The hyena den near Balule in the Kruger National Park has been the scene of some extraordinary sightings and interactions for Joburg blogger, photographer and wildlife lover Jason Daniel Baker. One particular pup he will never forget.
I have spent many hours with various spotted hyena clans and have had some fantastic experiences, but the Balule clan stole my heart. Every few years, once the den has been cleared of all fleas from previous occupation, the clan returns. The den is constructed under the road about 600 metres south of Balule.
On a trip last year my fiancée and I had 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 newborn pup, but his size never diminished his enthusiasm for boisterous games. His mother appeared to be the matriarch, a very large hyena that clearly commanded the respect of the other adults that visited the den.
But all this power had gone to Eric’s head. He thought nothing of his subjects and tormented his larger cousins by tugging at their ears and leaping on them while they napped. He 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 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 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 a 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 looked out the rear window. Looking up at me were three of the naughtiest faces I have ever seen. The three troublemakers led by Eric knew they had been caught, but instead of showing embarrassment or guilt they merely looked around to locate the perpetrators. The three of them slid off the bumper and skulked off, practically 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 that included us in his games. Long may his reign of terror continue.
Read more about Jason’s adventures on his blog, Painted Wolf.