Last week we came upon Artemis, an adult female in the Talek West clan, digging a hole. She was using her front legs to scratch the dirt loose and her back legs to launch it skyward. Hyenas use dens for their cubs, but they do not dig the holes themselves or even fit into the hole usually. Most hyena den holes were originally dug by aardvarks. I was finally lucky enough to see my first aardvark a few weeks ago. Many animals in the Mara use aardvark holes, including bat-eared foxes, jackals, warthogs and hyenas to name a few.
Back to the original point. We immediately wondered, why was Artemis digging a hole? The only legitimate reasons we could think of were that she was indeed digging a den hole, or at least enlarging an existing hole, or trying to dig out something to eat. We sat captivated waiting for a resolution to the hole digging conundrum. Well, maybe not captivated the entire time, but we were very interested to see what would happen and recorded the scene in detail.
After about 10 minutes, another adult female hyena arrived. This was Gucci and she is a very curious hyena in my opinion. Gucci approached Artemis and inspected the excavation with great interest. Artemis basically ignored Gucci and continued digging. Gucci decided to sack out directly behind Artemis. This made for an interesting scene with Artemis throwing dirt in Gucci's face for about 10 minutes. Gucci did not seem the least bit bothered.
Artemis regularly pulled her head out of the hole to take a look around, possibly being vigilant for lions. I didn't notice if her vigilance rate increased after Gucci arrive, but it would have been interesting to note if she became less vigilant after the arrival of another set of eyes. At a couple points during the digging it appeared as if Artemis was snapping her killer jaws at something in the hole, but each time came up empty and returned to digging. At this point we were pretty sure there was something hiding below the surface. Was it a warthog, a bat-eared fox, a mongoose? You could cut the tension with knife as we waited. Well, not really, but it was fun to watch.
Finally, Artemis made a quick strike into the hole and pulled out her quarry. Twenty minutes of digging and she was rewarded with a rat! Yes, a little rat. She carried it for about 5 meters, then gulped it down in one bite. This was no Thanksgiving dinner for Artemis. Meanwhile, Gucci thought maybe there was another rat. She took a look in the hole and then wandered off. So did we.