Over the years, my family and I have been blessed with some extraordinary hyena sightings and interactions in the Balule region in the Kruger National Park. Subsequently it has become the draw card to the area for me.
I have spent many hours with various spotted hyena clans and have had some fantastic experiences, but the clan that steals my heart is the Balule Clan. Every few years once the den has been cleared of all the fleas from the previous occupation the clan returns. The den is constructed under the road about 600 hundred meters south of Balule.
On one particular trip, my fiancé and I were to have the pleasure of meeting the cutest, most confident, and naughtiest hyena pup – we named him Eric. I don’t quite know why I name wild animals; I seem to get this from my father, I guess I like to think of them as my friends.
Eric never stopped and was an absolute hell raiser from sunrise to sunset, and I’m sure late into the night as well. Eric was the smallest pup at the den, other than a relatively new born pup, but his size never discouraged his enthusiasm for boisterous games. His mother appeared to be the matriarch, a very large hyena who clearly commanded the respect of the other adults that visited the den.
All this power had gone to Eric’s head.
Eric thought nothing of his subjects but rather tormented his larger cousins by tugging at their ears, leaping on them while they napped, and shrieked murder when he didn’t get his way. Eric was “that” friend, the friend who never knows when to call it quits; all the pups would join in in the games, but Eric would always play harder , until the games ended in tears – tears of laughter from our side.
We stayed at Balule for three nights; while there we didn’t really travel any further than the den, and only left them if we ran out of biscuits and other snacks. We had planned to come back to Balule later in the year, and sincerely hoped that the clan would be there when we returned.
Eight months passed, Eric had grown, and so had his courage and desire to destroy our car. On our morning visit we were watching some of the new youngsters playing their games when we heard a crunching sound at the rear. I climbed to the back of the car and opened the rear window. Looking up at me were three of the naughtiest faces I had ever seen. The three trouble makers lead by Eric knew they had been caught, but instead of showing embarrassment or guilt, merely looked around to locate the perpetrators.
The three of them slid off the bumper and skulked off, whistling and kicking stones to avoid making eye contact with me.
Whenever we return to Balule we always keep an eye out for Eric, hoping to spend some more time with “our” hyena, thinking back to the days when he was a mere pup who included us in his games.
Long may his reign of “terror” continue…