An active spotted hyena den can give one a fascinating insight into the lives of these often misunderstood carnivores. Observing the interactions of the adults with the cubs and the antics of the cubs themselves can provide endless hours of viewing pleasure while out in the bush.
It was therefore with great excitement that we learned that ranger Melvin Sambo and tracker Milton Khoza had followed a female hyena early one morning, and she had led them back to a previously unknown den, in the south western sector of Londolozi Game Reserve. This ranger/tracker team had not been able to get a great view of the cubs on that first morning, as the little ones had been shy, so we decided to try ourselves the following week. It was only the second time the den had been visited, and we were rewarded with a fantastic sighting of the female suckling her three cubs in the early morning light.
Photographic opportunities were slightly marred by the thick grass growing on the edge of the termite mound that formed the den, but it was thrilling to spend time with the still relatively young cubs. Hyena young are referred to as cubs and not pups as they are more closely related to cats than dogs. They only begin to follow their mother on hunting and scavenging forays at about one year of age, so we should hopefully have some fantastic viewing of this new den site for a number of months, unless the mother decides to move den sites, which she may do to avoid parasite build-up.
Come what may, the hour or so we spent with the youngest hyena cubs I have yet seen in the bush was a wonderful highlight of the year so far.
And so we come to the real question.
Hyena cubs; cute or ugly?… Let me know in the comments section below, I would love to hear your thoughts, and if you need any further encouragement take a look at this video from the archives of the blog film which shows a previously active hyena den.
Written and Photographed by: James Tyrrell
Filmed by: Rich Laburn