Just South African Stories: The Hyena Who Came for Tea

Every safari includes a tea break. We here in the U.S call this “a break” or more quaintly, “a coffee break”, but in South Africa, it’s for tea. On each of the two morning and the two evening drives, the Daring Dixon would park off the road, sometimes beside the Crocodile River, and sometimes on a low bluff looking over miles of bush. He would produce coffee (not tea, because, perhaps, they know how Americans love our coffee), wine, and varying snacks, from cookies, dried fruits, popcorn, rolls to the (frankly inedible) dried meat product, biltong.

Our second evening drive was so full of hippos, impala, giraffe, elephant and others, that we got to our tea-break spot as the sun was setting, a time of day on the veldt when prey animals hide and the hunters emerge.

He chose the edge of huge wallow for our break. Clouds dusted the sky as it dimmed. A warm breeze floated across the truck. We disembarked, me with camera in hand and binoculars around my neck. Dixon politely retreated for his cigarette, standing in hat and fleece, looking out across the silent bush. His nondescript e-cigarette was took quite some attempts to light up, and I could grok that his thoughts were on buying new ones with CBD.

This was the night of popcorn, a true addictive habit of mine. That and white wine made all quite nice. Strolling from the Land Cruiser and the rest of our group, I inhaled the silence and the soft aromas of whatever flora surrounded me.

Not far from me, but further from the truck, stood Katie, a colleague’s friend who had joined us for the safari. She stared out across the bush, north, I think, toward clumps of shrubbery and open grass.

Then, she looked at me, and pointed, and said something rather strangled. I tried to understand, and then finally I heard, “hyena. Hyena!

A whispered shout.

Then I saw her, coming toward us, roughly 70 yards away, trailed by two smaller hyenas, either adolescent cubs or the smaller males who seem to partner with the ladies.

A hyena’s—crocuta crocuta—most interesting feature is that it is more related to felids than canids, even though it resembles dogs to the naïve human eye. They mark their territories with anal glands, as do cats. They will scavenge whenever possible as will any opportunist, but they are tireless hunters, running their prey to exhaustion.

While behind me, unknown to me, the others of our party quickly reboarded the Land Cruiser, Katie and I stood and watched these visitors. I was not afraid, but I looked to make sure the Daring Dixon saw them.

He did, and approached, and calmly said, “They are just curious. They are afraid of humans.”

I completely believed our guide. The female came close, head lowered, staring at us all the time, ears forward. But at some point, she’d gathered her information, which told her that it was probably better to skirt us. She led her buddies off to the west, crossed the wallow, and vanished into the gathering dusk.

Another really cool moment I will never forget.

Back at the Land Cruiser, Katie and I talked excitedly. The others stayed inside and we all laughed nervously. I didn’t want to leave, but it was getting darker, and then when two rhinos appeared on the opposite edge of the wallow. I thought finally that this is a good time to get inside.

The rhinos didn’t come near us at all. They steadily followed their trajectory toward the south, and they too were swallowed up by night.

This photo is actually of a sunrise. It doesn’t really matter; the transition of light to dark or vice versa is like a promise, anyway. A promise of more.



About Jill Zeller

Author of numerous novels and short stories, Jill Zeller is a Left Coast writer, 2nd generation Californian, retired registered nurse, and obsessed gardener. She lives in Oregon with her patient husband, 2 silly English mastiffs and 2 rescue cats—the silliest of all. Her works explore the boundaries of reality. Some may call it fantasy, but there are rarely swords and never elves. More to the point, she prefers to write as if myth, imagination and hallucination are as real as the chair she is sitting on as she writes this. Jill Zeller also writes under the pseudonym Hunter Morrison


Just South African Stories: The Hyena Who Came for Tea — 6 Comments

  1. I’d like the “sit and watch the animals” break, but keep the food and drinks packed up.

  2. Water is good – I’m not a fan of snacks and coffee and tea and sweets.

  3. I might have preferred those hyenas through binoculars from closer to the van! It’s hard to look at them and not remember that without my pack, they could be the better predator today. Thanks for sharing them with us.

  4. Such shiver-inducing creatures. Even grizzlies don’t give me the willies like hyenas do. I’m always reminded of the depiction of the wargs from the Lord of the Rings movie trilogy.

    Nightmare time…

    • Mind, they are kinda cute, in a weird sort of way…

      I just wouldn’t want to meet up with one in a dark alley, is all…