The spotted hyena is arguably the most successful large carnivore in Africa, because it is both a proficient hunter and scavenger – displaying resourcefulness and stamina in its foraging pursuits. It is the only mammal that can digest bone, which it crushes in its powerful jaws, and thereby extracts calcium and protein unavailable to other animals.
Unlike other carnivores, the cubs are born with their eyes open, canines fully intact, and aggressive tendencies. A female usually gives birth to twins. If two female cubs are born, they immediately start to battle for dominance and one cub usually dies.
The focus of a hyena clan centres on a communal den – usually an old aardvark hole, with a few entrances for easy access – where all the females keep their young. Unlike lions, they do not suckle each other’s cubs but, like lions, they do come and go as they please.
Adults seldom go into the den; they remain at the entrance where they suckle their young on the richest milk of any terrestrial mammal. The cubs stay inside their den, being fed only on milk for a protracted time and are weaned at 14 to 18 months old.
This is the females’ strategy to keep them safe for as long as possible. Leaving them at the den keeps them out of harms way, and taking food back to them in the form of milk rather than meat avoids the attention of competitors, like lions.
Words by: Ranger Sabastion Wayne
Images by: Ranger Rein Kock