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hyena's aftershave

Continuous flashes of lightning were breaking the darkness of night and the sound of thunder signaled the start of good rains as I closed my eyes and fell asleep. The morning was crisp and fresh with the smell of fallen rain filling the bush. Dung beetles made their appearance and were rolling their balls to places only they seemed to know. It was once again a lovely morning as we slowly meandered through the bush in search of any interesting creatures.

The rains brought with it new life; new life in different forms, shapes and sizes ranging from insects, frogs, tortoises and terrapins to migratory birds. Now the waiting was for the impalas to give birth and although a little early we kept scanning the bush for big ears and round eyes above a little body with long wobbly legs - but no luck so far. We stopped for many animals as we slowly drove away from Bush Lodge. Fresh tracks of a female leopard in the wet sand of the road brought extra excitement and anticipation. Necks were stretched in search of the smallest of the "Big 5". Our search was unfortunately not rewarded with a sighting of the elusive cat and we travelled on.

hyena at sabi sabi on safari

The bush was thick with new foliage decreasing our visibility as we came around the corner and found a small open patch with grass and a little mud wallow. The rain had filled up the small wallow and we spotted some movement in the muddy water. A little head popped up out of the murky water, little bright eyes watched us as it disappeared under the water again. A second head popped up and slowly moved through the water. Two terrapins had made their way to the wallow and were once again enjoying the abundance of water as their heads kept popping up above the water scanning the area for any sign of danger. A fresh breath was taken before the murky water once again closed over them concealing their presence. It seemed the wallow wasn't to the liking of one terrapin and she crawled out, heading straight over the open area in search of a puddle that would meet her requirements. A possibly long and treacherous search, but confidently the terrapin started the journey.

hyena rolling on terrapin

We watched this small reptile set off as a spotted hyena made his appearance. The hyena surprised both us and the terrapin. The terrapin pulled in her legs and withdrew her head sideways to protect herself from the oncoming danger. Big jaws and strong teeth with powerful muscles have earned the Spotted Hyena the reputation of being the mammal with the most powerful jaws in our reserve. Hyenas have jaws with the ability to crack the strongest bones. The terrapin's shield was no match for the hyena but she had another defense. She has a foul smell and urinates when in danger, pungent smelling urine used in deterring predators. It seemed that the hyena had a blocked nose as his jaws closed over her and picked her up. We feared that her life's journey had come to an end. His jaws could crush her shield and she may hava become the hyena's breakfast. Instead, he placed her down and started rubbing his cheeks on her shield, seemingly appreciating her smell. But just rubbing his cheeks were not enough and he started rolling over her, trying to rub her scent onto him. We could see that he was enjoying it a lot as he just went on and on. It was quite comical and one of my guests said that it looked to him as if the hyena was putting on aftershave. What a joy, free aftershave just back on the market after the dry period!

Seemingly content with his new smell he got up and set off homewards to impress the others, leaving the terrapin peeking from her shield wondering what that was all about. I have to say that sometimes the most memorable sightings have to do with the smallest creatures, often overlooked and ignored in search of the "Big 5".

by: jaap van dijk (bush lodge ranger)

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