maybe they are made that way to see better at night. A pack of wild dogs isn't anything to mess with either. When I was growing up, a neighbor had a pregnant goat. We were all looking forward to the babies, but a pack of dogs attacked and killed her before she gave birth.

I love your photos and well written blog. I look forward to reading each post.

Val said...

Margaret - i think most predators will only kill to eat as it takes so much energy and the success rate is not always that good. We have wild dogs too here and they are very efficient as pack animals; but they have to eat fast as they hyenas will steal their kill if they are nearby. thanks for your kind comments!

Vagabonde - wow that sounds like a powerful story - i will look for that book. There is a place in Ethiopia where the village feeds a resident pack of hyenas - it cant be the same place surely?

Reya - hyenas have their own special niche in our community - very terrestrial!

Val said...

land of shrimp - hehe that may indeed be the way they view us. certainly we could be prey items at any moment. It is only our ability to make and use tools that keeps us apart - otherwise our natural defences are not that great.

Val said...

Amanda - thanks! thats high praise from a writer such as you :)

e - marmite is a savoury spread - delicious on toast :)

Paul C - some vestigial memories maybe?

Val said...

karen - i love the sound of hyena calls at night :)

Friko - they are wierdly beautiful though dont you think? congrats on the award!

Fire Byrd - theres a lesson there somewhere :)

thanks everyone for your comments - sorry for the delayed response but you know I love hearing from you all; I love that there is no ambivalence about hyenas :)
xxxV