Hello, everyone! Today I want to introduce you to two of my absolute favorite hyenas. They have both been through ordeals that would have killed lesser beasts, but they are surviving and thriving in the face of adversity.
Meet Komo, oldest daughter of the matriarch of South clan.
Komo is a brave and resilient hyena who has been known to steal a topi carcass right out from under the noses of her clan-mates, come out of encounters with lions with nothing but a limp, and tolerate her excessively obnoxious younger siblings in a truly admirable way. Her intense stare and general demeanor always awed me before, but now I have even more reason to admire her: Komo has learned to walk on two legs.
A few weeks ago, some of our South hyenas got into a fight with a neighboring clan. While we didn't witness this event, we know it happened because of the wounds and utterly exhausted Southies left in its wake. At least three of our hyenas have new ear damage, several have wounds on their backs and sides, and the matriarch Java has a notch in her lip where it was torn away in the fight. Komo, though, has the worst injury – both of her back legs are broken.
We had a lot of questions when we found her. How was she so badly hurt? Would she survive? How could she hunt with just two legs? How would she manage to get around the territory? She seemed to be in a lot of pain, and we were resigned to losing this incredible hyena. But Komo surprised us! She has gotten used to walking on her two front legs and we have seen her fat from gorging herself on a carcass. We've seen her interacting with her clanmates (even lifting her broken leg for a greet!) and, most surprising of all, Komo has two thriving young cubs, Galactica and Axiom! She has managed to get herself enough food to provide them with milk, all while getting around on two legs. Thanks to the current abundance of wildebeest for food, her high rank, and indomitable spirit, Komo is surviving and thriving, defying all expectations and driving home the fact that hyenas are truly extraordinary animals.
Now, I'd like you to meet Grace O'Malley (named after the pirate queen of Irish fame), great-grandaughter of the matriarch of Happy Zebra clan.
O'Malley, beyond being absolutely adorable, is also the fiercest little hyena I have ever encountered. She has a powerful drive to live that helped her survive almost two weeks without milk from her mother. We watched her become so thin we could see her bones, and felt helpless, but thanks to some of the research we were doing at the time – egg and milk trials to observe aggressions between cubs – she proved her toughness, aggressing on cubs bigger, stronger, and higher-ranking than she was to get access to food. She endeared herself to us during this time as a tiny violent princess, intolerant of the playful antics of her cohort, with a single-minded focus that is quite unusual in cubs.
Just when we thought she wouldn't make it, we found O'Malley and her mom, Jolly Roger, in a culvert two kilometers from the den. She had obviously recently nursed, which gave us reason to celebrate, but we also determined that the Happy Zebra clan was moving dens. Unfortunately, it took us several weeks to find the new den, and we all assumed that O'Malley had probably died, as such a long and stressful journey would have been incredibly difficult for a starving cub even with her mother's help.
After much searching, we finally found the Happy Zebra communal den. Lo and behold! O'Malley had survived a journey of 5 kilometers to the new den, which we named "Granuaile" (the Irish name of Grace O'Malley) in her honor. When we found her, she was happily prancing about with the ribcage of a wildebeest calf, looking well-fed and healthy. It was such an amazing surprise!
O'Malley has retained her tendency to aggress on hyenas bigger and higher-ranking than her, but has added playful romping to her repertoire of acceptable behaviors. She gets chubbier every day, though she is still significantly smaller than typical cubs her age. Really this only makes her cuter, and her fierceness even more impressive. I expect her to grow up strong, lovely, and ruthless enough to one day take over the position of matriarch from her great-grandmother. We'll just have to see!
Hope you enjoyed meeting these two incredible hyenas! They never cease to amaze me!