Hyenas have never really been portrayed in the best light and as a result, have suffered the wrath of a negative and ill-informed perception of the global audience. However, this is not the case.
“One of the easiest ways to change someone’s perception of hyenas is to sit at a den site and watch the interactions between the mothers and cubs. Preconceptions fly out the window as the little ones chase each other, annoy their mothers, sub-adults scurry past with bones in their mouths, and the antics of the clan amuse all and sundry.” – James Tyrrell
We are fortunate to have a few hyena den sites currently active scattered around our reserve. The most commonly viewed den site, just south of our airstrip and very central, is active again and has been providing us with some unreal sightings. This particular den has been used on and off since about 2016. There seem to be about 11 or so young hyena cubs that, if the mothers are onsite, always have everyone present in hysterics with their antics.
Of recent, these sitings have occurred usually early morning and late afternoon when the mothers return to the communal den before sunrise after an active evening out scavenging or just before they head out for the evening. It can be a hit-and-miss because if the mothers are not around the cubs will usually remain well hidden within the den… but it is always worth a visit if we find ourselves in the area!
First two years of a Hyena’s life
Hyena cubs are some of the cutest and most playful mammals in the entire animal kingdom, possessing an array of characters. Large brown eyes, dark fluffy bodies, oversized feet, a lack of balance and coordination (for the younger ones), and inquisitive yet mischievous behavior will put everyone in awe. Let’s not forget the siblings and other hyena cubs that spur each other on.
Young hyenas spend more than the first year of their lives based at an established den. Normally from the age of about 18 months, they then venture out to search for food along with other members of the clan.
While still confined to the den, they rely on the deep dark excavations into termite mounds as a safety net to scurry into should danger show up. Born black they blend into the darkness within. Hyena cubs are born in a more advanced stage of development with their eyes open, teeth intact, and fairly coordinated. They begin to change to their lighter spotty coloration from about two to three months. They normally remain within the den until their mother returns. She will call them out and it is with the presence of an adult around that the cubs feel confident to come out and play, after a quick feed, love, and groom from their mother.
Play amongst youngsters is vital for development and growth which proves necessary for mastering hunting and fighting skills for later life. Hierarchy and rank are achieved from a young age.
As powerful as their jaws may be, a mother hyena can be so gentle when carefully moving a young cub.
With a bite pressure of around 1000lbs per square inch, hyenas make easy meals of bones left over from a carcass. They perform a vital role in disposing of rotting meat and bones and the associated possibility of diseases.
I love hyenas and the antics at a den so here are a few more images of a few recent sightings.