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The Peregrine Fund Notes From The Field
Unwelcome guest
Corinne Kendall — in East Africa Project    Share

Sleeping in a tent never really worries me. I know and trust the bush and enjoy the exhilaration of knowing a hippo could be standing just outside my bedroom door. Despite that I must admit that on the walk back from dinner, I often find myself jumping at shadows, but that is usually because I am distracted by the stars. An African once asked me why Westerners always stare at the stars, don’t we have stars at home. Of course I told him, we have stars. . . just not like this. In the Mara the stars fill the sky, like little drops of dew across a window. Orion’s belt shows clear and I always find myself searching for the bow and arrow, but lack the imagination to find them.

Today the moon had greeted me on my arrival and it lit my path for the journey to bed. After a gloriously warm shower, I tucked myself in. I had the usual surprise of feeling something warm and rubbery beneath the covers, but was quick to remember that it was only a water bottle. It hasn’t been nearly as cold in the evenings here since I have returned and I actually pulled it aside. The drive in was exhausting and I fell asleep without even a single toss or turn, the mournful call of the hyena singing me to sleep.

I awoke to a rustling at the tent door. In a half daze I went to turn on the lights, but quickly realized the electricity was out (it must be really late). I pulled on my headlamp to see clawing at the highest point on the tent door. In addition to the scratching sound, I could actually see the tiny claws piercing through the canvas. I thought first of the little genet that had once gotten trapped in my room, feasting upon a leftover banana peel, perhaps the little cat had come back for more. Or maybe it was something bigger, looking for a larger meal. Leopards love the waterfront and my tent is literally meters from the riverbank. My first instinct was to leave it alone. Whatever it was surely it would realize there was no way in and it would leave. Fifteen minutes later the scratching rang on and with a bit of adrenaline now racing through my veins there was no way I was going back to sleep. I stood up nervously and shown my headlamp at the tiny nails that continued to press upon the tent wall. I gently tapped on the canvas hoping this subtle cue would scare away my unwelcome visitor, whoever he was, but it seemed to have no effect. A bit more courageously I tapped on the area where the claws were coming through but again no reaction. I opened the bottom of the tent and peaked through, but I couldn’t see anything. I imagined an angry genet falling on to my head as I unzipped the rest of the door. I couldn’t see anything, but the sound hadn’t stopped. With my heart in my throat I stepped out of the tent into the absolute darkness. I zipped the inner lining closed to keep out the mosquitoes and looked around. Scratching desperately at the tent in between the lining and the outer canvas was the largest dung beetle I had ever seen. It would easily have filled the palm of my hand and it was climbing but not really getting anywhere. Looking at it I remembered how a dung beetle had once gotten stuck in my brother’s shirt. It dug so fiercely to get out my brother was convinced that it was trying to burrow into his skin, like the scarabs from the Mummy. I reached up and tapped the beetle on the back. He plummeted the six feet from the top of the tent down to the floor landing (classically) on his back. I flipped him and shooed him on his way, making sure that he wasn’t going to climb the tent walls again. Finally I got some rest.

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