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
Filed under Wildlife
Awesome blog James. Exciting times ahead. It will be interesting to see how the dynamics develop between the eternal enemies.
This is so exciting! I am happy that none of the Sparta or Tsalala lions were hurt or killed, but to see all of those Hyenas is a sight for sure! I can’t wait to hear what happened next. These Matshipiri males seem to be staying…I hope that isn’t bad news for the Tsalala boys. Just wondering, what happened to the female that originally came to Londolozi with them?
What a story… Thank you. Can’t wait for what happened after the Matshapiri male came charging in.
Interesting post James, and well written!
I can’t believe that I’ve missed all this action just 3 days after leaving Londolozi! Wish I was back there to witness that epic event! How exciting but won’t this spell more trouble for the leopards? Hope the Mashaba female and her two cubs stay safe.
lucky hyenas. we never see those big game so called hunters kill any hyenas and post them in their facebook pages like that dentist has done to Cecile and other lions ( leopards ). Is hell lot harder to hunt down a hyena or a clan than one big cat with zero stamina and a big mane .
God is on the side of hyenas or the ego of man .
I am shocked that the hyenas were able to send off the lions given the numbers on each side. The tailless lioness lost her tail and nearly her life to the hyenas. The adolescent males should be able to hold their own against them as their previous battle showed. It is amazing how much the grown males tip the balance of power and how eager they can be to confront a whole clan. The have no fear which makes them so amazing. I can’t wait to hear what happened next. RIP Cecil the lion. The entire world is mourning his death and the cowardly ruthless hunter is in hiding and hopefully will be extradited and justice will be served.
Was extremely fortunate to be there witnessing all this first hand. Love reading your perspective on it James, thanks for the insight. Some crazy lion activity during the 4 days we were there, but I won’t ruin the rest of the story….
A very good and detailed article. I have a lot of interest in these interspecies interactions. Thank you.
Great article! It has been a few years since our visit to Londolozi but the lessons learned and the incredible things we saw created a impression that lives on. It lends context when reading news articles of a dentist who pays $50,000 not to witness the majesty of nature or devoting the funds to its conservation but rather to masquerade as a “hunter” whilst an animal is lured out for him to experience a thrill. How sad. How shallow. How utterly ignorant, misguided and cruel.
thanks James for the wonderful description of wildlife happenings in real. you are lucky person no doubt though, your guests are also lucky to witness such adrenaline pumping scenario and as you rightly mentioned, no words or expressions can relive the action drama that unfolded.
i am visiting Sabisands early next month and hope to see the legendary lions Magiingis, Matimbas, etc sleeping if not fighting.
thanks again for the blog,