Sometime during early morning coffee, before the sun had risen in the east, the Tsalala lioness killed an adult wildebeest bull only two hundred metres from the Londolozi Camps.
No one saw it, no one heard it.
The kill took place in the thickets barely 40 metres from the road, but the dense vegetation of summer meant that neither lion nor carcass was visible to the rangers, trackers or guests departing for morning game drive.
At least one hyena did come across the kill however, but whether by scent or sound we will never know. Realising it wouldn’t be able to chase the lioness off by itself, it started calling, and the local clan started rolling in in numbers.
It was the eerie whooping that alerted rangers to the commotion as well. Ranger Chris Taylor was close to camp and heard it, and our vehicle was about 800 metres up the hill watching some giraffe and we heard it clearly too.
Between us we were able to triangulate the rough position and drove there quickly, with ranger Melvin Sambo speeding in as a third.
This was what we saw:
The lioness and her cub were on the kill and feeding, and a couple of hyenas were snooping around, clearly intent on mischief. There were not yet enough of them to be a real problem for the lions, but their numbers were growing as more and more arrived, responding to the calls of the first few.
I’ve read before that Derek Joubert estimated that the scales in a hyena versus lion conflict get tipped largely on biomass; i.e. the weight of hyenas involved must outweigh the lions they are facing off against. It’s obviously not an exact measurement, and I think it may have been something along the lines of the hyenas weight needing to double the lions’, but I might be mistaken. Given that a hyena probably weighs half a lioness, and two hyenas aren’t nearly enough to chase one adult lion away, I imagine it is probably something like the hyenas need to be double that of the lions in biomass (can someone help me out here?).
Either way, there need to be significantly more hyenas than lions to appropriate a kill from them (big male lions add a whole new dynamic to the equation), and it wasn’t long before the scales were seriously tipped in the hyenas’ favour. The cub broke first, fleeing into the thickets, and although the lioness did her valiant best to defend the wildebeest carcass, it wasn’t long before she too broke:
The hyenas devoured what they could whilst they could, but it wasn’t long before the lioness came rushing back in, and the hyenas scattered. Although they still held the upper hand numerically, I imagine they were nervous of more lions coming charging in rather than just the one female that was there. They rallied though, and once more the lioness was driven off, before she came in again to scatter the hyenas a second time, and her cub emerged safe and sound to join her.
As the heat rose everything settled down and the lions stayed on the carcass for the day, but as evening approached and the day cooled, the hyena whooping started up once more, and again the clan moved in to chase the lioness off. By this time though, there was hardly anything left to squabble over, and after picking off the few remaining choice bits, all the hyenas melted away, leaving the lioness and her cub to gnaw at the last bits of meat on the wildebeest’s spinal column.
Ultimately, both lions and hyenas had eaten their fill of the carcass, so in a rarity in the African wilds, it was a win-win…