The onslaught of two spotted hyenas

Sabi Sand | December 2018

Spotted hyenas are infamous for scavenging from other predators! They go about their lives, opportunistically looking for the weak and injured, as well as any chance to rob large felines and canines of kills they make. Popular belief regarding hyenas is that they hunt and scavenge in clans, but here in the Sabi Sand Game Reserve we often see them roaming around alone and only see them in clans at their den-sites, around waterholes, or after calling for backup if the predators outweigh them in numbers or strength around a carcass!

Recently, on our exploration of the central parts of the reserve, we discovered a greater kudu cow standing dead still in one of the waterholes where our bird hide is situated! Driving around the waterhole to get a better look at what was occurring, we found a spotted hyena standing at the side of the hide staring at the kudu.

Thinking of the potential that could unfold we positioned our vehicle on the other side of the waterhole and sat patiently. A few minutes later a hippo bull returned to his waterhole. Slowly the hippo entered the waterhole noticing the kudu, hyena and our vehicle. Although the hippo wasn’t fussed with the kudu being there, it did move closer to it and this is when the kudu responded…

The kudu struggled through the mud towards us, stopped on the bank of the waterhole and this is when we noticed that it had a broken front right leg! The hyena started running around the waterhole to the kudu which then took off to the tree line. The kudu, on three legs, ran back towards the waterhole with the hyena about a meter behind it.

The hyena missed and the kudu plunged back in!

Disappointed by its miss the hyena growled and watched the kudu again standing still, about three metres from the side of the bird hide. Another hippo arrived and entered the waterhole and was less accepting of the kudu finding refuge in their safe haven.

A second hyena must’ve heard the noise and came to see what was happening! The hyena greeted each other and soon became an alliance. Time past and the kudu remained unmoved. The hyenas lay down next to the hide and the hippos rested.

A while later the action erupted…

The kudu took the gamble and made its way out of the waterhole, stopped to shake off the water, looked over its shoulder to see where the hyenas were and then started running. The hyenas woke up and then came charging around the bank.

The kudu covered a few meters and then turned back to the waterhole. It was just about to enter the water when the hyena caught it!

Grabbing it by the withers the kudu struggled and dropped its neck and head into the water. It made gruelling grunts and tried to escape the powerful jaws of the hyena, but with no success.

The second hyena came in seconds later and now both animals had either side of the kudu and started pulling it out!

We sat and watched how the hyena dragged the kudu to where they were comfortable, not at all trying to kill the kudu by suffocating it, but instead targeting the hind quarters and groin area and ripping it open! The kudu still grunting and bellowing was now being eaten alive! Guts, blood and organs were being pulled out in front of us and the kudu soon succumbed to the onslaught.

We left the area and returned that afternoon to find vultures feeding on only a leg, vertebra and hip bones.

Last two photographs by guest, Iain Salteri