Just a few days ago, I had the good luck to see one of our North clan males, Leprechaun, engaged in courting behavior with the matriarch of North clan, Waffles.
|A flattering photo of Leprechaun, immigrant male.|
|An even more flattering photo of Waffles, Clan Matriarch.|
Courting is an essential part of a male hyena's mating strategy; because mating is entirely female choice in spotted hyenas, the male has to convince the female that he, in particular, is the best male for her to mate with. Male hyenas have many strategies for this, including affiliative behaviors such as grooming and greeting, following a female around constantly (called "shadowing"), defending a female from the approach of other males, and harassing the object of his affection repeatedly.
What we were lucky enough to see was a courting behavior called "bowing", where the male hyena crosses one front leg over the other to indicate his interest in a female. See for yourself!
Now, just because we saw Leprechaun making overtures to his beloved Waffles, doesn't mean she is even remotely interested in mating with him. As you could see in the video, she was actually relaxing and nursing her cub while Leprechaun was nervously bowing, and hardly paid any attention to him, except for at the end of the video when she was clearly getting annoyed with his presence and aggressed on him.
Unfortunately for Leprechaun, braving this dangerous situation might not even increase his chances at mating with Waffles in the future – she not being sexually receptive at the time of his courting behavior precludes any real chance on Leprechaun's part for siring her next litter of cubs.
Ultimately, the choice of who to mate with is up to Waffles – Leprechaun just needs to be around when she actually wants to mate, not when she is otherwise occupied with cub-rearing!
East et al. 2003 Sexual conflict in spotted hyenas. Proc R. Soc. Lond.
Szykman et al. 2001 Association patterns among male and female spotted hyenas reflect male mate choice. Behav Ecol Sociobiol.50: 231-238.