Hyena youngsters are curious, lively and full of beans, as these intimate photographs by Wild traveller Marli Potgieter prove. It’s no wonder the cubs stole her heart – but that’s not all the thieving little rascals made off with.

It’s no secret that Wild traveller Marli Potgieter has a bit of an obsession with spotted hyena. Whenever she’s spending time in the famous Kruger National Park, she makes it a priority to revisit all her favourite den sites. During a recent camping trip to Pretoriuskop Rest Camp, this avid hyena enthusiast was once again in her element.

She writes:

With the sun barely up, every day started off with a few hours at one of two den sites. On this particular day, we decided to go for an afternoon drive along the H1-1 main road. Judging from experience, hyena cubs are usually quite active from around four in the afternoon. We made a quick stop at Transport Dam where we found a lone elephant bull quenching his thirst.

When we arrived at the den, the little rascals were already at it with a total of nine hyenas ranging in all ages. The only adult supervision proved to be a very sleepy mom.

Mom keeping an eye

With the vehicle’s engine off, we watched in awe as the cubs suckled, jumped, chewed thorny twigs and bullied one another. Before long, the curious and playful spotties decided to explore our car – a strange, big box carrying two nosy humans. Because we’d been spending so much time with them, the cubs were quite accustomed to us and our vehicle, which made for some close encounters.

Cubs might be small, but their strength should not be underestimated. Razor sharp teeth can cause serious damage. Like a chewed-up mud flap.

Did you know? Hyena cubs are born with well-developed teeth and can fight quite viciously. In the case of female twins, it’s common for one sister to kill the other.

As the youngsters gathered around the vehicle, one particular hyena started to chew at the rear bumper. We started the engine a few times in an attempt to curb the mischief, but the hyena youngsters kept returning like naughty children. That’s when one of them – the largest of the lot – suddenly took off. It had something in its mouth…

The culprits

We soon realised that one of the rubber covers from the tow bar had vanished. The spotted thief kept its distance, making sure to keep his new-found toy from the others. Of course, another youngster also wanted to share in the fun and it soon got hold of a second tow bar cover.

The duo seemed quite pleased with their accomplishments and as some of the others tried to join the game, a tug of war ensued. The two culprits wanted none of it and took off – rubber covers and all.

Pictures by Marli Potgieter
Additional source: Smithers’ Mammals of Southern Africa: A Field Guide. Revised by Peter Apps. Struik Nature. 2012.