Hyenas have a particularly brutal method of taking down prey, and it’s a far cry from the finesse of the feline species. A kill from a cat is swift and far less prolonged than a hyena’s method of take down. Hyenas aren’t just awkward looking scrounging scavengers – they are actually proficient hunters and ultimately one of the most successful carnivores in the animal kingdom. Prolific predators within a reserve means that hyenas have ample opportunity to scavenge – a method of getting food that’s far easier than hunting! While Gemma and Rogan were out on game drive they saw a clan of hyena taking part in an epic hunt. This proved to be an unusual event that delivered more than just the standard observation of a hyena take down in action. The clan caused immense suffering on a massive kudu bull, that eventually sought safety in the waterhole. While the clan hovered around the fringe of the dam circling the alarmed bull, our nimble leopard, Nyeleti, sauntered onto the scene! Here’s the background and the lowdown…
Hyenas hunt using a method called coarsing, and their bodies are built for the chase. These marathon runners chase their prey until the point of exhaustion and then increase their speed when their prey slows down. They are cooperative hunters, which means the entire clan will give chase and begin the barbaric attack in unison. Their bone crushing jaws smash into the abdomen of their prey in an attempt to disembowel their victim. Plains game that succumb to a hyena’s method of hunting generally die from shock or bleed to death. That’s right – hyena begin eating before their prey has died.
The commotion from this particular chase, and the whiff of that iron-atom metallic smell filling the air means on thing only – blood has been shed. This is bound to rouse a few sniffs and curiosity from other predators, which is exactly what happened in the Klaserie when Nyeleti the leopard made a guest appearance at the site of the hyena commotion.
Gemma was taken by surprise at Nyeleti’s guest appearance. Her and Rogan were just chatting about Nyeleti’s elusive ways over the past week or so. As if by some form of telepathy, Nyeleti graced them with her presence. On the Saturday, they tracked her all the way into the thickets and followed her to an area right in front of nThambo Tree Camp. The following day she appeared on the banks of Buffeldam with the hyenas, providing Rogem (Rogan + Gemma) with yet another noteworthy sighting.
Nyeleti’s behaviour was interesting. She appeared at the water’s edge to drink and had ample opportunity to take down impala that were littered around the dam, but she avoided further bloodshed. We speculate that this was because of the heavy presence of the bone-crushing clean up crew. Leopards avoid confrontation. In this instance, she selected survival instinct over killer instinct.
But let’s hear it from the team on the ground…
Gemma says, “We heard on the radio from Reinhard that a hyena chased kudu into the dam. The bull was massive and by the time we arrived there were 8 or 9 hyenas surrounding the kudu. The kudu was clever and sought refuge in the waterhole, close to a bushy embankment which made it tricky for the hyena to navigate. We watched the scene for about 3 hours, and saw hyenas coming and going. The poor kudu’s abdomen already had a large chunk removed and its tail was gone! It was clearly in a weakened state but still seemed to have some strength because it kept trying to clamber out the dam.
We decided to head back to camp to recharge the camera batteries. The aim was to return a bit later. On the way back I spotted Nyeleti in the tree ! She was sitting in the top of a tree that was about 1500 m from the dam. The tree was overlooking the whole of the dam, and she just sat there observing the entire hyena – kudu ordeal!
She clearly wanted to drink and was just waiting for the right moment. She came down form the tree and circled the dam a bit, making sure she avoided the hyena. A massive herd of impala approached the dam and it would have been easy enough for her to take down one of them, and she even got into pounce position. But she took one look at the hyenas and then decided not to grab a quick meal – it would have attracted too much attention from the massive clan of hyenas.
When we went back in the afternoon the kudu had – sadly – passed away. The hyenas devoured the carcass, and the pregnant female hyena was clearly in charge of the clan. She at least got to feed herself and baby. In total we were there for about 9 hours of the day! “