In our new monthly feature, a Meaford teacher shares her travel stories
“Something big is going on over there,” our driver, Collie, said eagerly to my students and me as we entered the Ngorongoro Crater in Northern Tanzania. It was our last morning on safari and we had already spent three incredible days seeing animals we thought we would only see on TV or in National Geographic. As we sped down a dirt road, we sat anxiously wondering what we could possibly see next.
When our truck began to slow, we frantically looked out the windows trying to see what Collie had been so excited about; and then we saw it. Not even thirty meters in front of us, two lionesses were feasting on a wildebeest they’d just killed while hungry hyenas looked on enviously. One of the first things we were told while on safari was to stay as quiet as possible so as not to scare off the animals. Although the trucks made noises, safaris had been going on for so long that the animals had become accustomed to their sound, but not to human voices. So we stood in our safari truck’s raised roof in absolute silence, marvelling in what we were witnessing.
It wasn’t long before the hyenas that were hanging around started making noises. Collie told us that they must have been really hungry because they were calling for more hyenas to come, and if enough did then they would try to steal the wildebeest from the lionesses. He added that, had it been two male lions eating the wildebeest, the hyenas wouldn’t have thought twice about trying to steal their kill and would have just waited until they were done to scavenge its remains. Hyena noises sound like a mixture of a dog, a cat, a monkey, a baby, The Joker from Batman and a NASCAR car all in one. Their calls were extremely loud, but as soon as one of the lionesses roared the hyenas stopped and it became eerily silent. Ten minutes of calling went by before hyenas from around the crater started showing up.
After a few minutes, one of the lionesses got up and laid down about twenty feet away. The hyena ringleaders knew that this was their chance and formed a small group on the opposite side of where the other lioness was eating. Inch by inch the hyenas got closer (mainly by pushing the ones in the front), but as soon as the lioness made a noise or looked their way, they stopped moving; when she resumed eating, they resumed moving. Finally, one of the hyenas in the front of the pack got close enough and was able to rip off a piece of leg before running away as fast as it could. A few hyenas chased him, but within seconds another group formed and the process started all over again.
This went on until enough other hyenas showed up to try to steal the lionesses’ kill. A larger group quickly formed and although it started off approaching cautiously as the other groups had, once they were three feet away all of the hyenas jumped on the wildebeest and began tearing it apart. The lioness lashed out at a hyena, but gave up after a few seconds and walked away.
We were speechless at how aggressive the hyenas were at ravaging the remains of the wildebeest. Some were even biting the hyenas next to them hard enough that it would hurt, hoping that they would leave, opening more room and potentially more food for themselves. A few hyenas managed to rip pieces off and ran away so they could enjoy the piece all to themselves. One hyena ripped a foot off and decided that beside our safari truck was a good spot to begin eating it. We were stunned at what we were seeing and hearing: the hyena trying and successfully eating the bones in the wildebeest’s foot.
The takeover lasted eight minutes before one of the lionesses decided she was hungry again and began walking towards the hyenas. By this point there weren’t as many by the wildebeest, so when the lioness roared loudly the hyenas scattered. We were amazed to see that all that was left of the wildebeest was its skull with a little bit of meat and hair still on it, but the lioness didn’t seem to care and dragged it away so she could enjoy what remained. Knowing there was nothing left, the hyenas started to disperse and the next round of scavengers, jackals and vultures, arrived.
What an unforgettable experience.