Yesterday you may have read Guy Brunskill’s account of our crazy morning game drive. Below is the remainder of that story…
In the frenzy, the wild dogs ran off and we sat and watched as two of the hyenas finished the scraps. While the female tried to find any last bit of food, the male seemed to have something else on his mind. I noticed his behaviour was slightly odd but in all the excitement of the morning, I was too distracted to ponder it further. We turned the vehicle around to get a better view of the Mashaba female leopard in the Marula tree, and just then the Flat Rock male chose to make a guest appearance. We spent some time with him as he moved back and forth in the thickets before he looped around and began approaching the Mashaba female. She had a wound on her side from an altercation – probably with another leopard and possibly even with the Flat Rock male – and so she was on edge. As she saw him approaching she shot down the tree and ran off.
The Mashaba female is currently Londolozi’s best known leopard. Her relaxed nature means she is comfortable around the camps and vehicles.
A leopard who took advantage of the death of the 4:4 male in 2016 to grab territory to the west of the Londolozi camps.
We stayed with the Flat Rock male, who was trailing behind the three hyenas. In the process he was so fixated on the hyenas that he walked within two meters of an impala lamb, frozen in panic, without spotting it. The hyenas had now moved out into an open clearing and the reasons for their seemingly strange behaviour became apparent. The male was displaying courtship behaviour. From going years without anyone seeing this behaviour here to it now being witnessed twice in quick succession is rather strange. Watch James Tyrrell’s amazing footage of this from a few days ago. As they say, when it rains it pours.
With female hyenas being larger and more dominant than males, the courting males are unusually timid. Following the females and constantly smelling her urine allows the male to ascertain when she is approaching oestrus. Depending on her receptivity to him, it can take anything from a week up to over a month before he even attempts to mount. We were lucky enough to witness the final stage of the courtship. The male is hesitant to mount as often the female responds aggressively. He approached the female quickly and pawed the ground behind her. This time the female was receptive and so the male rushed in and mounted her.
Mating in spotted hyenas is extremely unique due to many bizarre adaptations to the female’s genitalia. As a result of such high competition within the species, females have evolved to have much higher testosterone levels. These high levels lead to them not only being larger than males but has also brought about the obscurities in their genitalia too. For many years humans believed that hyenas were hermaphrodites. This is not the case, however females do have an appendage that resembles a male’s penis, and to the untrained eye would cause anyone to believe that they are all males.
The female’s pseudo-penis is in fact an enlarged penis-like clitoris, and is formed because of exposure to high androgen levels while in the womb. Difficulty now arises as the pseudo-penis contains the vagina and urethral duct. It therefore makes copulation incredibly difficult. Only at the age of sexual maturity, roughly around three years old, does the opening split from the original 2-3mm to about 15mm. Secondly, the birthing canal is now a lot longer than in other species, which causes complications such as the umbilical cord getting detached before the cubs are fully passed through the canal.
With no distinct breeding season, the females only come into oestrus for very short periods every 1-1.5 years and are normally either carrying or caring for young in between.
As we watched the hyenas, we would check on the Flat Rock male lying off to the side who was inquisitively watching the antics as well. After a while, he got up and began to approach the pair, who subsequently chased him up a Marula tree. We couldn’t quite believe that our sighting had now materialised into us watching a leopard in a tree twice, as well as watching a pair of hyenas mating in a clearing.
It had been the most incredible morning, with animals seemingly pouring in from every direction, only to be topped off with the most unique and quite frankly bizarre sighting of the lot. It serves as a reminder of how you just never know what a Londolozi safari has in store for you.