It is well-established that leopards will hoist their kills into trees to get them out of reach of hyenas and lions. Many times we have watched the Leopards of Londolozi hoist carcasses far heavier than their own bodyweight up vertical trunks in incredible displays of strength, and should they manage to do so before a rival predator comes on the scene, they will likely be able to feed in relative peace for a day or two.

Should they not hoist in good time, however, they are likely to have a marauding hyena rid them of their hard-earned meal. Just how many kills the leopards here lose to hyenas in particular we can’t say, but I imagine it is far more than we would think, as evidenced by a recent sighting of the Nkoveni female leopard.

5
Nkoveni 2:2 Female
2012 - present

A young female that lives to the east and south of camp. Easily recognised by her 2:2 spot pattern she is often to be found in Marula trees.

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Nkoveni 2:2 Female

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 One of her cubs had been found in a marula tree in a fairly open clearing to the east of camp, clearly waiting for its mother to return to it. Liam Henderson and I were in a Land Rover nearby, watching the cub through our binoculars, when an unholy din broke out a few hundred metres further east of us. It was the sound of many impalas giving their alarm snorts all in unison, so we jammed the vehicle into gear and raced towards where the commotion was coming from.

Now, we find many predators at Londolozi thanks to the various prey species that give off alarm calls, but with impala in particular, different levels of their snorting can actually go a long way towards telling you what has happened with the predator in question. The snorting from all the individual impalas is fairly consistent when they have seen a leopard, but the calling rises up to a different level entirely when a leopard has had a crack at catching one of them, and they are far more distressed. If the leopard has managed to catch an impala out of the herd, their snorting reaches an unmistakeable frantic level. This absolute bedlam of snorting was what we were hearing as we drove away from the cub, and cresting a low rise we could see ahead of us a herd of maybe 50 impala, going absolutely ballistic in their alarm calling, all staring fixedly at a thicket line near them.

Antelope that have sighted a predator are the equivalent of pointer dogs, and tell you exactly where you should be looking, so it was towards this thicket line that we drove. When we were still a good 100m away, a cloud of dust emerged from behind a large Raisin bush thicket, and out of the dust slid the sleek form of a leopard, dragging a still-kicking impala ram between its legs.

This was the first view we had of the leopard dragging the young male impala by the throat.

As the leopard paused in her dragging, we could identify her as the Nkoveni female. The impala was still very much alive at this point.

Wild with excitement, and with the impala still snorting up a storm, we radioed what we were seeing to the other vehicles in the area while the leopard maintained her death grip on the impala’s throat. Realising that she was dragging her kill (a poorly chosen word, as you will soon see), straight towards a nearby Jackalberry tree that would offer better cover among its foliage than the bare marulas, we repositioned the Land Rover for a slightly better view. As we switched off again, we were horrified to see the leopard suddenly drop the impala and rush off into the thicket line. Had we disturbed her? Had we gotten too close? It seemed incredibly unlikely, but all was suddenly clear as behind us we suddenly spied a hyena running down the hill towards the scene.

Obviously the hyena, just as we did, must have heard the noise of the impalas calling, and also realised what it signified. Knowing their was a potential free meal up for grabs, it had come loping in, and was now looking this way and that for the kill that it was sure must be nearby.

The lone hyena comes racing in to try and seize whatever the leopard had killed.

The impala herd flees to a safe distance while the hyena rushes to where it could see the downed ram.

Helplessly, the Nkoveni female could only watch the inevitable happen. An unexpected twist in the story occurred when the young impala that that the she had been dragging suddenly stood up on wobbly legs! The leopard hadn’t had time to asphyxiate it properly, and now dazed and confused it was attempting to make its way back to its herd. Unfortunately, this made it far more visible to the hyena, which promptly raced in and seized it by the hindquarters.

The hyena attempts to upend the impala by grabbing it around the leg, while at the same time looking towards where the Nkoveni female was lying to ascertain what sort of threat she posed.

The hyena struggles to readjust its grip while the impala bucks around wildly. The blood around the bite mark where the leopard had seized it is clearly visible on the impala’s throat.

The impala makes one last vain attempt to kick itself free…

…but eventually succumbs in a cloud of dust.

The impala’s struggles were relatively brief. In its weakened state the hyena was able to subdue it quite quickly, despite it making a valiant effort to break free.

The hyena’s sense of hearing must have been phenomenal for it to have been able to detect the impalas alarm calling from far away (we assume it was far away based on the time that elapsed between the first alarm calls and the arrival of the hyena). How many kills has the Nkoveni female – and indeed any other leopard – lost to hyenas before she could hoist her kill to safety? It’s impossible to say for sure, but I imagine a fair number.

We were once sitting with a hyena that suddenly pricked up its ears and went dashing off for over two kilometres to where a leopard had had a crack at some impala, but had missed. We hadn’t heard a thing, but the hyena had heard the alarm calls and had been able to cover the ground at over 40km an hour to get there as fast as possible, to give itself the best chance of securing a meal.

Love them or hate them, hyenas need to be recognised as the super predators they are, with senses and physical abilities that far too often go unappreciated!

I doubt the Nkoveni female would appreciate the warm sentiment in this instance!

Filed under Wildlife

Involved Leopards

Nkoveni 2:2 Female

Nkoveni 2:2 Female

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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 How Well do Hyenas Hear?

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Darlene Knott

Wow, fascinating reading! Hyenas really are underrated. We find them incredibly capable. Thanks for sharing, James.

James Tyrrell

You’re welcome Darlene.
Hyenas are amazing animals, and one of my favourites!

Marinda Drake

Incredible pics of the Impala taken by the hyena after dragged around by the leopard. As hyenas are actually related to cats I am not surprised that they have got very good hearing. My domestic cats know when I touch the can of food or the can opener or just open the cupboard door.

Callum Evans

Never underestimate a hyena!

A B

Interesting read. Pardon my ignorance, but is the hyena stronger than the Leopard? I’m curious to know why she didn’t fight the hyena for the prey ?

James Tyrrell

Hi AB.

Excellent question. In my estimation, an adult leopard and adult hyena of the same size are probably similarly matched in the strength department, but it is where their respective strengths are, and the lifestyle of the two animals that the difference lies.
Hyenas have incredibly powerful jaws, able to crush through large bones, and are able to inflict tremendous bites as a result. A leopard, being a solitary animal, can’t afford to get injured, as without anyone else hunting for it any seriously debilitating injury may well be fatal in the long term. This particular leopard is smaller than the hyena by a good 25kg I reckon, and a direct confrontation could have resulted in a serious injury. Far better for the leopard to give up its meal and try for another one later than take on the hyena and likely get hurt.
Does that help?
Best regards,
James

A B

Thanks, yes.

Denise Vouri

Hyenas – truly predators of the prey mist often killed by others. Spent over an hour with a hyena who was tagging along with a small wild dog pack in the hopes of sharing or taking their kill, if they were lucky. They weren’t! The young impala got away!!

Wendy Hawkins

Wow that was quite something! Thank you James & your pictures show it all – amazing! Yes don’t underestimate the “ugly” Hyena, they are very cunning 🙂

Eulalia Angédu

I always look forward to your texts and pictures.Skillfully taken pics and a very excellent text James.Good work.Keep them coming.

Mj Bradley

Wonderful blog. I enjoy the blogs that illicit a lot of questions and in return we get your views on the animals and their behavior. I love Hyenas and think they are underappreciated.. But the spotted beauties are the ones that hold my heart. Thank You James!

James Tyrrell

Hi MJ,

Thanks for the comments!

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