hyenaprofileOne of the most wonderful things about our particular safari experience has been not just seeing animals in their natural habitats, but having the time to watch their behaviors and interactions. Because it is still low season, we were two of the only guests at our isolated safari camp. Which meant, for morning and evening game drives, we had the safari vehicle and our guide, the inestimable Adas, all to ourselves. Adas is a big fan of sitting and observing animal behavior and interaction for as long as it’s going on. Since we’d seen so much game and were long past the ticking off stage (“seen a lion, now I need zebras, then elephants…”), we were completely on board with that plan. On our last full day on the Serengeti, we were presented with just such a drama.

We’d had a long storm in the night and Adas had told us that the rain can trigger big hunts among the predators as it slows down the action of the prey animals. We were in the safari vehicle at 6AM and, just ten minutes out of camp, there were the lions.

They had mostly finished up a Wildebeest dinner and were enjoying a drink in the middle of the road.

They had mostly finished up a Wildebeest dinner and were enjoying a drink in the middle of the road.

The lead lioness was already heading toward the sheltering brush in the distance where we'd seen them sleeping the day before.

The lead lioness was already heading toward the sheltering brush in the distance where we’d seen the pride sleeping the day before.

Another lioness watched over the cubs who were still snacking on the carcass.

Another lioness watched over the cubs who were still straggling away from the carcass.

These two little guys just didn't want to stop eating.

These two little guys just didn’t want to stop eating.

Two jackals showed up. Surpringly, jackals are cuter than you'd think. And they mate for life, so this fellow's wife was right behind him.

Two jackals showed up. Surpringly, jackals are cuter than you’d think. And they mate for life, so this fellow’s wife was right behind him.

Normally lions tolerate jackals eating their leftovers, but this little cub was practicing his chasing skills.

Normally lions tolerate jackals eating their leftovers, but this little cub was practicing his chasing skills.

But one of the jackals got a few bites of Wildebeest.

But one of the jackals got a few bites of Wildebeest.

Until some nasty customers started showing up.

Until some nasty customers started showing up.

The largest one plunged into the carcass, but was surprisingly tolerant of the jackals.

The largest one plunged into the carcass, but was surprisingly tolerant of the jackals.

What he was less tolerant of was the other hyena. The gibbering and growling was frightening.

What he was less tolerant of was the other hyena. The gibbering and growling was frightening. Suddenly both hyenas were sounding a loud whooping that Adas says was a call to other hyenas to help them.

Soon hyenas were showing up from everywhere. This was the first wave, but eventually there were more than thirty of them.

Soon hyenas were showing up from everywhere. This was the first wave, but eventually there were more than thirty of them.

But only two or three showed any interest in eating. The rest started stalking and harassing the lions.

But only two or three showed any interest in eating.

The rest bypassed that juicy carcass and started following and harassing the lions.

The rest bypassed that juicy carcass and started following and harassing the lions.

Meanwhile the pride was straggling its way back to the bush.

The lionesses began herding the cubs into tight formation.

The lionesses were nervously herding their cubs away.

Without a male lion nearby, which the hyenas would never have challenged, the lionesses were taking no chances.

Hyenas can and will kill lion cubs. So the lionesses were taking no chances.

Hyenas can and will kill lion cubs.

Meanwhile, the hyenas were getting closer and fanning out in a flanking action.

Meanwhile, the hyenas were getting closer and fanning out in a flanking action.

One lioness acted as flank guard.

One lioness put herself between the pride and the main army of hyenas.

We assumed she was poised for a pre-emptive strike.

We assumed she was poised for a pre-emptive strike.

It wasn't clear the cubs were aware of the danger they were in.

It wasn’t clear the cubs were aware of the danger they were in.

Cubs like this little straggler...

Cubs like this little straggler…

...were quickly herded back into formation.

…kept having to be pushed back into the group.

 

Finally the lionesses herded the unruly cubs around our vehicle.

Finally the lionesses herded the unruly cubs around our vehicle.

Finally, the hyenas left the lions to go back to the kill.

Which seemed to break the stand-off. The hyenas left the lions to go back to the kill.

A potential lion-hyena disaster was averted. We like to think we played a small part.

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