The Spotted Hyena Part One: Who’s the Boss? detailed my love of the hyena and it’s fascinating matriarchal clan structure. In Part Two: The Lost Meal I will share a recent encounter that further strengthens my curiosity about these animals and why a wildlife encounter with hyena rarely disappoints.
We spent the morning at the den watching the alpha female feed her cubs while the others, still waiting for their Mother to return, restlessly roamed the den site. Heading off in search of our next adventure, we were about 5-7 minutes down the road when we came upon a female hyena walking with a huge piece of carrion in her mouth. It would appear she was taking it back to her den site and given the proximity, it was highly likely she was returning to the one we had just left. We watched her pass, turned the jeep and followed her through the bush.
She appeared to be carrying the remains of a bushbuck. Given her belly was quite swollen and full, she had clearly eaten, either having killed it herself, or having stolen from a leopard. It was a significant chunk of food and no question, to carry it such a long way attests to the strength and power of her jaws. We kept her in our sights as she moved off road and through the dry river bed, heading in the direction of home.
What would happen next clearly revealed the rigid structure of dominance within the clan and left no doubt who the alpha female was. As our huntress neared the den from the back, her young cubs were quick to greet her, scampering around her paws anxious for a meal. But no sooner had she stopped to greet them, still holding tightly to her bounty, another mature female also approached. In an instant a fight broke out between the two, the cubs moving into the den and watching as the dust kicked up around them. After a short but highly aggressive struggle, the challenging alpha emerged with the hunk of meat and walked off to feed on her prize.
I have to say, while I understand nature has rules of its own, I found it a little sad that this female, who had carried such a weighty package for a great distance to feed her young ones, lost her meal before she could share it. They would get to suckle, but there would be no meat today. The alpha would proceed to feed herself on what was left and only after she had eaten the choice morsels did she tolerate her cubs coming by to share in the spoils. Once she was done, the two cubs battled it out for what was left. In the end, there was no question which of the two was the alpha in waiting!
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