While in Talek, I have been doing experiments to test an individual hyena’s boldness. We have this foam hyena that we call Target that I have been showing to hyenas to see how they respond.
Alfredo and Target
Most hyenas who have seen Target will notice it, try to get downwind of it to smell it, maybe head bob to it, and leave. There are a few variations to this pattern, but we think that the hyenas eventually realize that Target is not a hyena as they get closer.
A couple days ago, I saw the two most extreme responses yet.
In the morning, we showed Target to Blue, an adult female. She is relatively high ranking. Blue was very upset by Target. We had placed Target in the road she was going down, and once she saw Target, she stopped dead. Slowly, Blue got a little closer to Target. By the time she was barely 30m away from Target, she turned around, walked over 100m away, walked around Target putting our car between her and Target, then continued down the road. Blue didn’t really even bother to try to sniff out what it was; she just avoided it.
In the evening, we were lucky enough to find another test subject. It was Morpheus, a higher ranking female than Blue. Morpheus saw Target, stopped briefly to stare at it, then walked straight up to it. She was the first hyena I have seen to touch Target. If someone goes close, they’re still usually about 5m away. Morpheus was walking circles around Target, sniffing and licking it. All the sudden, she stopped abruptly and walked off, and we realized that her younger sister, Pan, was coming straight at Target with another older sister, Adonis, hanging back about 80m. For the second time ever, we watched a hyena walk straight up to Target and start sniffing and licking her. Next thing we knew, Pan had grabbed Target’s tail, dragged her a couple meters, and knocked her off her stand. Adonis started to approach from where she was hanging back with her daughter, Grape Escape, at this time, and Pan started to drag Target into the grass. This series of events all happened very quickly, and once Pan started taking Target into the grass, we stopped the session immediately to go save Target.
Unfortunately, we were a bit too late. Within the 30 seconds it took to drive to where they were, Pan had bitten a few bites out of Target’s rump, detached its head (which is meant to slide off), and bitten off about half of her nose. Poor Target. One of the weird things is that the parts that were bitten are the exact places hyenas would attack an intruder. So maybe they think Target is a hyena, or at least enough hyena-like, longer than we had thought. Or this could just be the case for these high ranking and bold sisters.
Target’s injuries, with Jenna looking shocked and worried in the background
Ian (one of the IRES students) and me with Target in the beautiful Hilux