“I must not wake them. If they wake, I am sure to be chased… Oooh, flip-flops!”

I often wonder if these are the thoughts that rush through Ribbon’s head on her nightly stalks of the Djuma Research Camp (DRC.) With the security of darkness and ingrained genetic knowledge of human sleeping habits, she is the ultimate nighttime trash-can hunter.

For anyone wondering who Ribbon is, and why on earth she would be hunting human food- waste at night, here is the simple answer: Ribbon is a hyena. Typically, the best way of dealing with hyenas in camp is to run at them with flailing arms while shouting incoherently.

She has now refined her rubbish robbing technique. Being an intelligent animal, she has learnt that knocking the trash-can over, before dragging it out of camp, is sure to rouse several angry DRC inhabitants. She is far more stealthy now, and is careful to lift the bin before fleeing from camp at top speed.

I remember one such encounter –  it was early, it was dark. Weak fingers of rising sunlight were barely winning out over the retreating night and there she stood: in the centre of the camp courtyard, bin clamped in her vice-like jaws. I scowled at her, took a deep breath and raised my arms into optimal flailing position.

The speed with which she scarpered from the DRC forced me to ponder if she had somehow harnessed the power of a particle accelerator. The bin of course went with her, banging off the walls and the crew’s own cars in the parking lot.

I followed, yelling and flailing. This convinced Ribbon to ditch the bin and make a break for the gate. There she lurked, watching me as I made a defiant grab at her prize. My hand clasped the rim and immediately detected a warm, slimy substance. A shudder of disgust swept my body until my very soul squirmed with discomfort. I did my best to ignore the sensation and returned the bin to its rightful home. As I let go, a viscous thread of hyena gob connected myself to the bin. I spent the next 20 minutes sterilising my hands with a variety of disinfectants.

More often, the bin and its contents, are found spread throughout the bushveld. The disheveled dustbin is, usually, located and hauled back to camp at arms length. The smell of hyena combined with their slobber is enough to put anyone off their morning coffee.

Recently, she has developed more “exotic”  tastes. Not so long ago, I left the confines of my room to be greeted with the remains of a vicious massacre. My flip-flops had been chewed to oblivion, in the centre of the remains was glowing evidence of the culprit. A hyena track, betrayed Ribbon as the individual responsible. I mourned my loss, knowing that my battered feet would have to tough-it-out, unshod.

WE are constantly forced to clean up after her, whether it’s the dustbin, flip-flops or the ice-cream container Wium forgot to put away last night. Yet without her, life would be dull, boring even. She, along with all the other camp inhabitants, have wormed their way into our hearts.

There is nothing more comforting, than hearing her haunting, whooping calls while falling asleep at night. Despite the fact that she is rallying her buddies for another covert camp raid. There is little more endearing, than watching her interact with her cub, Ntima, at the den site. Although Ntima is already being taught the fine art of bin thievery, she is sure to be a worthy accomplice and eventual successor to Ribbon.


– Written by: Louise Pavid.