Updated: Oct 18, 2019
The Masai Mara is a wildlife haven, and the big cats are the stars. But on my most recent trip, the #Hyenas definitely stole the show. One of the exciting hyena sightings happened when we heard about #mating hyenas. Having never seen this, it was a sight I definitely wanted to see… so off we went.
At first glance, the scene seemed mundane. Hyenas running across the plains. You might be forgiven for mistaking this for a group heading towards a meal, or back to the den. On closer examination, it was clear the hyena in the lead was larger than the others - a female, since they are typically larger than males. She was being pursued by 3 males, and seemed determined to get away from them. This was a change from the usual hyena dynamics where female are higher ranking and dominate the males. This must be one of the only times where male hyenas have any power over their leading females.
Any time she slowed down, one of the males would close in and try to mount her, while still at a run. But she never stopped moving, so these attempts were futile. At one point she came across a little dip where some water had collected from the rain a few days earlier, she stopped long enough to plop down into the mud and water, obviously trying to cool herself off. Since we found them mid chase, I am not sure how long they had been running for, but she must have been feeling quite over heated. But the boys were giving her no reprieve, and so she had to get up and continue her attempted escape.
Eventually she came to a deep water pool in one of the luggas and surprised us by wading straight into the water, and immersing her entire body, including her head into the water. She must have been feeling extremely hot, because she proceeded to wade further in, and continued to dunk her head, and then shake the water out, repeatedly.
Who knew hyenas enjoyed swimming? It turned out to be a strategic move on her part, as 2 of the pursuing males simply paced up and down on the banks. The third male was bolder, and followed her into the water. Either he was her chosen partner, or she was too exhausted to evade him, because he proceeded to mount her in the water, with little resistance on her part.
Eventually, having cooled off in the pond, she climbed out and continued running with all 3 boys in pursuit. It was clear now that the successful male was trying to block his opposition, and was keeping himself between his mate and the other pursuers.
In the final chapter of this epic romance, we noticed that there were suddenly a lot more hyenas in the vicinity. So did our marathon runners. Suddenly they turned around and raced back in the direction they had come from. At this point, we had a clear demonstration of how fast a hyena can run. This was no medium paced lope. This was a mad sprint, as if for the finishing line. Jonathan explained that the hyenas must have reached the boundary of their territory, and those other hyenas were from an opposing clan. This made a lot of sense, since the new comers did not give chase, obviously respecting the boundary line.
This exciting encounter further increases my fascination with hyenas, which seem much more than the reputation they have as greedy, dirty, nasty creatures. This was but a glimpse into the complex lives of hyenas.