The hyenas are back with a vengeance!
With the departure of the Majingilane from central and eastern Londolozi, it seems that new coalitions aren’t the only thing that the resident prides have to worry about now.
A blog post from two-and-a-half years ago examined the drop in hyena numbers to the south of the Sand River on Londolozi. We attributed their decline to the all-powerful presence of the Majingilane, and the impact that these male lions had on the hyena population had a knock-on effect on other predators as well, most notably the leopards, who in the absence of their main competitor were found to be hoisting kills less and less.
Since last year, however, with the Majingilane establishing themselves in the western sector of the Sabi Sands, the way has been opened for the hyena numbers to rise again. Whereas between late 2011 and late 2013 the only regularly active hyena dens were to be found on the far corners of the property, right on the fringes of Majingilane territory, the last twelve months have seen the presence of the clans growing once more on central Londolozi, and new densites popping up closer and closer to the Sand River and the Londolozi Camps.
The clan that currently rules over the core of our property between the Sand River and Tugwaan drainage systems have established themselves firmly in three dens between the Maxabene riverbed and the Londolozi airstrip. Growing numbers of young ones in the clan and a limited amount of space in their underground burrows means a number of individual sites have been chosen within a couple of hundred metres of each other.
It was into this hotbed of hyena activity that the Tsalala pride were foolish enough to venture two days ago.
Rough estimates of clan activity south of the Sand River on Londolozi. The purple area, most likely occupied by a different clan than the one featured in this post but not necessarily, has densites at the purple dots, which they move between depending on number of youngsters and parasite buildup in the den. We used to have to travel right down south to view hyena dens. After the Majingilane moved out, a den appeared at the blue dot, and the current densites are the red dots. The black dot indicates the position of the Sparta pride kill discussed later in this post.
On a still winter’s morning sounds travel very well, and while the darkness was only just beginning to recede the cackles and shrieks of hyenas and the snarls and growls of a pride of lions carried clearly down to where rangers and trackers were waiting to take their guests on morning safari. Tom Imrie and Jerry Hambana were first on the scene, and found six members of the Tsalala pride moving quickly away from where about 10 adult hyenas were milling around. High in the fork of a marula tree was the last member of the pride, the young four-year-old lioness, looking despairingly about her as the clan circled ominously.
The hyenas lost interest in the treed lioness and pursued the pride once more, harassing them until the lions were far enough from the den system for the clan to calm down. From the look of the lions – empty bellies and no blood on their faces – we don’t think there was a kill involved, it was just that they had strayed too close to where the clan’s young were being kept, making the hyenas that much more aggressive as they strove to protect their dens. One or two of the lions had some cuts on them and some blood was evident, but for the most part they escaped unscathed.
It was later that day that the hyenas would once more make a bold statement about their return.
On the way back from morning game drive, ranger Gregory Pingo and tracker Bennet Mathonsi came upon two Sparta lionesses that had brought down an adult wildebeest only minutes before. The kill was less than 1500m from where the Tsalala pride had been chased by the hyenas at dawn, but luckily it was late in the morning when the Sparta females made it, so the hyenas had settled down to sleep out the hot hours. The lionesses fed through the day while vultures arrived in growing numbers.
That evening the same clan that chased the Tsalala lions succeeded in routing the Sparta females, and about 15 of them were milling around whooping while the lionesses disappeared into the night. The tables turned on the hyenas shortly afterwards however, when one of the Matshipiri males, summoned by the cries of the hyenas, came charging in, scattering the clan left and right before settling down to feed. What happened after that will be revealed in another post to be released soon…
Needless to say, the hyenas are back with a vengeance.
With any luck, sightings like the following video, which many followers of the Londolozi blog may have seen before, may become more common on central Londolozi:
With the lions of Londolozi are still working things out, the way seems clear for the hyena clans to grow, and the pressure on the lions will now be increasing from this quarter. We are firmly in the grip of one of the drier winters in recent years, and some of the herbivores are weaker than normal owing to poorer grazing conditions, creating opportunities for hyenas to pick off the old and the weak where they would usually be content with simply scavenging. We recently came upon a large hyena dragging an impala carcass back to one of the densites and presumed it had robbed the kill from a female cheetah that had been in the area. While we followed the hyena in the vehicle, Andrea Sithole backtracked the drag-mark to see what had happened, and to his surprise discovered that the hyena had killed the impala itself, ambushing it in a drainage line while it had been drinking from a small pool! Although hyenas are opportunistic, as seen in a recent post, it is seldom that they will attack adult animals themselves. This bold approach in a time of plenty for the carnivores will only further the clans’ strength, providing more food for growing young ones and keeping the adults strong.
While the lions may have their hands full in the coming months, operating in smaller groups due to the splitting of prides and therefore being far more susceptible to kleptoparasitism by hyenas, the leopards are also going to be on the receiving end. Kills will need to be hoisted before sunset, cubs will need to be hidden in more secure dens, and life in general looks like becoming a lot tougher.
We await events…
Written and Photographed by James Tyrrell, Londolozi Ranger