They lurk around the bush like gangsters, always looking for an easy score and because they’re so good at scavenging they have earned their reputation as one of Africa’s least loved animals.
But if you look a little deeper at the way hyenas operate you’ll begin to get an appreciation of just how amazing these animals really are. They are persistent, immensely powerful and above all they are one of the most intelligent animals found in the bush. Nature has equipped them with all the senses they need to not only survive in some of the harshest conditions, but thrive too. They are just like mafiosi.
Last year on our Ultimate Big 5 Safari we had several encounters with these very smelly creatures. The first of them was at dusk one evening while we were following a male cheetah around. They very surreptitiously slipped into view in a small group after we had witnessed the cheetah giving chase to a small duiker. Somehow they knew that there was a cheetah there and there was a good chance that he would be hunting. It would be easy for them to liberate him of his meal had he been successful in his hunt (which he wasn’t). The next time we came across a hyena was when we were watching (and I was filming) the leopards in a tree who lost their kill to a hyena when the younger leopard caused it to fall out of the tree. We actually had no idea that the hyena was there until we saw it dash off with the impala. If you haven’t watched this video please have a look. It’s one of the most amazing things I have ever filmed and I am not even a video guy. It’s a bit long at 5 minutes, but is totally worth the wait.
Here’s a couple of shots of the hyena devouring the impala. I was amazed at just how quickly it wolfed that not insignificant antelope down. I have used different processing on the first of the images, something our safari regular and Adobe genius Ann Shelbourne showed me while we were enjoying some down-time between drives.
The following hyena encounter was one that I really enjoyed. The next day we didn’t have much to show for the evening drive, so we headed back to camp for an early dinner. While we were having dinner our rangers got word that a group of hyenas had stolen a kudu kill from another leopard and were not far from Little Bush Camp. We all jumped back into the Land rovers and headed out to find them.
You could smell them before you could see them! This pack had a stench not dissimilar to what you’ll encounter at a human sewerage farm. It was almost over-powering, to the point where Pepe was practically turning green, as were a few of our other guests. We stayed on the sighting for a while though and were rewarded with some nice hyena nighttime images using the trackers spotlights.
After the smell became a bit too much to bear we all called it a night and headed back to camp, some of us with a little better appreciation of these often misunderstood animals. They are the mafioso of the bush, that’s for sure.