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  • Writer's pictureBushwise Student

Silence of the Hyenas

Updated: Dec 19, 2023

This blog about hyenas was written by Anthea Hall. Special topic blogs are written by Bushwise students during their course, and all facts included are based on their research.

Read time: 4 mins

Hyenas. Creepy? I’d say so. 

Have you ever wondered how hyenas can just creep up on you without you even knowing they are there? Well do I have a story for you. 

Open bush braai in Mahlahla

A short lived career as a lookout

When I was about 13 years old, I went to stay at Hluhluwe-Umfolozi – a Big Five game reserve that contains only unfenced camps – with my family. We were staying in a rustic cottage with a nice big deck. The only problem was that the braai was situated off the deck, which meant that someone had to be the lookout when we wanted to braai. 

Now I had – and still have – a healthy respect and maybe even a little fear of hyenas, so I was not too keen on being lookout. But of course by the time we needed to braai, my brother and mother had gone off on their own mission, so I was left to be the lookout for my father. 

I sucked it up, gave myself a little pep talk, grabbed my torch and off we went. I could only stand just outside the door to the deck as that was as far as I could encourage myself to go, but that was far enough. My father went to the braai and I started my duty as lookout. 

I shone the torch in front of me, there were no hyenas to be seen. I was getting confident. This wasn’t too bad. I kept looking around and I couldn’t see anything. But as soon as I shone the torch behind me, there, staring at me with his head on the deck, was the biggest hyena I had ever seen. Granted I was 13 so everything looked big to me, but I still got the fright of my life and ran inside. That was the end of my lookout career for that holiday. 

Going beyond the Lion King stereotype

A lot of people don’t like hyenas. This could be because of the way that the media represents them – like in the Lion King where the hyenas are the bad guys and are associated with death and destruction. 

But in actual fact, hyenas are highly intelligent creatures – who even monitor vulture activity to locate their next meal. They have strict social hierarchies which allow them to hunt effectively in a pack to take down difficult prey. 

A clan of hyenas hunting to their prey

Hyenas are way ahead of lions when it comes to locating carcasses because of their advanced sense of smell which allows them to smell a carcass up to 4 kilometers away – which is why they can smell your braai. They also have really good hearing and can hear an animal being killed as far as 10 kilometers away. 

There is a common misconception that hyenas are only scavengers and don’t hunt, but that is not completely true. They hunt as much as 73% of their food, but prefer not to waste energy on hunting when they can feed on carcasses instead. 

That being said, hyenas play a vital role in eradicating decomposing carcasses. This not only prevents the spread of disease, but it also recycles valuable nutrients needed by plants to grow. Hyenas have incredibly powerful jaws and strong stomachs that allow them to break down all parts of the body except hair. This allows them to find nourishment from what other predators deem valueless.

Night and day

Hyenas are mostly nocturnal animals. This means that while they can be seen during the day, they will appear to be cautious of people and harmless, but as soon as night falls, they become self-confident animals and are incredibly bold. This is partly because they have a highly developed sense of smell and hearing, and excellent night vision which allows them to locate food with incredible accuracy – such as a braai 4 kilometers away!

And because hyenas are opportunistic, they aren’t afraid to steal a piece of boerewors from the braai when they find it– even if it is on fire. This is quite funny to see because they let out a yelp and a giggle – which tells me the prize was well worth the pain. 

I think hyenas should be given more credit for the roles they play in our environment and the vast array of skills that they have when it comes to hunting and scavenging. They are such unique and complex creatures and there is still so much we have yet to discover about them. Even though I still see them as creepy, through coming to Bushwise I have developed a newfound respect for these animals and their mysterious way of life. 

Itching to get out there and experience the mysteries and magic of the Africa bushveld for yourself? Join us out here at Bushwise where the sounds of hyenas laughing and lions roaring will be the soundtrack of your new adventurous life. 


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