Words are often written about the speed, power and athleticism of certain animals. Cheetahs accelerating to over 100km/h, impala leaping gracefully over obstacles, and leopards hauling more than their bodyweight into the boughs of trees. Not a lot is said about hyenas, however. The focus is generally placed on their behavior and lifestyle, rather than their physical prowess.
Outmatched in some regards by the big cats, hyenas are physically remarkable creatures in their own right. Their top speed is in the range of 60km/h, and they can maintain slightly lower speeds for distances of up to 5km, using their remarkable stamina to run their prey to exhaustion on the occasions when they are called upon to hunt. Strong and tough is an apt description for hyenas.
The not-oft-recorded jumping ability of these animals was something I had the great pleasure of witnessing a few days ago when a lone individual struggled in vain to grab the remains of an impala kill from the boughs of a Sjambok Pod Tree. The kill – an adult impala ram – had been made by the Mashaba female but subsequently robbed by the Marthly Male (who we believe to be the father of her cub). Once he had eaten his fill and very little meat remained on the carcass, he left it to snooze away the remains of the afternoon.
The single hyena that had been lurking in the background for just such an opportunity came snuffling in to see what scraps might be lying around. He found one or two bits of sinewy meat, but the real treasure trove lay above him, swinging from the tree’s main fork in the form of the almost intact spinal column of the impala.
Hilarity ensued amongst the vehicles that happened to be there as the hyena jumped and jumped, occasionally managing to break off a vertebra, but for the most part failing dismally, as his attempts to grab an easy meal were thwarted by the toughness of the skin from which the impala spine was suspended.
He eventually settled for the few bits of meat he had managed to scrounge and slunk off into the dusk, hoping to find easier pickings elsewhere.
Written and Photographed by James Tyrrell