Predators carry with them a sense of allure and wonder. Most likely due to their elusive nature, their innate sense of stealth brings with it a feeling of mystery. The special adaptations that each carnivore has in order to successfully catch and bring down its prey always leaves me impressed to witness. However, one of the most interesting aspects of predator behaviour, in my opinion, is the inter-predator conflict we are lucky enough to experience in such a predator-rich environment here at Londolozi.
All predators are looking for the most efficient way to expend as little energy as possible to gain the most in return. This means that very often carnivores will look to steal a well-earned meal from another animal that they are able to overpower. If we had to look at an official predator hierarchy it would look something like this:
- Spotted hyena
- African wild dog
This official ranking, however, does not always hold true as each species bar leopard and cheetah will frequently be found in groups of more than one which, with the reliance on strength in numbers, can overthrow a higher-ranked species.
Personally, my favourite interaction is between hyenas and wild dogs. On paper, if you compared the size of a hyena versus a wild dog the hyena wins every time but this doesn’t include the wily nature of the wild dog. Their nimble build combined with the strength of the pack allows them to quickly nip at the ankles and rear of a hyena before darting out of range of the powerful bite a hyena could deliver before another dog is following suit. The back and forth nature of these interactions is only amplified when there is a kill involved which leads to myriad different noises coming from both species. This is precisely what happened on one of the most drama-filled mornings I’ve ever witnessed.
Ranger Jess Shillaw and I had both decided that morning that we were going to take our respective guests down to the southwestern part of our reserve to look for a pack of wild dogs that had frequented the area. Looking for wild dogs can be difficult as their ability to cover large distances in next to no time is rivalled by none, so we were working together to cover as much ground as possible looking for any signs of them. Tracker Tshepo Dzemba and I had stopped to look at what we had hoped were wild dog tracks in the road when all of a sudden we heard the high pitched squeal of a hyena.
We jumped back on the vehicle in haste and off we set to try and find the hyena. Our initial thinking was that the hyena was getting harassed by the pack of wild dogs but as we arrived on the scene we realized it was a very different situation.
Large handsome male found in the deep southwestern parts of the reserve.
Walking towards us was a hyena carrying the remains of an impala with the White Dam 2:2 Male hot on its heels. The leopard was most likely the predator that caught the impala but had been robbed of his kill, however, he was still marching down the hyena to try and find an opportunity to possibly grab it back and quickly hoist it to the safety of a nearby tree. Luckily for us, the hyena dragged the impala right into the middle of the road where the rest of the sighting can be seen in the video below.
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The fact that there were at least two hyenas when the wild dog arrived meant that as one hyena was eating the other would guard against the advancing canids. The incessant whining and whooping calls of the hyena made sure that more and more reinforcements arrived on the scene to leave both the wild dogs and the treed leopard coming up short on having any further part to play in finishing the impala. On this occasion, the predator hierarchy did hold true but each scenario in the bush will always play out differently and there are certainly times where the underdog does come out on top.