On BBC Television’s Waterhole: Africa’s Animal Oasis, Chris Packham talked of the important role of hyena in clearing up carcasses that would be poisonous to other animals. The acid in the stomach of hyenas is apparently sufficiently strong to destroy anthrax. A Google search revealed that the digestive juices of the hyenas include hydrochloric acid.
The stomach of a hyena would have been greatly beneficial to at least one man whom I knew who endured the cooking at the home of a certain pair of farmers.
Having spent years working on England, on motorway building and construction projects, he gave up his home in the English Midlands and returned to the small farm in rural Ireland which had been his family home. His farm was not big enough to earn more than a part of the income he needed to pay the bills, so he would go to work on other farms.
One day, he recounted eating food that might have tested the digestive system of a hyena:
“I used to do work for them in the summer time. You would go back to the house for your dinner at the end of the day. There was a stove just inside the door and a big iron pan on it. He would take a couple of slices of bread and throw them into the fat; the fat was so deep that the bread would be boiled rather than fried. The pan was never washed; there might have been a year’s accumulation of fat in it. He would throw a couple of chops into fry, but would never leave them long enough, they would only be half cooked. I would sit at the table and eat around the edges of the chops. You couldn’t eat the middle; you couldn’t even cut through the middle.”
As a matter of course, hyenas eat food that would poison other animals. They are not endangered by their scavenger diet. Why, though, would a person risk eating a meal that could easily have given them a nasty dose of food poisoning? Why, despite the fact that he knew what to expect, did the man telling me the story not decline the offer of a dinner that was at best barely edible, and, at worst, toxic?
To him, old fashioned courtesy was more important than the risk to his stomach, to have refused the brothers’ food would have been a deep slight on them, a mark of disrespect to them.
Hospitality is the greatest honour someone can offer, sometimes a hyena stomach would be useful in accepting it.