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Kudu night

Africa’s mood can change in an instant. Our evening in Madikwe Game reserve, South Africa, began with a delightful meal of kudu steak with red wine. Marc, our guide, then offered us a nocturnal drive searching for aardvark and pangolin. None were sighted, but with stars shining brightly, a full moon and a feeling of peace all around us, we were amply compensated by seeing a pair of young African wildcat playing tag, a leopard silently lapping from a lake and a white-faced owl, perched impassively on a decaying tree stump. Africa’s mood felt positively serene, but that was not to last.

3 Kudu Antelopes drinking from a lake. Photo copyright Jon Isaacs 2022
Kudu antelope drinking at a lake. Photo copyright Jon Isaacs 2022

It was eleven by the time we arrived back at the lodge, tired but content. As we pulled up at the reception area, a scene of devastation confronted us. The large green clay plots, normally in an ordered row, were smashed and scattered. In the middle of the floor, down on its knees with blood dripping from its sides, was a magnificent kudu bull antelope. It attempted to stand, slipped and crashed back onto the polished decking. A large, blood masked, female spotted hyena immediately rushed out of the darkness to attack the stricken creature. We shouted at her, instantly taking the side of the kudu and she reluctantly retreated.

Warily, Marc with his rifle and Hennie, our giant South African travelling companion, descended from our vehicle, whilst I switched on its portable spotlight. With the area bathed in light, the rest of the clan could be seen circling in the shadows. Marc reported that the kudu appeared badly injured and in shock. From within the lodge a security guard cautiously emerged and a hurried conversation took place. With the guard keeping his rifle trained on the clan, Marc and Hennie pulled a large mat behind the kudu and tried to roll the animal onto the matting so that it had a chance of gaining enough purchase to stand. Their actions were brave as the kudu’s horns were potentially lethal, and the powerful hyenas were constantly darting in to try and attack the wounded prey.

Eventually, Marc and Hennie succeeded and, with much flailing of legs, the kudu scrambled to its feet. After a moment to draw breath and to summon its remaining energy, the exhausted antelope lumbered into the darkness with the clan in rapid pursuit. Subdued and somewhat shaken, we made our way into the main building in search of a drink. Even joker Marc had found the episode sobering. Africa’s mood now seemed brutal and unpredictable compared with our gentle drive of a few minutes earlier.

Head shot of a Spotted Hyena looking to the left. Photo copyright Jon Isaacs 2022
Spotted Hyena. Photo copyright Jon Isaacs 2022

With those of us from the vehicle safely inside the lodge, Marc and the guard tracked the clan to see the outcome of the hunt. They soon reappeared. The kudu had travelled less than eighty yards before being hauled down, within yards of the entrance to our rondavel. A feeding frenzy had already started with each of the clan fighting for its own portion, whilst brown hyena, having been attracted by the excited cries of their relatives, conducted ghostly patrols in the background. It was to be a long wait before it was remotely safe enough for us to attempt to get into our rooms.

Two hours later there was a temporary lull in the clan’s feeding and fighting. Flanked by Marc and the security guard, both armed, we were escorted to our rondavel. We bolted the stout timber door, checked the security of windows and flimsy patio doors and settled down as best we could. The remaining hours of darkness were filled with the sounds of whining and whooping hyenas and the breaking of bones, a matter of yards from where we lay. Sleep was impossible.

The next morning, as usual, we were collected by our smiling security guard. We emerged into the bright sunlight of a peaceful morning. Africa’s mood again seemed tranquil. However, the smell of death still pervaded the cool, early morning air and lodge workers could be seen washing blood from the concrete path and collecting remains of the kudu carcass. In the distance, a solitary brown hyena scented the air before moving off.

Africa, unforgettably, had shown us one of its uglier moods and, as Marc said with a wry smile when we met, “Death is what happens in Africa all the time. It will be a good story to dine out on.” Somehow though, I don’t think I’ll ever again be ordering kudu steak with red wine.

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