Tag Archives: Spotted hyena

Satara Summer 2021 – Fascinated with Spotted Hyenas

Spotted Hyenas are probably the most numerous large predator in the Kruger National Park, with a population estimated at around 7,000. While many people still hold on to incorrect beliefs that the Spotted Hyena is a cowardly scavenger, amongst other insults, we know better and are always excited when we get a chance to spend time with these fascinating carnivores.

For the entire duration of our December 2021 visit to the Satara area of the Kruger National Park a large pack of Hyenas maintained a den site about 3km to the north of the camp, along the H1-4 road. We regularly encountered these Hyenas, of all sexes and ages, while setting out or returning to camp and seldom left them without more photographs to add to the album.

This little family was a different story however. Along the Ngotso stream one very hot day early into our visit we came across a Spotted Hyena female with the two most lovable cubs imaginable. Though we looked for them in the same vicinity on several occasions later on we weren’t lucky to see them again.

Just south of Tshokwane, where the main road to Lower Sabie turns off, as we were heading home on the 2nd of January, we noticed a big female Hyena standing next to a culvert. In Kruger Spotted Hyenas make good use of these man-made tunnels as dens. Sure enough, as we brought our vehicle to a halt first one, then a second and then a third little head popped out from underneath the road to inspect the strange creature humming on top of their home.

So often when we encounter Spotted Hyenas they are on the move with a single-minded sense of purpose. This very big individual came running from the front at great speed along the road to Tshokwane one morning, only to disappear into the bush before we could even turn the car around.

While they’re not always doing it on the trot, it happens very often that we find a Hyena, like this one near Balule, striding along the road to pass us as if it didn’t even notice us.

Spotted Hyenas are great opportunists. We found this one hanging around a herd of impalas that included lots of newborn lambs along the S126 Sweni Road.

At the Vutomi Dam, west of Tshokwane, we saw two Spotted Hyenas enjoying a refreshing dip in a muddy pool on a hot day before they headed off into the veld.

One morning, near the turnoff to Olifants Rest Camp, we found a very nervous Spotted Hyena with the tip of its nose hanging by a thread.

Soon after we found four more Hyenas, which were very excited, patrolling up and down the road as if they were looking for something. Perhaps they were looking for the Hyena with the hurt nose. They ran along the road and then stopped at some invisible scent marks, growling and grunting loudly and scent marking in the same spot before running off to the next one. This was fascinating behaviour we have never observed before, and whoever they were looking for would have done well to stay out of this posse’s way!

When we passed the same way several hours later the matriarch of the group was still patrolling up and down the same stretch of road. How is that for dogged perseverance!?



Satara Summer 2021 – African Wild Dogs

We were still very fresh into our latest visit to the Satara area of the Kruger National Park when, on the 14th December, we came across a pack of seven African Wild Dogs, or Painted Wolves, near the Nsemani Dam on the H7 road leading to Orpen. To find such rare animals so early into our Kruger visit really was a good omen of things to come, and we were very excited even with the dogs resting so sedately in the heat of the late afternoon.

In the early morning of the 30th December we had just finished breakfast at the Muzandzeni Picnic Spot when the attendant alerted us to a pack of Wild Dogs rapidly approaching. We were just in time to see 10 of them run past the picnic spot and into the marshy area covered by long grass next to it. They paused a while on a little rise and then continued running, clearly seriously on the hunt. We decided to try and find them again on one of the roads leading from Muzandzeni.

As we left Muzandzeni we found three Spotted Hyenas following behind the Wild Dogs, no doubt hoping to score an easy meal.

First we tried turning south on the S36, but quickly realised that it leads away from the direction we last saw the dogs heading into, so we turned around. The S126 Sweni River Road might be the better option. Just as we started thinking following the S126 might be a lost cause too, we saw a hyena loping along. And then, just around the next corner, two dogs in the road – we found them again! Pretty soon all ten dogs were running in the road ahead of us, with the hyenas following some distance behind and just visible in the rear view mirrors every now and then. We followed the dogs for almost 10 kilometers, over the course of an hour-and-a-half, while they hunted. Every now and then they’d pause, take a scent trail leading into the long grass to disappear from view, only to return to the road a minute or two later. The dogs, with us in tow, decided against taking on a big warthog boar and then actually passed an impala ram standing in the long grass, not any the wiser how close he was to death. Just short of the Welverdiend waterhole however the dogs must have picked up a very promising lead as they left the road a final time, ears pulled back and bodies kept low to the ground. We waited around for several minutes, then searched up and down the road for a few kilometers either side of where we last saw them, but they didn’t re-appear. This probably means that they were successful at their kill.

Our plan for the morning of 31st December was a slow drive to a picnic breakfast at N’wanetsi. Our meal plans were slightly delayed however when we found another pack of Wild Dogs – nine animals – not 200m from the picnic spot! The dogs had a fresh kill and most were still feeding deep in a bush and not very clear to the eye. We stayed a few minutes and then moved to the picnic spot for a much needed comfort break and a quick bite to eat. When we returned to the dogs the whole pack had moved into the open and treated us to wonderful views.

The African Wild Dog is endangered, not only in South Africa but across the whole continent, where its range has been drastically diminished. South Africa is home to approximately 500 of these beautiful animals, about half of which live in Kruger National Park and adjacent reserves. For us to have seen three different packs during our 3 week visit to the Park was extremely lucky! The Endangered Wildlife Trust is again calling on citizen scientists to submit photos of Wild Dogs (and Cheetahs) taken during visits to the Kruger Park to their 7th Wild Dog Census, and Joubert and I will definitely be making our contributions.

Summertide Diary: Hyenas versus Elephant

Yesterday we promised you more photos of the fascinating interaction between the Spotted Hyenas and Elephant at Hapoor Dam in Addo Elephant National Park, and here they are.

When we arrived on the scene, the hyenas were quite far from the road and only barely visible without binoculars (or a 300mm camera lens). We could see they were eating, but couldn’t figure out what. Then one adult hyena picked up a sizable chunk of meat and started walking towards us, followed closely by a sub-adult with a piece of leg in its mouth. As they came closer we could identify the prey item as a buffalo calf, or what was left of it anyway. Whether it was caught by the hyenas themselves or killed by lions and then stolen we’ll never know. In any event, the hyenas promptly deposited their meat in a drinking trough on the opposite side of the road to where the actual Hapoor Dam is. Caching food in this fashion is quite well-known hyena behaviour.

The hyenas were still tussling in the water, apparently not knowing whether they want to save their meal for later or gobble it all up now, when a big elephant bull appeared out of the spekboom-thicket some distance away. And he was obviously on a mission. In no time the elephant closed the distance to the hyenas, and while the courage of the younger of the two predators gave in much quicker than that of his older pack mate both had to vacate their bath-cum-larder before the agitated bull got too close. For his part the elephant then gave the fouled water one indignant sniff before moving across the road to drink from Hapoor Dam proper.

With the elephant gone, the hyenas quickly moved back to their pantry, retrieved their meat and continued their meal. The day was heating up though and the Pied Crows were starting to get really annoying, and so they put their meat away a final time to be enjoyed later.

The bloody fight that never was

At the end of our Satara Summer, on the way to the Kruger National Park’s Orpen Gate from where we were to head back home to Pretoria, we were lucky to see a lone Cheetah resting in the shade of a small thorn tree. Having stopped for a last photo or two, it was Marilize who noticed a Spotted Hyena heading straight towards the Cheetah. Knowing just how hateful the relationship between Africa’s large predators are, we were sure we were probably going to witness a tremendous fight when the two meat-eaters meet, especially when the Cheetah noticed the Hyena, snarled at it viciously, and got up to defend its turf. But turns out this Hyena was not a fighter; he walked straight past the Cheetah as if it wasn’t even there, and not paying the cheetah’s tantrum any attention whatsoever. It was rather amusing seeing the Cheetah standing by himself, looking decidedly confused, as the Hyena disappeared from view…

Hyena family on the move

One of the most compelling reasons when visiting the Kruger National Park (or any wildlife area really) to get up early and be one of the first vehicles through the gate in the early morning is that you exponentially improve your chances of having truly amazing wildlife encounters. We did just that while staying at Crocodile Bridge in September, and were rewarded with this incredible sighting of a clan of Spotted Hyenas on the move and reveling in the puddles of water on the road following a spring shower the night before.

No denying that Hyena cubs are cute!

During my visit in May 2019, along the main road between Pretoriuskop and Skukuza camps in the Kruger National Park, I was lucky to come across two different spotted hyena clans with youngsters – one group had three babies and the other no less than eight bouncing bundles of joy! And they were bouncing, and biting and bullying, to their hearts content, causing me great amusement but obviously not impressing their mothers very much with their antics…

And just to remind you that spotted hyenas are actually very efficient hunters, I came across this fellow devouring a freshly killed impala very close to Lower Sabie:

Things that go “bump” in the night…

Mpila Camp in the Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park is not fenced, and any animals, dangerous kinds included, can and do roam between the accommodation units at night (and often during the day too!). I have a basic little camera-trap that I sometimes set up overnight when we visit South Africa’s wild places to see what happens when we’re soundly sleeping, and here’s a few images it captured of Spotted Hyenas roaming outside our cottage at Mpila when we visited in December 2018.

Even hyenas need a loving family

These tender moments shared by a Spotted Hyena female and her two small cubs, seen on a recent weekend visit to the Mopani region of the Kruger National Park, is another one of the reasons why we keep going back to the Park as often as we can. It also made the four dads in the car really miss their own “cubs” back home…

Spotted Hyena

Crocuta crocuta

Spotted Hyenas roaming outside Mpila Cottage 16 in December 2018

Often depicted as cowardly villains and skulking scavengers, the truth is that the Spotted Hyena is a very efficient predator that mostly catches its own prey and dominates all other African predators with the exception of lions. Standing up to 90cm high and weighing up to 85kg, the females are considerably stronger built than the males and have very male-like genitalia, leading to a common misconception that spotted hyenas are hermaphrodites.

Spotted Hyenas have adapted to every habitat on the African continent except the tropical forests, though they prefer savannas, grasslands, woodlands and semi-deserts. They’re not dependant on drinking water but will drink when it is available and love cooling off in natural pools on hot days. Spotted Hyenas easily prey on anything from insects to giraffes and buffaloes, their diet normally reflecting which animals are most common in their area, but will also opportunistically scavenge from the kills of other carnivores (less than a third of their diet) and around rubbish dumps and human settlements. Excess food is often stored under water for later consumption. In many protected areas Spotted Hyenas have learnt that tourist camps are a reliable source of discarded food; a dangerous situation that often leads to injuries to people with lethal consequences for the hyenas.

Spotted Hyenas live in clans numbering from 3 to 80 (the size and stability of which depends on prey availability) in which a strict, female dominated, hierarchy exists. The most dominant female passes her status to her female young, and all females are dominant over all males in the clan. Males mostly join clans from other groups from which they were evicted, and it can take weeks and even months for them to be accepted into a new family. Each clan has a territory covering between 40 and 1800km² (dependent again on prey availability), that is demarcated with scent glands and communal dung middens and will be fiercely defended against interlopers. Within the territory a number of dens are established in dense vegetation, caves, between boulders or in holes in the ground (they’ll also often use human-made culverts under roads for this purpose) and used on a rotational basis. Spotted Hyenas are most active from dusk to dawn, usually hunting alone or in small parties except when going after big game, when the whole pack will join forces. When hunting they can reach speeds of up to 65km/h, but they can sustain a pace of 50km/h over a distance of up to 5km as they tire out their intended prey. They’re among the most vocal of mammals, and their well known laughing, howling and cackling is synonymous with the African night.

Females usually give birth to two cubs (though up to 4 have been recorded) at anytime of year. Cubs are kept hidden from the rest of the clan for the first two weeks of their life. More than one female in the clan may be raising cubs at the same time, but they will not take care of one another’s young. Cubs are often extremely aggressive to one another, especially of the same sex, and it is not unusual for some of the litter to die as a result of the constant fighting. The cubs are dark brown to black at birth, attaining adult colouration from the age of 2 to 3 months. Lions consider Spotted Hyenas their mortal enemies and will kill them at any opportunity, and outbreaks of rabies can decimate entire clans. Spotted Hyenas can live to the age of about 25 in the wild, and up to 40 years in captivity.

With a total population estimated between 27,000 and 47,000, the spotted hyena is one of the most numerous large carnivores on the African continent, and considered of least conservation concern by the IUCN. However, their populations are decreasing, especially outside large conservation areas, due to human pressures such as illegal hunting, poisoning and loss of habitat and prey. South Africa’s biggest population can be found in the Kruger National Park, estimated at up to 3,900 animals, and they are also a regular sighting in Addo Elephant National Park, Mapungubwe National ParkHluhluwe-Imfolozi Park and the iSimangaliso Wetland Park.

Spotted hyena

Spotted hyena

The (Over) Ambitious Hyena

While exploring Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park just after Christmas, we encountered a spotted hyena in the west of the reserve. In typical hyena fashion she was walking determinedly and at some speed along the road, and so we followed in the hope that we might see her hunt.

Not long after, she picked up a herd of zebra standing in the road ahead, and made a run at them. The tables were quickly turned however, as the dominant stallion of the zebra family sent our over-ambitious hyena running for cover…

(Click on any of the photos to enjoy the sighting with us in a carousel gallery)