At Singita Sabi Sand, we are blessed to have a natural source of life – the Sand River. Taking a drive along this beautiful landscape, one gets the feeling of peacefulness and connection to nature and the interaction of all sorts of animals happens here.
Taking a late afternoon game drive on one occasion really gave me a glimpse of what goes on in nature, whether we get to experience these things or not. What I saw was pure luck and being at the right place at the right time. My tracker and I heard monkeys alarming and looking north of the river, we grabbed our binoculars and tried to see what predator was upsetting them, but after about ten minutes of looking there was just nothing for us to see.
A minute later a hyena showed up, then a leopard sat up almost where we spent time looking staring at the hyena and trying to work out what he was wanting to do. I was still watching the leopard through a pair of binoculars when my tracker informed me that the hyena was climbing a tree; he actually used the words “this is crazy” before I looked to see what he was looking at. I still owe him an apology for not believing him at first as indeed the hyena was in a tree and climbing, going after what looked like an impala kill in the tree.
I have never seen anything like that nor read any book that claimed hyenas as climbers of any trees at all, I always speak to a lot of experienced guides and trackers including people that have lived and hunted animals all their lives no one has seen a hyena in a tree.
The whole concept of hoisting kills in trees by leopards is to avoid losing their kills to hyenas, but on this day the leopard must have thought: ‘…well, thanks mom for teaching me to hide my kill in the tree but apparently hyenas do climb!’ As the hyena got to the kill, all we had to say was, “Unbelievable!” The hyena got to the kill, and as he was pulling to get the horns of the impala ram untangled from behind a branch he lost his balance and dropped out of the tree, but did not hit the ground because he still had the meat in his jaws and the kill was still hooked by the horns in the tree.
We had a situation where the hyena was now dangling in mid-air with an impala in his mouth but wouldn’t let go. The leopard that was lying at the base watching the events unfold decided to then climb up the tree. As the leopard effortlessly climbed the tree, the piece of meat that the hyena had clenched in his jaw broke off and the hyena let out a scream as he dropped to the ground. He landed safely, albeit on his back, and I think that he just got the fright of his life.
The hyena took off mistaking the meat for an attack from the owner of the kill. He eventually looked back and the kill was on the ground with no other animal. He came back to claim his kill and disappeared into the bush.