Swish of the tail

From Marcus

There’s something hyenas do a lot which, more than most things, lets me see what’s going on inside their heads. I call it a ‘swish of the tail’. Whenever a hyena is putting something behind themselves, they give a little swish of the tail and move on. Whenever a hyena finishes doing a poop, he gives a swish of the tail and puts that shit behind him. If Willi was startled by a noise or movement, he’d nervously investigate what it was and then once he’d established that it was something harmless, he’d give a swish of his tail and move on. I remember Bebe competing with some really big female hyenas at the feeding place. Yusuf was holding the meat really high in his hand so while Bebe jumped up to try and reach it, Chaltu was already on the way down with the meat. Chaltu’s huge snout smacked into Bebe’s with an audible ‘clunk’ and the little hyena reeled. She shook her head and sniffed while she walked over to the dumpster where she lay down and licked her nose for a bit. But hyenas are made of tough stuff and pretty soon Bebe’s attention was drawn once again to the feeding. She stood up, gave a little swish of her tail, and re-entered the fray, seeking an opportunity for more food.

Eli has been making a lot of progress. He went to the garbage dump just this morning to make more identifications and found himself the subject of some hyenas’ attentions. Three of them took an interest in what he was doing and approached to within a few metres before he moved and startled them. I have a feeling that it won’t be long before they include him in their worlds of recognisable beings and the boldest of the sub-adults might end up giving him some attention. Eli, bring something for them to chew or else it will be your camera or notebooks that wind up covered in hyena slobber. I’m looking forward to following Eli’s progress and the fortunes of the Sofi clan of which I still consider myself a member.

Tonight is my last night in Harar. I’m taking the bus back to Addis tomorrow and heading for my wife’s country where I’m hoping to find some interesting stuff on the horse culture there. I have a lot of fond memories from Harar (and some not so fond); and I’ve lost friends both hyena and human. It’s a rough environment. But hyenas are a pragmatic bunch. You can’t be too sentimental when your friends die and disappear at such a rate. And when your childhood playmates become your tormentors, there’s not much scope for dwelling on fond memories of old frienships. I have to admit I’ve acquired some of this pragmatism. So many Sofi hyenas who I knew are gone and the remainder are like strangers to me. Watching them now, I find it very hard to identify with the hyenas with whom I used to be so close. But that’s life in the world of hyenas. You find something, you feel something, you lose something, then you move on. This is my swish of the tail.



3 thoughts on “Swish of the tail

  1. Marcus: while I’m very sorry to read that you’re giving your swish of the tail to Harar and its hyenas, I’m grateful that you shared so much of your life and their lives while you were among them. Indeed, I wonder if it wasn’t a piece of good fortune—for you, of course—that Willi and some of the other younger hyenas disappeared: there had been the beginnings of a short story at the MSU Hyena blog about the birth of a young male hyena, but, for whatever their reasons were, it’s gone now, and I’m pretty sure the terrible lot of male hyenas when they reach adulthood had something to do with it. The story would have become in diary form: “Got up this evening. Was attacked by a some cubs. Took down an impala, but didn’t get enough to eat, as the females arrived very soon after I’d taken my first bites. Went to sleep hungry at first light. An ordinary night in short.”

  2. Marcus, I’m saddened we won’t have new updates on Harar’s hyenas to look forward to from you, but I can well understand why you’d want to leave this part of your life behind you, with the disappearance of so many hyenas, the coming to adulthood of many male hyenas, and the terrible murder of Hashim Idris.
    I hope we can expect new blog posts from you on your wife’s country and the horse culture there. Perhaps that not in your plans, but you’re too good a writer for me not to wish for more from you. But if not, godspeed in your travels and all the best to you and your wife.

    • Thank you for that. I like to think that Willi is hanging about with the Aboker hyenas and maybe found a love interest there. I just didn’t have the inclination to spend lots of time (and money) at the Aboker feeding place to find out if Willi was feeding there. Sometimes it’s better not to know for certain.

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