National Geographic : 1968 Jul
circled the scene and came to a stop, with cameras poking out of the windows. One of the tourists, a lady, looked out at the hyenas and said to the others, "Look at them-they're waiting for the spoils." None of them considered the possibility that the lowly hyenas might be waiting to reclaim their own kill. During our months in Africa, we made thousands of observations, by day and by night, that gave us a new picture of animal relation ships, quite different from the one we had accepted. We discovered that hyenas will indeed eat the remains of a lion kill-but lions will also take the kill of hyenas. Both are scavengers, if the opportunity presents itself. In the Serengeti, hyenas and lions do most of their own killing. In Ngorongoro Crater, however, lions almost never kill for themselves, but rely on the hyenas to do it for them! In the dozens of episodes that Jane and I witnessed in the crater, only four times did we see a lion feeding on its own kill. We tested our conclusions by tape-recording the sounds of hyena packs gathered around their kills. When these tapes were played over a loudspeaker set up in the crater, the lions were usually not long in showing up. Foundling Hyena Adopts a New Home There is no better way to get the "feel" of the behavior of an animal than to have one constantly around in the house. Thus we were delighted when we heard that African park rangers had found a young hyena near one of the remote guard posts of the Serengeti National Park. We went to collect it immediately. It was a tiny, round, week-old cub, still pitch black, whimpering and unable to walk. We named him Solomon, and he soon became the delight, and the bane, of both our lives (page 50). He regarded Jane and me as the senior members of his family and considered our house in Seronera, in the Serengeti, as his den. More than anything else, he loved riding in the Land-Rover to look at the animals! One day we came upon a pride of lions basking in the afternoon sun. I rolled up to within a few feet of them. Solomon watched them through the window in a detached, interested manner. But as soon as I turned the vehicle downwind and he caught a whiff of lion, he became terrified and struggled to leap from the window. On one dark, moonless night, as I lay awake in our house at Seronera, a sudden, high-pitched yell, the sound of hyena fright, brought me to my feet in alarm. Solomon! He liked to prowl around outside at night; when he had cried out before, he had always come rushing back to the safety of the house. This time the cry seemed to be moving away into the bush. Grabbing a flashlight, I jumped right out of the window and ran toward the cries, shouting at the top of my lungs. Afterward I real ized what a fool I had been, running through the thornbush on a pitch-black night, barefoot and clad only in pajamas. Two hundred yards from the house I caught up with Solomon. His bedraggled little figure hung from the jaws of an adult hyena, which had him gripped tightly by the throat. At the sight of a pa jama-clad wild man, leaping about with a light and screaming, the adult dropped its prey and ran. I brought Solomon home with a gashed throat, punctured wind pipe, and broken jaw. It took many doses of penicillin and weeks of In a scramble for safety, a hyena dodges the horns of a mother wildebeest bent on protecting a new born infant. Hyenas can run almost tirelessly and up to 40 miles an hour, outpacing all but the fastest animals in life-or death races. As hunters, hyenas attack from the rear, felling the victim, then tearing it apart. Snarling a warning, a hyena drives off interlop ing vultures and takes over spoils already picked to the bone. The two spe cies may help each other find the next meal. Hye nas sometimes watch for vultures swooping down to a kill. When airborne, the birds can see prowl ing hyenas at great dis tances. Hyenas permit vultures to share a feast only when their own rav enous appetites are eased. Sneak attack: A stalking hyena lunges at the head of a baby rhino, helpless with a broken hind leg. Its huge parent appears slow in reacting, possibly because she has already defended her youngster for at least ten hours. Even lions, if old or crip pled and alone, may fall victim to the bold ferocity of hyenas.