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James Weis - Africa Geographic Article - March 2012

"The Weakest Link"

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James' article on Hyenas hunting an elephants in the March 2012 issue of Africa Geographic magazine.

The Weakest Link
James' article in the March 2012 issue of Africa Geographic magazine
(Page 1 of 2)

The Weakest Link - Africa Geographic article, March 2012 - © James Weis

The Weakest Link
Contrary to popular belief, spotted hyaenas are not just scavengers: they can be daring and determined hunters, as witnessed by Grant Atkinson and James Weis on a recent photographic safari in the Linyanti region of northern Botswana.

WE HAD LEFT SAVUTI CAMP EARLY and were driving through a tract of stunted mopane woodland when we encountered a group of elephants that were obviously in distress. The two large cows and four sub-adults were milling around a very small calf, probably a couple of months old. It was a noisy scene: the larger elephants were trumpeting loudly as they faced a pack of spotted hyaenas, and the predators in their turn were whooping and making low menacing calls, summoning more members from the surrounding woodland. Blood on the muzzles of several of them indicated that they had already managed to maul the calf.

As more and more hyaenas joined the throng – we counted 13 at one point – the elephants panicked and broke away, but soon stopped again to face their tormentors. The two adults swung their trunks viciously at the hyaenas and charged them, their lowered heads smashing through small mopane trees as if they were twigs. But each time the mother charged, she left the calf unprotected for a moment – and that’s when the predators struck, trying to kill the youngster or at least injure it so that it could no longer run. The female would see what was happening and rush in to protect her baby, scattering hyaenas in all directions.

The chase continued, sometimes pausing in small clearings in the dense bush. It was here that the hyaenas were able to do most damage; some lured the adults away while others grabbed the calf by its tail and pulled it down. On one occasion it was on its back and under attack from five or six of the predators, but the mother turned swiftly and drove them off. Two hours passed and the elephants had covered several kilometres, all the time keeping to the thickest stands of vegetation they could find. The calf had visible injuries to its belly as well as its tail and rump, but was still able to follow its mother whenever she ran.

We lost sight of the elephants just as some of the hyaenas looked as if they were losing interest in the hunt, and there’s a good...

Image Captions
TOP: The mother elephant stands protectively over her calf while the spotted hyaenas watch for an opportunity to attack.

BOTTOM: It comes when the female is momentarily distracted and the predators launch themselves at the calf’s vulnerable rear end.

Page 2  


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