The Spotted Guard of Pridelands Camp

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.

As an EcoTraining student or staff member, there are a few things that are bound to happen when you live in one of our unfenced tented camps, such as Pridelands.

When living in an unfenced wilderness area one can expect plenty of night noises such as the calls of a pearl-spotted owlet or fiery-necked nightjar or a leopard barking in a distant drainage line, there is always a story that has unfolded the previous night while you were tucked away in your sleeping bag.

It is the talk of the morning as you gather with your fellow students before a walk or a lecture. “Did you hear how close they were?” “Ah yes they were sniffing at my tent, I saw their tracks all over!” And then there is always a student or staff member who finds the evidence straight out of the bush crime scene a few days later. The leftovers of what once was… The suspects are identified through the distinctive tracks they leave on their path of destruction. Two lobes, bean-shaped toes and claw marks.

Do you know who it is? Yip…Hyenas!

Hyena FactsSpotted hyenas are the largest of the three species of hyena of which brown and striped hyenas are the other two. They also live together in large groups better known as clans and have a matriarch hierarchy structure. Meaning that females are the leaders.

These scavengers will eat anything as they are omnivores. This includes the boots you left outside your tent last night. Just ask our EcoTraining Instructor Steve Baillie who’s boot fell victim to a hyena not too long ago. Only two weeks later his missing boot was found at the edge of Ndlovu Dam close to the EcoTraining Pridelands Camp. When Steve heard the news, he was thrilled to see what was left of his Hi-Tec Boot as it has been through so many incredible encounters with him.

Hyena eat shoes in Pridelands

But this is only one of many cases in camp.

With Steve and two backups as company we stuck around the fire after dinner to see if the spotted clan would make their anticipated appearance. We did not have to wait very long for two young hyenas to come and sniff around the fireplace. Armed with my camera, a torch, and the right knowledge we set out to film them as they moved towards the tents. We were astonished by how naive these young hyenas were as they came right up to us at one point to see if we have anything nice for them to chew on. It was at instructor Norman Chauke’s tent where they struck first. A backpack hanging on a tent pole made for the perfect tug of war match.

Hyena Damage

Norman is no stranger to chewed up gear as a lioness has stolen his shoe once before (read here all about it). Norman was very thankful that we could save his backpack although it has now been christened with a couple of bite marks. With Steve casting light and me rolling the camera we got a unique insight into how these young hyenas go about when they are not at the den.

From Norman’s tent, we followed these two hyenas to a tent with a towel hanging from the vertical post. Once again this proved impossible for the hyena to leave alone, which almost lead to another tug of war. For the towel owner’s sake, we chased the hyena off just as it was about to nab the towel.

This was also a great opportunity to see how they behave and to be on their eye level, as we were crouched over to minimise our presence. I remember Steve mentioning that they are still wearing their ‘black pants’ indicating that they are less than a year old. A previous student was not as lucky as their backpack got snatched outside their tent shortly after arriving at the Pridelands Camp. This was only collected a few months later at the newly discovered hyena den approximately 1.5 kilometres from the camp. Some of the items like the bladder inside the bag was still intact but as for the rest of the backpack, not much was left.

This is all very interesting to watch and to observe but on nights that we are all asleep, these guys can cause some serious damage in camp. For this reason, we “hyena proofed” our kitchen and lecture tent to minimise the damage. Things like fridge handles and kitchen supplies have been destroyed by hyenas in the past. This sheds some light on the not so cool part of what happens when theses guys are sniffing around camp where we can’t see them. This is an ongoing effort in camp as we encourage students to keep their belongings safe inside their tents and to never leave food unattended or in their tents.

We as humans are probably just as curious as these hyenas, always venturing and trying to understand our surroundings better. And this makes for an incredible learning experience in our EcoTraining camps, especially here at EcoTraining’s Pridelands Conservancy Camp.

Keeping in mind that these animals are dangerous we always ensure that we are cautious and armed with the right knowledge thanks to our experienced guides.  This is a one of a kind experience that I would never forget. Only when we start to understand animals better do we learn not to fear or dislike them, but rather to respect their nature and to co-exist in the same environment.

If you haven’t seen where our Pridelands Camp is, or want to know more about it, we are live with WildEarth twice-daily for game drive and fun in the bush. Make sure you don’t miss out. Catch the live game drives on our YouTube Channel.