Spring was just a few months ago, but I remember it like yesterday. This blog I wrote at the time brings it all to life again.
Spring is in the air, as well as in the step of a gazillion new babies let loose in Marataba private concession. Feeling the warmth of the sun, the luxury of the rain, the sweetness of the grass or seeing the young enjoy the richness of their mother’s milk – gone is the stress of winter. We now seem to be cloaked in a pervading sense of contentment.
However, in the past, when spending innumerable hours cruising the park, one thing always seemed lacking – my favourite animal, the spotted hyaena Crocuta crocuta. Much maligned, misunderstood, persecuted, shot, poisoned and hated as a devilish creature of witchcraft, the spotted hyaena is quite simply an awesome animal.
So we brought in some ‘surplus’ animals from another reserve. Way under quota on our capture we have had three individuals in a large natural ‘soft release’ enclosure for more than a month. The effect of their arrival has been surprising. Seemingly from out of nowhere, wild spotties have begun appearing at the fence and communing with their kinfolk. Now, we regularly see the wild individuals in the mornings and evenings, often far from the enclosure. They pay little heed to the vehicles and saunter unconcernedly as if they have always been there. As they have, but we just never saw them!
Two weeks ago, arriving home at night, I broke out some beers with our colleagues to celebrate my latest discovery – there were babies! Three little black fur balls, a cross between a black bear and a pitbull, that bounced around like Duracell bunnies. Dinkum spottie cubs!
It turns out that in the reserve we have a clan of five adults, two sub-adults and now three ankle-biters – 10 hyaenas, from out of nowhere! The only downside to the hyaenas’ appearance is that they have chosen a den right in the middle of Lightning the leopard’s territory. They have already chased her up a tree, causing her to go dark on us.
Habituation has been my modus operandi with hyaenas and it’s just such a delight to sit at the den every morning and evening, watching the adults come home and bring out the cubs to suckle. Always active, always alert, unlike watching lions (which can be as interesting as watching paint dry), these apex predators, far from being lowly scavengers, are endlessly entertaining.
There are two breeding females at the den, a stunning blonde and a gorgeous brunette. Blondie has one little youngster; the brunette has two. Now you probably think I’m nuts talking this way about such a maligned species, but I compare them to the likes of Claudia Schiffer or Cindy Crawford and I challenge you to study carefully the images in this blog, look into the eyes of Blondie, then Google Claudia or Cindy (try to find an image of them dressed in a spotted fur), and I think you’ll agree that I have a point!!
All photos © Pete Oxford