A Tall Order

Pamushana | October 2020

We regularly watch reruns of this episode out on the Banyini open areas – it’s the one where a clan of hyenas ever so nonchalantly happen to surround a family of giraffe. Then one of the hyenas breaks from the outskirts and directly charges the family in an effort to scatter them. If a calf jinxes away from its parent it’s a case of deadly game on and the hyenas try to chase it down. If the calf trips or if they latch on to a leg and it falls then they might be able to kill it.

However, it’s extremely rare that this strategy works for the hyenas and it often seems to be an exercise in staying fit, honing skills and alleviating boredom. A giraffe calf’s parents or family members will gallop around to the calf and recruit it back into the safety of the herd. Giraffes will defend themselves or their young with their sharp hooves. By kicking with the back legs and chopping down with the forelegs the power of the kick and the force of the hoof striking a predator, even one as big as a full grown male lion, could easily break its back or kill it with a blow to the head.

Giraffe prefer to be on open level plains rather than bushy, rocky, donga-ridden areas as their long legs make them more prone to tripping, and tripping them up is the most effective way for predators to hunt them.

In these photos its apparent how clever the camouflage of both species is. Because giraffe are so tall their predators will invariably be looking up at them, so their colour pattern looks more like light filtering through the crown of a tree. In contrast a hyena’s prey will most likely be looking down at it, and their colour pattern looks more like rocks and pebbles and dappled light on the dry earth. Both predators and prey have evolved to blend in to the surroundings from the perspective of the other.

Story by Jenny Hishin, photos by Mark Saunders.