Sunday, August 11, 2019

A Mating Ritual

August 1st, 2019... a brisk, misty morning. We were on the search for our Confusing Den hyenas who have decided to make a move from Villa Den all the way west. They are a part of the Talek West Clan. The terrain out this way is bumpy and sometimes we only see one or two hyenas near this new den. It was almost 7am, cloudy and still a bit dark when all of a sudden we came across a carcass with a female lion feeding! She was huge... and looking in the eyes of a large lioness tearing apart a wildebeest is a bit frightening. That doesn't end though, we look over about 50 meters and see three hyenas eating a different carcass! Our location was not too far from our Confusing Den 3 (yes there are three because the hyenas are on the move and we are very confused on what is happening) so our initial thought was, "Okay these have to be some of the adults we know." It was strange though, no aggressions were happening over this carcass and they were being very quiet. Were they Talek West hyenas?

We drive quickly over to the hyenas and realize "Oh no, they are muddy... very muddy." We did our usual routine: take pictures, look through the books, see if anyone else can ID these animals, and then try to ID our pictures back at camp. It turns out one of the three were one of our immigrant males In Talek West that resides at confusing den, LWIG. What about the other two!? Nope, they were another clan... so we watch and observe for a little while because LWIG was still one of the study animals. All of a sudden one of the hyenas is starting to mate with the other one! We watch, we record, and we are just amazed that we are able to see this behavior in person.

Mating behavior in hyenas is a rarity to witness. Although hyenas can mate year round, it’s difficult to see in the wild, and even so females are only in estrous for three days. When males are trying to mate they must overcome the obstacle of getting their erect phallus into a forward facing pseudophallus. Males are squatting as low as they can and thrusting until they can achieve their goal. The goal is to survive and reproduce. When spotted hyenas are mating both of them are incredibly vulnerable to lion attacks. Now remember, we are at a carcass session and a lioness is on ANOTHER CARCASS about 50 meters away! As the male and female decide to take matters elsewhere, the female starts to follow the male. When the male wants to mate he will bow, paw the ground, lick his legs and he is allowed to get away with peskier behavior than if the female was not in estrous. 

We follow these two. Both of them stop and the male tries to mount. He bites her neck and the female has no response! Usually, if the female wasn't in the mating mood, she would lunge, bite back or chase the male away. She is letting him get away with too much, all to produce more offspring.

In about 110 days the female will have her cubs. If it is her first litter the odds of her cubs surviving are very low. She has to give birth to 1 or 2 cubs out of a plastic straw. It can be dangerous and I imagine, incredibly painful. 

Although these two weren't a part of our Talek West Clan, we hope that both were successful and her babies will be healthy and thriving.

Mating behavior
Picture credit: J. Bro-Jorgensen
J. Bro-Jorgensen


Szykman, M., Horn, R. V., Engh, A., Boydston, E., & Holekamp, K. (2007). Courtship and mating in free-living spotted hyenas. Behaviour,144(7), 815-846

1 comment:

Judy S. Blackstock said...

WoW! A morning in the Mara you'll never forget. Amazing amount of activity.Thanks for sharing.

Michigan State University | College of Natural Science