Most of us have a misconception about hyena – dirty, stinky thieves that only steal and scavenge for food. One morning they showed my guests and me what they are really made of.

Hyenas are generally nocturnal and very cautious animals, not easy to find and when they are found they normally run away from vehicles. There are two types of hyenas, the smaller less aggressive brown hyena, and the larger spotted hyena. At Kapama, the spotted hyenas are generally seen more often.

Both species live in packs that vary in size and are lead by an alpha female. She is normally the only female allowed to breed but on occasion she will adopt other female cubs or let other females raise her cubs. They care for their young as a pack, bringing back food for the pups and taking turns guarding the den.

Contrary to popular belief, they are very good hunters, with a success rate higher then lions and leopards. Hunting in packs gives them the ability to bring down prey much larger than themselves which my guests and I had the opportunity of seeing.

During dinner the previous evening, we heard them calling to each other, so I decided to leave early on the next morning’s game drive to try and find these elusive animals. About five minutes into the drive we heard them calling again near by us. My tracker (Magnum) and I got very excited.

We saw two male hyenas running across the road and a flash of black and white just ahead of them. We then saw three more coming from different directions and heard the impact of bodies colliding. The excited yelps of the hyenas drowned out the painful cries of the fully grown male zebra.

We made our way into the block so we could get a better visual of the action. When we got there the zebra was already dead and the hyenas were feeding. Some were taking large portions away (probably to a den) and then came back. They had to keep numerous jackals at bay and they were soon joined and surrounded by vultures.

It was an amazing kill to see. Such a big zebra would have been a challenge for a small lion pride but the hyenas made it look quick and easy.

Michael Lester.

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