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No Laughing Matter

I know 2 things from photographing hyenas. The first is that they have a few idiosyncrasies - they run funny, smell funny and with their oversized heads and large ears, they look dead funny too. Maybe they are just laughing at themselves - a good sign in any mammal.

I don't actually think many of us really know exactly what hyenas look like because, they are the least photographed of all the storied animals in Africa. We are not familiar with them as we don’t revere them - indeed to be called a hyena, has become a term of abuse, which seems rather unfair on a species that adds to the rich fauna of sub-Saharan Africa. Hyenas are clearly useful additions to animated films and musicals as they can be demonised and portrayed as the bad guys.

But here is the other thing about hyenas which slightly plays towards their stereotyping of being the villains - they don't respect camera equipment at all. I am sometimes asked which animal destroys the most camera equipment. Elephants kick my remote cameras in Amboseli, lions will confiscate the camera, but get bored after a while, whilst bears and bison could not be less interested.

But the adult female hyena in this photograph, picked up some of my equipment from the ground and I watched from the safety of my cage as it was broken up into 30 different pieces over a 5-minute period of intense brutality. It is the first and last time, I will leave camera equipment on the ground if there are hyenas in the area.

Luckily my memory card which contained this photograph was not a victim of the assault. It was taken from my cage on a 58mm lens - I am not sure many have tried that with a bunch of hyenas before. I would not take risks with them - they could live up to their name and that would not be funny.

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Chinese Takeaway

I remember a few years back driving north to Samburu County in Kenya and seeing hundreds of Chinese labourers working on the new highway. My guide told me that most of them were either convicts from China or, at best, not massively welcome back home. The Chinese build roads in Kenya as part of a far ranging economic trade pact which has seen Kenya’s debt to China rise to $50bn. 

From the perspective of the Kenyan Government, using Chinese contractors reduces the fraud and stealing that plagues infrastructure projects when indigenous operators are involved. From a Chinese perspective, it serves to leverage their position and their grip on the assets of the African country. To many Kenyans, their country is being colonised all over again. At some stage one of Kenyan’s strategically important ports will become wholly Chinese owned. The world has many imbalances and some of these are starkly on display in East Africa. 

There are many innocent victims of the Chinese colonisation of Kenya, but the one I feel for most is the giant leopard tortoise - a signature animal of the African Savannah. This 40lb reptile has had few predators until recently because its thick shell is virtually impregnable - even wild dogs give up. 

But now there is a new predator - the human. The Chinese see the leopard tortoise as a delicacy and in Kenya many have made a livelihood of supplying Chinese workers in makeshift camps with not just a leopard tortoise for dinner, but the tortoise in its own bespoke boiling pot. Who would have thought that this would be the end game for these magnificent creatures - in a pot at the side of a road as a Chinese takeaway for a convict? 

The world needs this creature - Game of Thrones can’t compete with the texture in these legs. The servicing of the Chinese in Kenya like this should be made illegal, but there is no chance of that happening.

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