Sometimes you run across stuff that’s just plain weird in the archives. I’ve been combing through press cuttings on wildlife that some thoughtful bureaucrat with my dissertation in mind went to the trouble of compiling in the 1970s. ‘Sounds exciting’, I hear you say. You just don’t know the half of it. A person hasn’t lived if they’ve never experienced the extraordinary thrill that comes from leafing through crumbling papers at high speed while trying to avoid paper cuts and staring at the peeling paint on the wall in front of you for eight hours a day...
Anyway, the point is, on 14 April, 1976, “Another Animal Lover” wrote into the Nation. His letter began. “I was heartened to read the letter from Mr Spain asking about the hyena which was recently hit by jumbo jet at Nairobi airport. I thought nobody cared. May I assure him that everything was done to save the creature”.
Now here, the small part of me that trades in common sense perked up, and reflected that I’d have thought any animal much smaller than an elephant that had been hit by a jumbo jet could probably be carried off the runway in a teaspoon. But I read on. “I thought nobody cared. May I assure him that everything possible was done to save the creature. Dedicated animal lovers rushed to the scene and mouth-to-mouth resuscitation...”
Okay, hang on! Definitely someone’s pulling a leg. Mouth-to-mouth on a hyena? Still not having shaken off the effects of my Sherlock Holmes overdose earlier this year, I wondered if this was one of those cases where criminals sent each other messages through newspaper columns. What could it all mean...?
The prank letter went on. “Mouth-to-mouth resuscitation and heart massage were applied for sometime. Flying Doctor Service people who had been called without delay arrived. On arrival at Nairobi hospital we were told that our efforts were probably in vain. The head and heart had been detached from the remainder and could not be saved. The sister-in-charge of the intensive care unit has asked us to remove the remains without delay. Earlier she said the hyena was as well as to be expected after being hit by 340 tons of moving aircraft. As we are unsure of the hyena’s religious denomination, two separate services of internment will be held—Protestant for the head and Catholic for the tail. The rest of the body is not available anyway. No flowers please. But donations may be sent to me through the EDITOR, Nation”.
Hmmmm... What ever would Holmes and Watson make of this?
But enough of the Case of the Decapitated Hyaena...it’s back to File No. KW 1/67 for me...