There is a remarkable idea out here called co-operative hunting. The idea is to bring together a group of animals to see if they can become something more; to see if they can work together to take down prey so much larger than themselves and in turn fend off danger with better effect.
Co-operative (or pack) hunters are some of the most successful hunters on the planet. And hunting in groups has endless benefits. It usually only happens in environments where food is relatively scarce and it’s near impossible to catch enough food by yourself. Considering this, it allows for prey much larger than the predators to be targeted. With this, the quarry from a successful hunt can be defended from other predators and scavengers and usually, every participating member in a successful hunt gets a guaranteed meal.
The key six elements
Co-operative hunting is almost exclusively seen in social species and there are 6 key elements needed when hunting as a group.
- The group will often hunt together
- Members of the group target the same prey
- Division of labour (meaning that different hunters have different roles)
- The use of signals to coordinate
- Reaction to each other’s movements
- Any prey caught is shared among the pack members
Co-operative hunters at Londolozi
We cannot delve into the topic of co-operative hunting without mentioning the apex predators of the African bush. These ferocious felines dominate the savanna and they’re the largest cats that hunt co-operatively. Cheetahs also hunt co-operatively, but they’re much less coordinated.
During the hunt, there are two major roles: the wings and the centres. The wings flank the prey from left to right, keeping them running in the right direction, all while slowly boxing the prey in. The centres chase the prey from behind, intercepting them between the wings. In a pride of seven female lions, the outer wings would’ve overtaken the prey by the end of the hunt, leaving them surrounded by all sides.
Much of their prey is either too fast for a lion to catch in a straight-up sprint – in the case of impala or zebra – or too bulky – in the case of wildebeest – for a single lion to successfully kill and so the pride hunts together.
Africa is home to the majority of co-operative hunters and one of the most effective is the African wild dog. These cooperative hunters roam the African wilderness in groups of up to 20. Using these numbers to their advantage, they can take down prey up to Ten times their size.
If the targets stand their ground, it makes it more difficult for the wild dog’s strategy to work and they will likely move on after about 5 minutes in search of some other prey. These pack hunters can chase their prey at a speed of between 60km/h and 70km/h for as far as 5km.
The dogs have several lines of pursuit, so if the prey veers off course in an attempt to outmanoeuvre their pursuers there’s always a dog ready to intercept.
Community nest spiders
Of all the creatures that you would expect to hunt co-operatively, spiders are probably at the very bottom of the list. There are, however, several species of social spiders, and at Londolozi, we see the community nest spiders.
Community nest spiders are the only truly social spiders in South Africa. They live in communities, co-operating in prey capture and brood care. The nest – consisting of strong, hard, cardboard-like silk – starts off small but is enlarged as the colony grows. The several thousand spiders work together to build and repair their webs. But they also work together to catch, subdue, and eat prey.
Co-operative hunting is seen in every facet of the environment, from the Lowveld to the oceans, to the skies. By hunting co-operatively, these animals can utilise complex traps and strategies that are more efficient than solo hunting tactics. Hence its evolution and success over time.