You may not think of a house cat as particularly brave but I know one little kitty in Africa who gives meaning to the word and exemplifies the kind of courage I try to muster up when I am there amongst the wildlife.
I was getting dressed after a nice shower in my room of the Maasai Mara Sopa Lodge late one evening when I heard hyena making their signature hoooo whop sound not far away. They had gathered for the nightly feeding by the lodge of food scraps; an event that had been conducted each evening for years. I wanted to witness the feeding but to do so I alone had to walk from my room to the viewing platform that overlooked the clearing where the food was to be placed. It took nerve knowing how many predators were out there but I didn't want to miss the opportunity so I took a deep brave breath and hurried out of my room down a barely lit pathway into the black of night.
The viewing location was a cement patio built on a hill that overlooked a grass clearing below. The grass was edged by trees that lead into thick bush in every direction. A bright spotlight was aimed at the center of the clearing where they would put the food. The spotlight occasionally illuminated the eyes of the predators that had gathered. More and more sounds came from the bush; moaning and scrambling. I couldn't actually see anything but I could hear them and the instinct that I use in Africa like nowhere else told me there were many species of animals out there watching me watch them. It was mesmerizing; making the hair on my arms stand at attention; every sense I had was being tested like a life saving decision could be right around the corner.
I arrived a bit early. The only other person on the patio worked for the lodge. I asked him who actually took the food down there. He said he did. "Jobs are hard to come by in Kenya," he joked. More people and more animals gathered as time drew near. Then two men emerged from below. The small crowd hushed; everyone got lined up on the edge of the patio for prime viewing. The men walked towards the center of the clearing carrying a bucket. I was intrigued by the fact that one had pinned a red cloth around him. The animals of this area have a great respect for the Maasai people who wear red. I don't think this guy was a Maasai but this was his defense, so to speak, against the animals gathered for this feast.
Once the food was poured onto the ground the guys moved off. From the circle of forest hesitantly came hyena and black backed jackal but none would come all the way to the food. They would come out in the open, hear or see one of us, get spooked and run back then creep forward again; none brave enough to come all the way at first. This went on for a while. Then, from the lodge, out from under the ledge we were all standing on came the bravest house cat ever. He walked very casually towards the food. I think everyone thought as I did that this cat was about to get eaten. We all forgot to breath except for the cat who really didn't think this was a big deal at all. Seemingly it took this little guy thirty minutes to reach the food but when he did he simply picked a chicken leg from the pile then proceeded to walk back towards us with his free meal dangling from his mouth. It was as if the hyena said, "Shoot. If he can do it so can I." And they all came running for the food.
Hyena get their nick name - laughing hyena - from the sound they make when they are in a feeding frenzy. It's a high pitched hehehehehe. The sound was overwhelmingly loud while all of the animals greedily grabbed food from the pile and from each other. The food and the animals were gone in a matter of a few minutes. Suddenly it was deathly quiet..., except for the faint sound of bones crunching. I looked down and there was the brave kitten enjoying every last morsel of his prized dinner.