With the privileged opportunity to photography such a wide variety of animals on such a regular basis, it becomes easy to develop a favourite subject. Within each family of mammal, bird, reptile or insect (particularly in macrophotography) there lies a favourite subject for many photographer.

Instantaneous allurement! An attractive cat amongst the branches of a Marula tree.

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She is occasionally seen around the far north west corner of Londolozi, and is generally quite relaxed around vehicles.

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Ingrid Dam 4:4 Female

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Unknown
Identification
markings
Timeline
5 stories
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Parents
0 known
Litters
1 known
Offspring
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Behaviour, surrounding habitat, size or shape each play a role in contributing to the subject’s favourability and this differs for each of us. Classically, the leopard fits this capacity, most likely due to its aesthetic beauty matched by its tendency to be up in a tree in full view. Not to say there are better subjects out there to photograph, but there certainly are vastly different ones to discover.

A setting sun assists the scene surrounding this gorgeous zebra and the vibrant colours of its grazing ground.

Personally, I have always loved photographing zebra, in portrait or in their mesmerising dazzles. Herds of them cast contradictory patterns and flows of competing blacks and whites with a little touch of warm dust in their shadow stripes to the rear. Their faces seem to emit calm beauty and a sense of mystery is created when viewing their precise facial markings. A good friend of mine, Simon Smit, used to have the same fascination with photographing elephants, and could talk of their photographic potential for hours (and get the proof!) while I find them wonderful to watch but incredibly difficult to capture in a frame and portray that wonder. Rob Crankshaw gets lost on a daily basis while crawling around camp with his macro lens, waiting patiently for a territorial dragonfly to return to its perch just inches in front of his face, or for a jumping spider to turn and face the dim afternoon light. Each to their own, it seems.

A Simon Smit essential; unconventional angles of an elephant with varying focal points, creating a new perspective of the gentle giants.

A Rob Crankshaw essential; ultra close up of a tiny fly revealing its otherwise unnoticed details… An opportunity only coming about through lots and lots of patience and persistence.

Lately I have rediscovered the potential photographic portrayal of spotted hyena in the wild and have been looking through past and present photographs of mine to explore this idea.

Recently, amongst the greenery of summer I found this adolescent hyena strikingly fun to watch. He seemed out of place in a vibrant setting of colour and it reminded me of their individualism.

Not to mention, a young cub’s curiosity caught my attention as it revealed the secrecy of these animals’ life stories.

Hyena are in fact not very hygienic mammals nor do they expose their presence high up in trees or on top of termite mounds giving us pretty sightings of them. They are, however, brutally successful and surprisingly intelligent predators and scavengers, and deserve a second glance; one out of appreciation and not initial shock. Their characteristic image often involves the remains of a carcass, a blood-stained coat, unhealed battle wounds or the untidy and unkept surroundings of their den. Yet this series of attributes should be used to compliment their uniqueness and noteworthiness in a photograph and not diminish them as a spectacle.

I found great joy in processing older photographs I had taken of hyena while making the effort to appreciate their individuality; their infamous traits and burdens. I wouldn’t go so far as to say “beauty”, but a definite aesthetic delight!

Natural backlighting enabled this very key feature of the hyena to be accentuated; their hearing. Not only do they have an exceptional sense of hearing but their oddly shaped ears make their distinction from cats and dogs very apparent.

Completely black and sometimes described as “bear-like”, hyena cubs have their own energy about them and immediately start testing their own courage.

Two youngsters await their mother’s return, and are iconically merged with a landscape of destruction and eeriness.

A figure of its own, this pausing individual boasts a rufous mane as well as a trail of foamy saliva strewn across its snout.

On a cold and dry winter’s morning another two youngsters play and wrestle in a cloud of dust. A uniquely pretty sight.

Often a close portrait pulls us into the eyes and expression of the hyena and keeps us away from the distracting chaos of their unusual bodies.

Furthermore, monochrome processes create that raw and authentic display of their features. Here, expression (eyes, brows and ears) and potential power (nose and jaws) are clear and present.

But in the colours of autumn/fall and powdered with evidence of a fresh meal, they can look completely different. Alert and excitable, this nomadic male watches a rival finish off his stolen meal.

The unmistakable gait of a scavenging hyena! What a specifically recognisable sight; a true individual in the wild.

And paired with a harsh reality, the hyena showcases its ultimate purpose on the land.

Innocent imperfections in a one-of-a-kind character of the wild.

Involved Leopards

Ingrid Dam 4:4 Female

Ingrid Dam 4:4 Female

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About the Author

Sean Cresswell

Safari Guide

Sean is one of the humblest rangers you are likely to meet. Quietly going about his day, enriching the lives of the many guests he takes out into the bush, it is only when he posts a Week in Pictures or writes an ...

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8 Comments

on Photographic Journal: The Unusual Suspects

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Lorri
Guest

As always, stunning photography! Thank you!

Anne Hilbert
Guest

I have a photo of the hyena young from a trip to Londolozi in 2015 on my wall in Texas. Love watching them, their unique gait and especially the young at play at the den.

Patricia Meadowcroft
Guest

Thank you for sharing photos and info on the hyena. While in total their structure snd composition seems awkward to me they do have adorable faces. Perhaps not the sinister character I once thought. Still their loud cackling, screeching and barking is distrubing. Certainly not the melancholy roar of the lone lion or the growling sounds of the lioness pack or the trumpeting of an elephant. They all seem to have their own voice and that includes the distinctive call of the hyena.

Diane
Guest

I adore the photos you posted today of the hyena! My friend Marisa and I were there a few short days ago and witnessed one of the hyenas napping . He then awoke and strolled over to the Jeep ,looked as if he wanted to jump in ,then decided against it and walked on as if to say ” too crowded”! He was quite a character and I love your beautiful photos of such an unusual , yet somehow sweet looking creature!

Geri Potter
Guest

I agree; it takes some time, but, Hyena are compelling and ‘sweet’ if one gives them the chance to be observed. While at Londolozi in 2011, we had the, yes, pleasure of observing a den of hyena. While the adults were mostly away, we watched the youngsters and their ‘babysitter’. What a treat…they played, cavorted, explored, and one very curious youngster took it upon itself (one cannot tell with hyena) to investigate what was in t
he hamper. OMW….they are adorable and have gotten a raw deal in media. They are not glamorous, but, they are gosh darn cute amongst themselves. Here’s to the underrated Hyena!

Lea
Guest

Really nice pics and loved the ellie one very much. The hyenas have been overlooked among all the wild critters, but their faces are adorable and to see the younguns having fun and being so inquisitive is precious. Thank you.

Jill Boyle
Guest

Thank you for your wonderful photos and commentary Sean. I recall an especially interesting morning game drive with you when we witnessed 2 hyenas fighting over a hippo skin,watching one of them drink from a pond and the vultures waiting in a tree for the final scraps of that “meal”. I gained a totally new perspective of these curious creatures that morning

Janie Hansen
Guest

Compelling shots! Thanks for giving hyenas a fair shake. The scavengers on our planet serve an important purpose and you did a great job highlighting it. I only saw one hyena during my visit in fall of 2015…. hoping for more when I return this fall.

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