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Conversing with Hyena16th December '13

” What do you want to see?” Asked our guide Bali.

“Wild dog”, “hyena”, ” lion”, we all called simultaneously. I got the impression that Bali had heard these requests on a regular basis. I’m sure he was hoping for the day when somebody requested to see a dung beetle. Not that dung beetles aren’t interesting, far from it, but even when I go on safari I want to see something large and ferocious as well as the small and dainty creatures.

I was staying at Lebala Camp and I’d had a glorious afternoon beside the plunge pool in the vast expanse of Linyati, overlooking the extreme northern reaches of Botswana. In fact Lebala means ‘wide open space’ and that was exactly what I could see across the river channel. The camp was in a glorious setting.

We had been warmly welcomed by the manager Charles that morning, eaten a delicious brunch and then had a few hours to spare to take in the ambience of the surrounding area and generally recover from the travelling that we had done.

I have to say that the rooms were absolutely incredible. I was amazed when I had been taken to my en-suite tent– this was probably the most incorrect description of accommodation that I have come across in Africa. The so-called ‘tent’ is actually a luxury canvas room (that was probably larger than the footprint of my flat), had an enormous double bed which faced out over my own private decking and into the wilderness, had a claw footed bath and two outdoor showers. The spaciousness and the decor was in keeping with the surrounding area, blending in with the environment yet exuding privacy and luxury. It was extraordinary.

With the experience that I’d had so far I was expecting great things on our game drive. There were  five of us in the group, and despite there being other people in the lodge we had a vehicle to ourselves. So off we set in search of those elusive wild dog, hyena and lion.

And we certainly stood a greater chance than usual on our game drive as we had a tracker sitting right at the front of the vehicle who spent the most of his time looking at the ground and reading the signs of the wildlife in the area. He could discern the different animals that had walked across the vehicle track, how long ago the animals have passed, which direction they were going and could estimate how far they probably were away from us at that very moment. We were in awe of him.

We’d had a wonderful game drive, seen lots of giraffe and zebra, numerous hippo in a large dam, had a gin and tonic sundowner, seen a porcupine and a  herds of elephant. Night had fallen and the remaining half an hour journey back  to our ‘tents’ was spent following the spotlight in a hypnotic trance trying to spot secretive nocturnal animals.

Suddenly our guides were alert and as we rounded the corner there beside a small watering hole were two hyena. They both looked at us suspiciously and one of them immediately lumbered off into the night. Bali gave a silent chuckle whispering to us that it was probably the male that had fled, the female had much more courage and was no doubt the one still looking at us.

She tentatively approached the vehicle, becoming curious in us. She must have circled the Land Rover at least three times, giving us an excellent sighting of her, before I realise that our guide was making some sort of subtle noise that had piqued the hyenas curiosity. She didn’t seem agitated just inquisitive as to what the mysterious sound was. It obviously puzzled her. It puzzled me too – what was he saying to her?

She paused and looked at us again, oblivious to camera flashes and the spotlight, much more interested in the conversation nearby.

And then with one backward glance she was gone into the night leaving us all with that “wow” expression and feeling privileged as such a wonderful sighting.

After a glorious soak in my private bath and a delicious meal under the African starlit sky I went to bed to find elephants feeding around my room. Lebala really did put on a show for us that day!

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