National Geographic : 1968 Jul
Hyenas THE HUNTERS NOBODY KNOWS By HANS KRUUK, Ph.D. Photographsby BARON HUGO VAN LAWICK IGHT WAS FADING from a gray April sky over the vast caldera called Ngorongoro in Tanzania. Within the high rim of this ancient crater lies a hidden world of plains, hills, and forest-a paradise for animals and for scientists like myself who study them. My wife Jane and I sat in tense silence, waiting. All about us herds of wilde beest and zebra were drifting to grazing places for the night. A flock of crowned cranes slowly winged toward the small lake on the crater floor. Suddenly the scene exploded in a frenzy of action. A herd of wildebeest just ahead of us boiled in wild commotion as a large bull broke and galloped away. I seized my binoculars. In the round field of vision I could see clearly a hyena running at full speed on the wildebeest's heels. They went head to tail, the stocky hyena having little difficulty keeping up with his longer-legged quarry. Every now and again he would leap up, biting at the tail, legs, or loins of the fleeing bull. My heart was knocking in my throat, for this was our first observation of the hyena as a hunter. "Look!" Jane called. She, too, was following the chase through field glasses. "Here come some more!" From different directions, five more hyenas appeared, all at a dead run, intent on the fleeing wildebeest. He headed straight for the lake; by now he had run almost two miles and was visibly tiring. The hyenas closed in rapidly. In a last frantic effort, the bull reached the lake and plunged in. He struggled into deep water and vanished. The hyenas came to a stop. In a moment all was still, but for the rippling water where the bull had drowned. Jane and I put our glasses down and sat there flabbergasted by the unexpected chase and its sudden tragic ending. Cocking a wary eye, a hyena drinks before joining a pack on a prowl of Tanzania's Ngorongoro Crater. The author, a young Dutch scientist, found that the spotted hyena, Crocuta crocuta, long considered a cowardly scavenger, hunts by night in deadly packs, which are un afraid to tackle even a lion that tries to steal their prey.