While sitting watching the Mashaba Female Leopard feeding on a young male impala that was hoisted in a tree, we noticed a hyena sitting at the base of the tree waiting for her to make just one wrong move and drop her meal. This is fairly common to see and sometimes the hyena gets lucky and the whole kill drops, but on this occasion, this hyena’s luck saw it only get the lower limb of the impala, as it dropped when the leopard moved the kill just ever so slightly to feed from a better angle.
The Mashaba female is currently Londolozi’s best-known leopard. Her relaxed nature means she is comfortable around the vehicles.
Taking the opportunity, the hyena quickly grabbed the leg and before we knew it, in just a few bites the leg had disappeared. A few days later a similar situation happened with the Ximungwe Female, but this time I decided to time how quickly the hyena could gobble down the leg, it was an impressive 53 seconds! So this got me thinking, if a hyena can bite through the bone that easily and quickly, how strong could their bite possibly be?
Having been viewed by vehicles from an early age, this leopard is supremely relaxed around Land Rovers.
The bite force of any animal is measured by the amount of pressure exerted per square inch of surface area, so for example the average human’s bite force is 162 pounds per square inch (PSI), essentially, that is the weight of 162 pounds being applied only to a square inch and I don’t know about you, but I most certainly cannot bite straight through bone. But as I saw with the hyenas on both of the above-mentioned occasions as well many other occasions, hyenas are more than capable of doing that. So that would mean that their bite force is significantly stronger than ours, in fact it is almost 7 times stronger, with a PSI of 1100.
I guess the jaw strength is one side of it, although the shape of the hyena’s teeth plays a huge role too. I am pretty sure that even if we were able to produce the bite force of a hyena, our teeth would not be able to handle it and would likely shatter. Hyena’s teeth are dual-purpose and are pyramidal in shape, with an unusually broad base and low profile. The sharp pointed edges allow them to slice through the flesh of a carcass while still having the strength and hardness to crush through bone.
To accommodate large jaw muscles, their attachment is on ridges right on the top of the skull, generating extra crushing power. Which in turn aids to them being such successful scavengers, making use of all the extra parts of a carcass that other animals won’t eat.
Hyenas are not the only animals that we see her at Londolozi that have a powerful bite, Lions have a slightly less powerful bite than the hyena at 650 PSI and the Hippopotamus has an impressive bite of 1800 PSI, although they don’t use this to crush bone it is more for fighting and defence than for anything else. But it is the crocodile that has the strongest bite of them all, a whopping 3700 PSI.