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Intelligent and social, hyenas make for diverting photography subjects. No one knows that better than Wild Card member Marli Potgieter, aka the Hyena Queen.

When Marli Potgieter visits the Kruger National Park, it’s a case of first things first. She starts off by going in search of signs that point to hyena activity. Fresh tracks mean Marli will investigate at first light the next morning.

She writes:

Being a qualified field guide makes the task at hand easier, especially when you know what you’re looking for: possible den sites, scats and tracks. A typical day in the Kruger starts at 03:00. Yes, that early, because I’m afraid of missing any of the nocturnal beauties. So far I’ve been generously rewarded for my dedication to being on time.

For our most recent Kruger trip, we travelled from the northern parts of the park all the way down to the south. Nearing the end of our trip, we pitched our tents at Pretoriuskop Rest Camp. Up at the crack of dawn, as always, we set off for the gate with two den sites on the H1-1 in mind. And it was my lucky day – I was rewarded with not two, but four dens.

The first den turned out to be empty, but arriving at the second one, we were greeted by the sight of hyenas scattered all over. Adults were resting after what I can only imagine was a productive night, while the playful youngsters were full of energy. I counted as many as 13 spotted hyenas of all ages: from two tiny brown cubs through to six teenagers and five adults.

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One of the older siblings keeping an eye on the little ones. Pictures by Marli Potgieter

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Mom keeps the litter at bay.

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Time for some suckling…

Once the engine was switched off, the hyena cubs started gathering around our vehicle – sniffing the tyres, inquisitively crawling underneath the car and keeping a watchful eye on the camera in my hand. One youngster was particularly interested in one of the front tyres and the mud flap. Before long, vigorous nibbling ensued…

Efforts to reprimand the little rascal were to no avail – he quickly reacted with a “you’re not my mother!” look and continued his mischievous behaviour. His antics were, however, short-lived. When we switched on the ignition, he scurried away quickly. Because of his razor-sharp teeth, it had taken only a few seconds to cause quite a bit of damage.

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Shall I take a bite?

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This mud flap has seen better days.

Nonetheless, we spent quite some time with the clan. We watched while one of the moms moved her two small cubs to the main den, witnessed some suckling and, of course, enjoyed the playful cubs. Just as I was growing quite fond of them, we had to leave. Their bedtime was approaching and one by one they disappeared into the den.

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Mom’s attempt to take a nap… Who else to keep her on her toes?

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The clan gathers to slowly return back to their den.

Did you know?

  • Female spotted hyenas are both heavier and more aggressive than their male counterparts.
  • Spotted hyena cubs are born black and develop their adult markings only at around three months.
  • Cubs are born with their eyes open and greet life with a dangerous bite – at birth their canine teeth are fully erupted.

Additional source: Shaping Kruger by Mitch Reardon. 2012.