The plan for our last morning’s game drive was to spend time at the local hyena den, and we were on the way there when ranger Andrea Sithole radioed that he had found about ten hyenas just behind the camp, all covered in blood.
We decided to head straight to Andrea’s sighting instead of the den. Ranger John Mohaud radioed in shortly afterwards saying that he had found another hyena feeding on the last remains of a wildebeest not far from the airstrip, and putting the pieces all together, we theorised that the Tsalala lioness had brought down the wildebeest in the early hours of the morning, and then been robbed by the local hyena clan.
However the story had actually unfolded, we ended up with way more hyena viewing than we originally anticipated.
Here are some of the results:
One of the clues we used when working out that the wildebeest had probably been killed by the Tsalala female was the fact that a number of the bloodied hyenas kept looking behind them, often a sign that there is another predator nearby that they are concerned about, lions in particular. The impressively bloodied heads and necks and full bellies were indicative of it being a large animal they had fed off; this was just before the wildebeest carcass was discovered.
These two individuals were pretty big and were making a bee-line straight back towards the local den, which led us to conclude that they were female. Adult females are on average bigger than adult males, and males are not often tolerated around the den.
Overcast conditions allowed us to play around with low shutter speeds and panning shots, which tend to be hit-or-miss. If your settings are dialled in, you still can’t hope for much more than a 1-in-20 success rate,
A journey of male giraffes watched the hyenas pass by, but didn’t seem too concerned. This was the fourth hyena to pass by the giraffe bull in the background, and the giraffe had just lost interest and was drifting back to the flowering Knobthorn trees he had been feeding on.
A sub-adult hyena was the last on the kill. Hyenas tend not to be aggressive towards each other on kills like lions are, and this young one’s full belly told us that it had already had plenty to eat. The wildebeest’s pelvis and part of its spinal column didn’t have much meat left on them, so the young hyena seemed to be using them more for chewing practice than anything else.
It kept glancing up towards where the adults had disappeared, probably concerned that it would have its prize robbed from it.
Another motion blur attempt as the sun snuck behind a cloud. This hyena was still feeding off the pelvis when we passed by the spot that evening, a full 10 hours later!
Knowing that a number of the big females would head back to the den, we looped ahead, and found a solitary female sleeping at the den’s entrance. Shortly after we arrived, her two cubs came out to join her, but despite their pestering she refused to move from her comfortable spot.
Here eyes eventually opened when she heard one of her clan-mates returning.
One of the bloodied females returns. Hyenas have a very strict social hierarchy, with rank being inherited from mothers, and each individual occupying his or her place. All females outrank all males, and each greeting is accompanied by a ritualised smelling of genitals to reinforce rank and confirm identity. As we can see here, even the small cubs get involved.