In one of our quieter times, not too long ago, we decided to drive towards the den where the hyenas keep their young. Because it was a quiet time for most of the lodges, there were no other safari vehicles in the area and we had the sighting to ourselves for more than an hour. Normally the traffic of vehicles entering and leaving will disturb the movement and behavior of the animals. This did not seem to be the case today. They did look at us for a while when we arrived there, but afterwards, they seemed to be relaxed with us and just went about their daily business. Mother grooming the youngsters, youngsters playing and bullying each other – all behavior which one would not normally see with these very secretive animals. Even the older juveniles took part in a bit of the play. This, once again, proves that they are not the vicious animals they are believed to be. Even though they are dangerous animals with an immense bite force, they can control how they use those jaws.
Some of the other myths about hyenas that are not true are: –
? They do not eat everything they see – even though they do eat carrion, it still needs to be quite fresh;
? They do not only scavenge off lion and leopard kills. Hyenas are very successful hunters and are very capable of catching and killing their own prey if they need to;
? They will not go mad and eat themselves from the back just because they smell blood. They will however try to lick the wound the same way dogs do to keep it clean and stop infection;
? They are not dogs; and neither are they cats, for that matter. They are biologically closer related to cats than to dogs, but they are in a complete different family. The hyena family only has three members in Southern Africa – the spotted hyena, the striped hyena (also known as the aardwolf) and the brown hyena.
Story by Jacques (River Lodge)