Tuesday, August 10, 2010

I Am Nearly Eaten By Hyenas

I was out this evening photographing this summer's celestial trio of Venus, Saturn and Mars in the western night sky of Mitzpe Ramon. The three planets have been making quite a showing this August in the evening sky just after sunset, and I wanted to capture their changing nightly positions in the splendidly dark and clear skies of the desert.

I have photographed them from within the town, from the promontory where the visitor center is at the edge of the crater, and this evening I decided to go to the Alpaca Farm and capture the planets among the hills and mountains of the high desert. I got some excellent photos which I think show off Mitzpe Ramon as an excellent stop for amateur astronomers, not surprising since Israel's largest research observatory is located in the mountains here, just outside of town.

Venus, Mars and Saturn as seen in the night sky above Mitzpe Ramon (Click for full size image.)

On the way back home, my car's lights picked up three animals skulking in the wadi about 200 yards from where I had been photographing. One animal went off to the right by itself, while the other two turned left and crossed the road in front of me, about a distance of 20 yards. At first I thought they were a pack of wolves, not uncommon in this area, especially near a farm where they can prey on farm animals and human garbage. But then I saw the pairs' striped bodies, hunched backs, trumpet-shaped ears and big barred teeth and realized I had happened upon a pack of hyenas.

Were they hunting me? Striped Hyenas are mostly solitary and eat carrion, although they are occasionally known to eat farm animals and wild boar. It is unusual to see a group of two, although they will sometimes travel in family packs. Had I happened on a family? Many predators can be found around the farms in the desert. They like easy, fast food as much as we do.

In any case, a mad hyena can be a frightful site, although these guys just ambled on over the hills after our encounter.

Striped Hyena in the mood for a fight (Source: Wikipedia)
I think in the future I will bring someone with me when I go to the Alpaca Farm at night.

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