Hyenas often get a bad rap. In movies they are sometimes portrayed as ugly, dirty and smelling villains. They even have the dubious distinction of being included in the “Ugly 5”- the ugliest animals in Africa. But here at Tanda Tula Safari Camp, we have been fortunate to see these much maligned animals in a completely different light.
There are two dens situated not far from our safari camp, and we have had the opportunity to get to know and love the animals in both these clans. We met the pups shortly after they were born, emerging from the den looking like fluffy black puppy dogs. Sticking close to “Mom” and the other adults, they were playful and full of fun. As parents, hyenas are among the best in the animal kingdom. They are loving, nurturing and protective. They are a highly social group, with all the adults playing a big role in rearing the youngsters.
As the pups grew, their coats began to change. Gradually their black fur turned grey and spots started to appear, beginning at the head and working their way down. They became more independent, and were left alone at the den while the adults went in search of food. Initially, they would disappear down the hole when the game vehicles pulled up, but soon they became habituated to the vehicles, then downright curious.
On our last visit one bold pup put his front paws up on the vehicle, sniffing the rubber of the tires before resuming a wrestling match with his siblings.
When the adults returned, there was a big, happy, vocal “family reunion”. The adult hyenas sniffed and licked each other, while the youngsters threw themselves on the adults first for attention, then for milk.
They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and from we’ve seen hyenas can be absolutely adorable!
Words and images by Jacquie Gauthier