As I set out from Kapama Buffalo Camp, South Africa, with my guests, it had been a cooler autumn morning than what I expected. My guests were eager to see leopards, but the African Bushveld does not always play along with your plans. Often it seems Mother Nature has her own unique sense of humour. I decided to venture to the most northwestern section of the reserve, a place not frequented very often, other than by a few secretive leopards, so my hopes were high. A large hyena clan that are predominantly nocturnal, have also been spotted on the rare occasion.
We had been tracking two leopards, but their elusive nature resulted in no success. I decided to have one last drive past the nearby dam, Rooi Dam. As I came around the last bend, we heard an interesting commotion!
We could hear loud squeals that only hyenas know how to produce. My guests were so excited to see this clan of somewhat hysterical hyenas. Two of the hyenas looked like sub-adults but one can never be 100% sure when it comes to sexing them. The female’s genitals are enlarged so this can be tricky. Social behaviour and size are more commonly used.
The two were running around after a third and larger hyena who was fishing something out of the edge of the dam. As we approached it looked like it was pulling the remains of a young giraffe out of the water. Apparently tired of the two smaller hyena’s behaviour, she headed straight back towards the water. One hyena gave up and slunk away to another on the other side of the dam. To listen to the sounds of hyenas interacting is like no other experience I have ever had. It is loud and at an almost penetrating level, followed by hair-raising giggles.
We watched on as the large hyena finally won her right to feed and walked off to a shady spot on the southern side of the dam, leaving the smaller hyena to run off to find his friend. The third female now under a large Jackalberry tree (Diospyros mespiliformis), was joined by two other hyenas, most likely similar or higher ranking since they all fed together on the carcass.
We were now surrounded by hyenas each busy with their own activities. It was a unique sighting since it was during the day and we had been the only vehicle. This had definitely played a role in the hyena clan being as comfortable with our presence as what they seemed to be and to continue with their daily interactions in their complicated societies.
Even though we did not get to see the leopard, this was still a wonderful and interesting observation of nature, that you can only get in the open bushveld.
Story and photos by: Ranger Monika Malewski – Buffalo camp