Wednesday, May 27, 2015

The Lion Thief

Spotted hyenas often get a bad rap in comparison to the other Kenyan carnivores.  They are often mislabeled as cowards who do not hunt but scavenge for their food.  This is an incorrect assumption that has been proven wrong by research done in this lab.  Spotted hyenas hunt and kill around 80 percent of their diet (Holekamp et al. 2011).  They are efficient hunters that do not have to rely on scavenging for survival.  I recently was able to experience this first hand while out on observation.

The setting was Ashlei’s last time on obs before she headed back to the States.  We were hoping to see some of our hyenas and maybe some other large mammals, so Ashlei could see them one last time.  Our luck started off pretty well when we spotted a couple of adult and sub-adult lions.  We moved on quickly from them because lions are just not as neat as hyenas.  After driving less than a kilometer we came upon one of our hyenas, Roosevelt.  She was meandering through a group of Thomson’s gazelles.  We were about to move on when Roosevelt perked her head up and eyed a baby gazelle.  Within seconds the chase had begun.

Roosevelt closing in on the baby gazelle.

The baby gazelle has no chance.

The chase is over.  Nothing like a baby gazelle for an evening snack.

While Roosevelt was munching on her evening snack, no one, including Roosevelt, noticed that one of the adult lions from before had somehow noticed the commotion.  

Oblivious to the lion's presence Roosevelt continued to chow down.

 The lion snuck up right behind Roosevelt and then… 

Another misguided assumption is that hyenas are often looking to steal the kills of lions.  It is actually the lions that are the bullies and steal the hyenas’ food.  Not only do lions steal the food of hyenas they are the leading cause of mortality in hyenas (Watts and Holekamp 2009).  Hyenas are very self-sufficient and do not deserve the negative labels that they are given. 

Holekamp, K.E, Smith, J. E., Strelioff, C. C., Van Horn, R.C. & Watts, H. E. (2011) Society,        demography and genetic structure in the spotted hyena. Molecular Ecology. 21: 613–632.

Watts, H. E. & HolekampK. E. (2009) Ecological determinants of survival and reproduction in the spotted hyena. Journal of Mammalogy. 90:461-471.


Jane Farr said...

Terrific post, Matt. (Love the title, too.) You captured some really great images! I think Disney needs to create a recanted sequel, "The Hyena Queen"

Ignacious Gman said...

Haaaay, "the hyena queen" sounds like the best disney movie yet!

But yeah, i think its a safe bet to blame Hemmingway for poor hyena popularity. That and while i think hyenas are gorgeous; most folks think they are hideous.

Ignacious Gman said...
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Ignacious Gman said...
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