Over the past 18 months there has been much speculation around the status of the hyena population at Londolozi. Where had they all gone and what were the influencing factors that caused their demise? It was discussed and contemplated amongst the tracking and ranging team and the conclusion was made that the strong force of the existing male lion coalition had put so much pressure on the hyena population that they had dispersed to the edges of our property and hence became ghosts in the darkness, moving in the dead of night, leaving nothing but their paws prints on the road for us to ponder over in the morning.
This became an alarming reality to us that one of the top predators in this area was beginning to lose its grip on the land. A hyena sighting became a rarity, one that we cherished much more than before. This had an adverse spin on the other predators in the area and the way they began to act. It started subtly and then became more noticeable. Particularly with the leopard population, that would often leave a kill on the ground without feeling pressure to hoist the kill into a tree as there was little threat of losing it to a hungry hyena. It was a strange change in behaviour, one that we were not used to and it became the norm in these parts.
In the past few months we have seen the Majingilane coalition venturing far beyond their reaches, to the extremes of the region and way beyond the outskirts of their territory. They have been pushing for territory in the western sector of the Sabi Sands, following females there as well as being seen with a pride in the west mating and interacting. This excessive pressure being put on the west has seen them spend less quality time at Londolozi and this has allowed the hyena population to make a comeback of sorts. This has been apparent only in the past two months but it has certainly become a topic of conversation and a true testament to the hyena and their ability to withstand adverse conditions and bounce back quickly.
In the past few weeks we have fortunately managed to find a very productive hyena den in the southern regions of the property which boasts about 10-15 hyena of varying ages, from adults to one month old cubs. This has been a true highlight for all of the rangers and visiting guests who have witnessed these little cubs at play. With such a large den, the hyena have now been patrolling vast stretches of Londolozi, hunting for themselves but mostly scavenging from the leopards, who have become used to a low density of hyena in the past year. Each morning we now follow drag marks around the reserve where hyena have stolen from their unsuspecting victims, leaving the leopards hungry and frustrated.
Interestingly enough, we believe that this will have a positive effect on the viewing in the area, whereby leopards will be forced to drag kills up trees more often to avoid them being lost to the hyena, which could lead to much better photographic opportunities and viewing in general. But this is just speculation and not concrete information.
It is just incredible to see how animals in this region can adapt and change their habits so dramatically to suit the current conditions. It may be due to predator competition, adverse or strange weather patterns, or any other slight adjustment in the surrounding conditions that may effect one species. This one effected species will have a ripple effect on those around it forcing them to alter their behaviour and adapt until the next change.
The return of the hyena population has come rapidly and they have arrived in force. It is an exciting time for us here and we have noticed the adjustments being made already. Each species has its place in nature, they each have a role, without each spoke the wheel cannot turn correctly and there can’t be any forward momentum. Mother Nature has her ways of correcting what is wrong, changing the balance and then readjusting. Nature has its ebb and flow, a natural cycle that that will always rectify itself, and in doing this the system will be stronger.
Written and Photographed by: Mike Sutherand