On a game drive out of Chitabe camp in the southern Okavango recently, I was intrigued by an unusual interaction that occurred between a family group of spotted hyaenas and a pair of warthogs.
We were visiting a hyaena den, which in this instance took the form of some deep holes in the ground. Outside the den there were two adult hyaenas lying asleep, while four cubs played around them. As we were enjoying watching the antics of the youngsters, a pair of adult warthogs ambled up to the den’s entrance, causing the cubs to dash inside the hole.
I fully expected the adult hyaenas to take some form of protective action in defence of their cubs, but they simply continued sleeping. The male warthog then entered the den, and some small dust clouds came swirling up above ground. He soon reappeared at the surface and proceeded to threaten the nearest adult hyaena by grunting and raising his mane hair as he approached. I was surprised to see the hyaena run off for a few metres before lying down again.
The hyaena cubs then come into sight at the entrance hole, but as soon as the warthog chased away their mother, they just as quickly disappeared back underground. The male warthog finally seemed satisfied that he had made the area safe, and both he and the female then eased themselves into an opening in the burrow.
I couldn’t understand the adult hyaenas’ lack of aggression towards the warthogs, so sought an explanation from Smithers’ The Mammals of the Southern African Subregion. It seems that the hyaena cubs are excellent diggers and they are able to excavate smaller cavities and tunnels leading off from the den’s larger holes, which are created by the adults. These smaller burrows may well enable them to escape, out of danger from larger animals.
One never stops learning from Mother Nature!
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