New arrivals onto Welgevonden: Spotted hyaena cubs

By Pip Myram

Spotted hyaena are fascinating creatures despite the unfair reputation of being the ugly, badly-behaved menaces of the bush which often results as them being viewed as “pest”.

Their foraging behaviour will at times entail scavenging, which is commonly viewed as a dirty activity, despite it being essential for healthy ecosystem functioning where large predators are present. The action of scavenging can involve opening up and consuming part or whole carcasses left by other hunting predators such as lion, leopard and cheetah. This is essential to ensure rotting meat is not left lying in the veld and also makes use of the energy available left in the carcasses.

Despite their reputation for scavenging spotted hyeana are formidable hunters, especially when they occur in larger packs. Spotted hyeana have a very interesting and complex social structure which is based on a matriarchal society.

Spotted hyaena were never intentionally introduced onto Welgevonden Game Reserve, however their ability to breach game fences has potentially enabled several individuals to establish themselves in the reserve from neighbouring reserves where they have been re-introduced.

A highlight of game viewing on the reserve recently was a very relaxed female spotted hyaena with at least one cub at her den right on the shoulder of Brown Hyaena Kill Road. This was a very special sighting frequented by guides throughout the reserve and offered guests a rare, up-close encounter with this rarely observed evocative animal of the bush.

The population size of spotted hyaena on Welgevonden is uncertain, but, through cataloguing and analysis of all spotted hyeana images captured during the 2016 PANTHERA Leopard Survey, it has been confirmed that there are at least two confirmed adult individuals using the property. We also know that one is male and the other female or there would not have been any progeny observed! From the behaviours observed, including hunting, scavenging and denning, it would seem these two are resident or at least utilising the property regularly and covering huge areas of the reserve. In addition to this, there could be other sporadic visitors to the reserve.

After the heavy hail storms of early August, the spotted hyaena abandoned the den taking the cub with her. This is to be expected as the action of moving den enables the parasite load to be minimised in both the living quarters and on the animals themselves. There was also a sighting of a spotted hyena dragging a wildebeest carcass along Manual Gate Road, four individuals were seen near Sekgwa Plains recently and generally, they have been heard calling in the west of the reserve while and hyaena tracks have been seen on the roads which are encouraging signs of their on-going movements. Sporadic vocalizations and sightings have also been heard in the south and east of the reserve.


Main photo: Spotted hyaena with her cub.
Photo: Stuart Hill, Site 58.