One 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.
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 straggling away from the carcass.
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.
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.
Until some nasty customers started showing up.
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. 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.
But only two or three showed any interest in eating.
The rest bypassed that juicy carcass and started following and harassing the lions.
The lionesses began herding the cubs into tight formation.
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.
Meanwhile, the hyenas were getting closer and fanning out in a flanking action.
One lioness put herself between the pride and the main army of hyenas.
We assumed she was poised for a pre-emptive strike.
It wasn’t clear the cubs were aware of the danger they were in.
Cubs like this little straggler…
…kept having to be pushed back into the group.
Finally the lionesses herded the unruly cubs around our vehicle.
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.
Hyenas are really frightening, but I’m not sure why. They just seem extremely dangerous to me…
They are extremely dangerous. Firstly because they are intelligent and hunt cooperatively. And secondly because, unlike all the other animals we’ve seen, food doesn’t necessarily drive them. They had a fresh kill that the lions had abandoned, but chose to try to hassle the lions instead. If they’d found an opportunity, they would have killed some cubs, for no other reason than to kill them as they didn’t need to hunt for food with a “buffet” already laid out.
If they kill cubs there will be fewer grown lions. Like a rival street gang. They don’t exactly share the turf, but never forget to demand notice from one another.
They are scary as hell. Looked a little close to the vehicle too.
To be on the continent when Nelson Mandela passed away, kind of amazing.
OMG. That shot of the lions with the side mirror of the vehicle… What a drama! Hyenas are definitely the loose cannon members of the gang. Your photos are breathtaking!