Over the past week, rangers and guests at Camp Jabulani have had the privilege of spending time with spotted hyenas and their cubs. The cubs are from two different litters; one is just over three weeks old and the other a couple of weeks older. Hyenas are generally known to be crepuscular, that is, more active at dawn and dusk.
However, these young cubs can also be seen around the den site as they come out to play and interact with each other during the cooler and overcast parts of the day. One of the older cubs is very confident and outgoing, and sometimes even comes to inspect our vehicles – as you can see from this charming video clip.
The Spotted Hyena is said to be a top predator, being a scavenger but also an extremely good hunter, especially when the clan works together. The Spotted Hyena gets the name from the very dark spots on its coat, although female hyenas lose the darker colour with age.
The Spotted Hyena is also known as the laughing Hyena due its call which can sound like a rather manic giggle. Female hyenas are generally bigger than the males, with the male weighing about 60Kg, and the female 70-80Kg and a shoulder height of about 85cm. Hyenas are strong swimmers and fast runners, reaching speeds of up to 50Km/h for 3Km (30m/h for 1,9 miles).
The Den Site:
The Hyena den site is usually in an old termite mound, with den holes generally formed by aardvark and further ‘renovated’ by warthogs. The den has a few different entrances all around the termite mound which join up underneath the ground, forming the home for the hyenas. A clan of hyenas will move their den site quite often to avoid the cubs being killed by other predators. For the first two weeks of the cubs’ life they will be kept in separate dens before they join up at a communal den where they will meet the rest of the clan and their young.
The Hyena’s gestation period is about 16 weeks and then they have 1 to 3 cubs. Cubs are born much darker (almost black) in colour and weigh about 1 to 1.6Kg. They are born with their eyes already opened and teeth fully developed.
When cubs of the same sex are born in the same litter, it usually leads to violent fighting and death. This leads to almost 25% of cub mortality also known as neonatal siblicide. The female hyenas have the sole responsibility of rearing the young and are known to be excellent mothers. The spotted hyena’s milk is extremely high in protein and thus the cubs can go for about a week between feedings. The cubs are totally dependent on this milk for about 8 months and then they are gradually introduced to meat until totally weaned at 12 to 16 months.
Werner Nel (Ranger Wern)