Hyenas in the Lowveld

The one animal that has fascinated me the most, is the Spotted Hyena.

One early morning safari drive I was interpreting a termite mound with my Southern Camp guests, when my assistant guide, Oris, and I heard Hyenas calling in the distance. Our guests didn’t know it was Hyenas as most people associate Hyena calls with a high-pitched laughing sound like in the movies. I then told my intrigued guests that it is spotted Hyenas calling and smiles spread across their faces!

Hyenas are a well-known animal as they have featured in a few TV shows and movies, with probably one of the most famous being The Lion King, housing a reputation and a bad one at that. There was excitement buzzing around the group. Oris and I looked at each other, trying to decide if it was close enough to try and find. He smiled at me and we all hopped back onto the game vehicle to follow what we heard. The sound was more like a long ‘whooo-op’ like noise which Spotted Hyenas use as communication calls.

Upon following the noise, we came across four Hyenas that appeared out of the bush and continued to start crossing the road! We heard more ‘whooping’ and these four were heading straight in that direction. One large female stopped in the middle of the road, lifted her head and pointed her ears in the direction of the calls, taking in all the senses available. She then dropped her head and continued towards the calls.





I was practically bouncing out of my chair as it was my first time seeing these amazing animals up close for the first time! I took advantage of this incredible experience to take in everything I could. I noticed their sloped back and short back legs, their longer front legs leading to big strong shoulders, their massive head, and their rounded ears. There were beautiful!





There are a lot of misconceptions around Hyenas as they are seen as dirty, mean animals that steal and kill. Ecologically, they are a very important part of the food chain.

A few interesting facts about Spotted Hyenas:

– They don’t just scavenge for food but hunt and kill most of their food

– They will eat bones and rotten meat which in turn stops the spread of various diseases

– Spotted Hyenas are social mammals and live in structured groups, called clans

– The females are the dominant ones, larger and more aggressive than the males

– Female Hyenas give birth to one or two cubs a year, which she nurses in a den

– They are nocturnal (night hunters)

– The biggest of the Hyena species is the Spotted Hyena (Crocuta crocuta)





In my opinion, they have a unique beauty to them and they make for excellent and interactive sightings and this one will be one I will never forget.

Story and photos by: Southern Camp Ranger Josh Venter

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