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.