It was not a dark and stormy night. It was a perfect summer evening in the African bush, which started with no hint of the chilling events which would transpire in the space of one hour of mayhem. Our luxury tent at the unfenced Mpila camp in Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park blended into the bush. Our son Fjord was four then (in 2011) and our daughter Acacia just over a year old. The abundant monkeys enchanted the children during the day. During supper an enormous hyena walked silently and fearlessly past our balcony. So close that I could have reached out and touched him. His close proximity was exhilarating. During the evening the hyena (or others) made several passes, melting into the bush before surprising us again. The only barrier between us the poles of our balcony.
After the children fell asleep, Cliff and I enjoyed the peace until he startled me shouting out “Hey! What are you doing?!” As he swung his torch beam to our tent (the bathroom at the back is a fixed brick structure) a man was revealed apparently trying to enter our tent from the ‘roof’. Cliff confronted the man who said that he worked for the park and was “looking for monkeys”. An unlikely story at around 8pm at night when monkeys are sleeping. Cliff asked the man for park ID but he did not have this. Cliff then suggested that they walk to the office to verify the man’s story.
Soon after they walked into the night I heard Cliff shouting “Help! He’s pulled a knife! Help me!” Aren’t people funny, the camp was full, people dotted in tents all around us, yet no one came to help. Attired in nothing but a T-shirt and knickers I hastily unzipped our tent, pulled on clothes and ran to find my husband who was still calling for help. As I found him (the burglar had fled) a car with 2 women pulled up. Overcome with a nameless urgency to return to our tent, I ran back through the bush. What I saw on returning, filled me with horror. A giant hyena stood on the balcony, his nose pointing purposefully into the unzipped opening of our tent. My screams startled him and he jumped with ease over the balcony. He had ignored a plate of cooked meat on the balcony table and I remain certain that he intended attacking my sleeping children. Later I read This story about a school boy who was attacked by a hyena in his tent at Sontuli Camp also in Imfolozi Game Reserve a few months previously. My children would have been easy prey compared to a teenage boy.
The park staff tracked down the burglar and he was arrested. They also moved us to a brick chalet in another camp for the remaining 2 nights. Mpila’s intimate setting in wild Africa is beautiful and magical but going with small children was not a good idea.
We visited Mpila again in April 2016 and once again hyenas were larger than life