Summer is in full swing at Londolozi and the warm heady nights are once again filled with the familiar chorus of frogs, nightjars and the constant ringing of cicadas. However, there is something missing from the nocturnal noises – the spine-chilling whoop and howl of the Spotted hyenas as they set out on their late night foraging.

So what could have happened to these denizens of the night? There was a time when a walk back from dinner to the staff accommodation involved at least two or three close encounters with a big hyena; a time when the kitchen door was shut tightly behind you at night; a time when hyenas would often rush through the boma in the hope of snatching a free meal from the grill. These days, I encounter hyenas in camp at night maybe twice a week at the most, and I have forgotten my shoes outside my room for a couple of days at a time and not had them chewed to pieces.

Sights like this were common place 18 months ago as we set out for morning game drive. These days, hyena sightings away from dens are far less common...

Sights like this were commonplace 18 months ago as we set out for morning game drive. These days, hyena sightings away from dens are far less regular…

There is no denying that hyena numbers around camp have dropped in the last two years. We still see them, but nothing like as regularly.
The reason, according to most of the senior rangers and trackers, is the Majingilane.
It is not just other male lions that incur the wrath of the Majingilane coalition. Hyenas are their main competition for food, and any individual slow enough to get caught by the coalition is in for a severe mauling at the very least.

It seems that as the Majingilane tighten their strangle-hold on the central Sabi Sand, the hyenas have responded by moving elsewhere. The once numerous den-sites on Sparta have dwindled to one solitary site, while far to the south, just out of reach of the long arm of Majingilane law, den-sites with at least 15 youngsters have sprung up and have been providing visitors with fantastic viewing opportunities for months.

Active dens like this are generally only to be found on the fringes of the Majingilane's territory these days.

Active dens like this are generally only to be found on the fringes of the Majingilane’s territory these days.

It is not just the camp staff at Londolozi who have picked up on the hyena exodus. The leopards have also clearly sensed the change, as we are seeing fewer kills being hoisted at the moment. The danger of being robbed as the sun starts to set has dwindled, and leopards are more comfortable feeding off their kills whilst they are still on the ground.

Two years ago, a kill not hoisted anytime near nightfall was going to be lost to hyenas, as evidenced by the following photographs:

This hyena had just robbed the Nyelethi 4:3 young male of a freshly caught impala. The leopard had taken it down in the gwarrie thickets after a long stalk, but the hyena had heard the alarm snorts of the impala as scattered. Before the leopard could catch his breath after the kill, he had been robbed!

This hyena had just robbed the Nyelethi 4:3 young male of a freshly caught impala. The leopard had taken it down in the gwarrie thickets after a long stalk, but the hyena had heard the alarm snorts of the impala as they scattered. Before the leopard could catch his breath after the kill, he had been robbed!

The Maxabene female on an impala kill. Slightly too heavy to hoist straight away, she had dragged it into a drainage line for cover. This was not to save it, for the smell of the kill filtered through the morning air...

The Maxabene female on an impala kill. Slightly too heavy to hoist straight away, she had dragged it into a drainage line for cover. This was not to save it, for the smell of the kill filtered through the morning air…

This photo was taken literally 5 seconds after the previous one. 8 hyenas came racing in to claim Maxabene's kill.

This photo was taken literally 5 seconds after the previous one. 8 hyenas came racing in to claim Maxabene’s kill.

the aftermath. Ranger Tom Imrie watches a few of the cal as they pick up the scraps.

The aftermath. Ranger Tom Imrie watches a few of the clan as they pick up the scraps.

This is part of the ebb-and-flow cycle of the bush. There will come a time when the Majingilane are dethroned, and a new coalition will reign supreme. Battle lines will be re-drawn. Hyena populations may experience new pressures from the South or other directions.

Four hyenas finish off the carcass of an impala ram. The impala had been killed by a rival male during the rut. Four hyenas around a kill is an uncommon sight at the moment.

Four hyenas finish off the carcass of an impala ram. The impala had been killed by a rival male during the rut. Four hyenas around a kill is an uncommon sight at the moment.

Sooner or later, we are confident that the eldritch cry of the hyenas will once again fill the night air around the camp, no longer a distant wail in the darkness.

Written and Photographed by James Tyrrell

Filed under Wildlife

About the Author

James Tyrrell

Photographic Guide/Media Team

James had hardly touched a camera when he came to Londolozi, but his writing skills were well developed, and he was quickly snapped up by the Londolozi blog team as a result. An environment rich in photographers helped him develop the photographic skills ...

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12 Comments

on Where have the Hyenas Gone?

Join the conversationJoin the conversation

Arden Zalman
Guest

The circle of Nature in the Bush

Trevor & Colleen Patrick
Guest

Hi James is that densite down south (just past Wilkinson) still inhabited? With this heat I’d stay underground! Greetings to all.

Cipriano
Guest

4 fully grown male lions is a force to reckon with. If I were a hyena I would keep my distance.

Geri Potter
Guest

This is a sad consequence of a stable lion environment. One of the BEST afternoon drives we shared with John Holley and Richard Siwela was when we visited an active Hyena den. The interaction between the youngsters and the adults was amazing. The FUN was seeing the littlest ones come ever closer to the vehicle, at first shy and then increasingly curios until they were chewing tires and food baskets. the MOST adorable things and too much maligned. I hope they come back, at least to chew your shoes!! 🙂

MJ
Guest

Thanks you for the update on the hyena. I find them one of the most interesting mammals in the bush.

Wodaj
Guest

Interesting twist in predator dynamics! Congratulations to Majingilane! Few years back, hyenas tripped off the tails of Tsalala lionesses and snatched kills so often. I am pleased to hear Hyenas are pushed out.

Kk
Guest

Fascinating. I wonder in areas where lion hunts are allowed and male lions are taken out regularly, if hyenas mulitply tremendously and become stronger than the lion prides themselves?

James Weis
Guest

Hi James,

Such an interesting article… It never ceases to amaze how the ebb and flow of nature changes what we experience in the same place over time.

Water can often be the cause of such change – either via direct rainfall like that experienced in the Sabi Sand or by annual floods in places like the Okavango Delta, where a river that had been dry for years suddenly flows again and changes the lives of the animals that live there.

Competition between predators obviously also can cause changes in their immediate environment depending on the breeding success of one or the other. Your observation regarding leopards changing their habits at Londolozi certainly proves that some animals will adjust very quickly to changes in their surrondings.

Great reading and thanks!
James

James
Guest

Hi James,

Thanks for your comments, good to hear from you!

It will certainly be interesting to see what happens as the dy season approaches once more…

Regards

James

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