EcoTraining instructor Tayla McCurdy came across this giraffe carcass near to EcoTraining Pridelands Conservancy this past week, and she has put down in her words what this experience was like and all the other creatures that are reaping the benefits.
EcoTraining’s media intern Christoff Els and one of the EcoTraining instructors managed to get a little insight into what some of the hyenas around Pridelands get up to when the rest of the camp are sound asleep.
Anyone that has ever had the opportunity to witness the sheer power and prowess of big cats in action can stand testament to a leopard’s ability to catch and kill prey far larger than themselves. In this instance, a male leopard weighing around 85kg caught and killed a blue wildebeest bull which could have weighed as much as 290kg!
The video itself was filmed shortly after the kill, with the male leopard and his prey still exposed out in the open, hence the male’s herculean effort to pull this monstrosity into thicker bush and away from the prying eyes of vultures which would alert other, larger predators like lions and hyaenas to the presence of a free meal. This sighting was no exception.
Over the course of a few days, we watched as this leopard was chased by wild dogs (the dogs did not steal the kill as they are not carrion feeders) and then later fend off various attempts of hyaenas to steal his hard-earned prize.
In the end, the sighting lasted nearly three days with the big tom eventually relinquishing the remains of his kill to a pride of lions.
This, of course, is a regular occurrence for all predators, not just leopards, where competition for food is fierce. Lions are regular thieves, which should be a great reminder that the stealthy hyaenas aren’t the only mega-predators to stoop to such lows as to scavenge hard-earned meals from others. However, EcoTraining instructor Sean Matthewson has on one occasion seen a leopard scavenge from lions when the pride happened to leave a large giraffe carcass to go drink water. A young female leopard snuck in and stole as many mouthfuls of rotting giraffe as she could before the return of the pride heralded her silent departure from the carcass, the lions oblivious to her presence.
This is, of course, the cycle of life, the survival of the fittest.
Watch the amazing powers of this male leopard trying to move his wildebeest prize.
If you want to learn more about leopards why not try your hand at our EcoTraining Leopard Quiz?
It sometimes seems that the trio of hyaenas from Disney’s famous movie the Lion King is a representation of the species as a whole. There can be nothing further from the truth, as hyenas are not cowardly, skulking scavengers that they are made out to be.
Found in most wilderness regions of sub-Saharan Africa, the spotted hyena plays a very important role in many African eco-systems.
Much like other animals that have stripes or spots, the pattern on each animal is unique, allowing for easy identification.
These large animals can be found is a vast variety of habitats and have even been found at altitudes as high as 4,100m!
Although they have their cubs in a den, they do like to lie in shaded hollows, culverts and even pools of water during the heat of the day. If you have ever had the privilege to travel to Tanzania or Kenya, you will see hyenas wallowing midday like a hippo in muddy pools of water.
Most people believe that hyena scavenges the majority of their food, but this is not necessarily the truth. They kill up to 95% of their food, with the remaining percentage being scavenged or stolen. Hyenas have excellent hearing and can hear the sound of predators on a kill from up to 10 km away. They will eat almost anything on offer, including fish, pythons and tortoises if nothing else is available. The amount of scavenging versus the amount of hunting a hyena does is all dependent on the population dynamics of other large predators in the region.
Hyenas exert a far greater bite pressure than any other land predator on the continent, they can crush bones that other carnivores cannot eat.
The main rivalry for hyenas are lions. And in many areas, where lions do exist, hyenas are regarded as the dominant apex predator. In the Ngorongoro Crater in Northern Tanzania, hyenas and lions are in a constant battle with each other, in what can only be described as a gladiator’s arena of life and death where often, due to numbers and cunning, hyenas are the victor.
Living in clans as they do, they can be observed to be extremely social. And considering that these clans can exceed 50 in number, it is no easy task. The clans are matriarchal, as the females are larger than their male counterparts and can outweigh them by as much as 30%.
Hyenas communicate via a range of vocalizations varying from whoops and grunts to almost demented human-like laughter. Hence they are often referred to as ‘Laughing Hyenas’. Each call has a specific use and is therefore easily distinguished and interpreted by the rest of the clan. Sitting and listening to a pack of hyenas as they call to each other in the dead of night, is a cacophony that will not be easily forgotten.
When cubs are born at the den site, they get to interact with each other and thus build up a clan hierarchy. The female offspring of the dominant matriarch is known as a Princess and will be afforded special privileges by the rest of the clan.
Built like they are running uphill; they can attain speeds of up to 60 kph, however, more importantly, they maintain that speed for long period of time, enabling them to tier their prey out before catching it and ripping it to shreds.
Female hyenas have a pseudo-penis, making the animals difficult to sex when young, though as adults’, females are easily noticeable due to their size and weight difference to the males. Clans are territorial and will defend their areas aggressively. They mark their areas with dung and a pungent paste secreted from their anal glands.
Hyenas are one of the most intelligent animals on the African continent and arguably the most intelligent predator bar the African Wild Dog.
So, the next time you are on a Safari and encounter these amazing creators, take the time to watch them and learn more about their complex and interesting behaviours.
If you want to know more about EcoTraining, have a look at our website and some of the courses we offer.
Watch and listen to the incredible sounds below in an EcoTraining TV video.
If you look closely at them you will see their scars – proof of battles won and lost, proof that they are born survivors.
The last Advanced Birding course was filled with exciting wildlife encounters and learning opportunities on the beautiful Mashatu Game Reserve. See what the students experienced in this photo blog.