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Spring was just a few months ago, but I remember it like yesterday. This blog I wrote at the time brings it all to life again.

Spring is in the air, as well as in the step of a gazillion new babies let loose in Marataba private concession. Feeling the warmth of the sun, the luxury of the rain, the sweetness of the grass or seeing the young enjoy the richness of their mother’s milk – gone is the stress of winter. We now seem to be cloaked in a pervading sense of contentment.

However, in the past, when spending innumerable hours cruising the park, one thing always seemed lacking – my favourite animal, the spotted hyaena Crocuta crocuta. Much maligned, misunderstood, persecuted, shot, poisoned and hated as a devilish creature of witchcraft, the spotted hyaena is quite simply an awesome animal.

In the early morning and evening, the hyaena cubs are allowed out to play. They roll and cavort just like young puppies.
In the early morning and evening, the hyaena cubs are allowed out to play. They roll and cavort just like young puppies.

So we brought in some ‘surplus’ animals from another reserve. Way under quota on our capture we have had three individuals in a large natural ‘soft release’ enclosure for more than a month. The effect of their arrival has been surprising. Seemingly from out of nowhere, wild spotties have begun appearing at the fence and communing with their kinfolk. Now, we regularly see the wild individuals in the mornings and evenings, often far from the enclosure. They pay little heed to the vehicles and saunter unconcernedly as if they have always been there. As they have, but we just never saw them!

Two weeks ago, arriving home at night, I broke out some beers with our colleagues to celebrate my latest discovery – there were babies! Three little black fur balls, a cross between a black bear and a pitbull, that bounced around like Duracell bunnies. Dinkum spottie cubs!

It turns out that in the reserve we have a clan of five adults, two sub-adults and now three ankle-biters – 10 hyaenas, from out of nowhere! The only downside to the hyaenas’ appearance is that they have chosen a den right in the middle of Lightning the leopard’s territory. They have already chased her up a tree, causing her to go dark on us.

Habituation has been my modus operandi with hyaenas and it’s just such a delight to sit at the den every morning and evening, watching the adults come home and bring out the cubs to suckle. Always active, always alert, unlike watching lions (which can be as interesting as watching paint dry), these apex predators, far from being lowly scavengers, are endlessly entertaining.

There are two breeding females at the den, a stunning blonde and a gorgeous brunette. Blondie has one little youngster; the brunette has two. Now you probably think I’m nuts talking this way about such a maligned species, but I compare them to the likes of Claudia Schiffer or Cindy Crawford and I challenge you to study carefully the images in this blog, look into the eyes of Blondie, then Google Claudia or Cindy (try to find an image of them dressed in a spotted fur), and I think you’ll agree that I have a point!!

One of the breeding females is a stunning blonde more appealing, in many ways, that supermodel Claudia Schiffer.
One of the breeding females is a stunning blonde as appealing, in many ways, as supermodel Claudia Schiffer.


Spotted hyaena pups in Marataba

Spotted hyaena pups in Marataba
Spotted hyaena pups in Marataba

All photos © Pete Oxford

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Pete Oxford

British-born Pete Oxford has been a resident of Ecuador, South America, for the past 27 years. He and his South African wife and photographic partner, Reneé Bish, have been regular and frequent visitors to southern Africa for the past two decades. They are presently based in the Marataba private concession in Marakele National Park, Limpopo province, where they work as 'photographers-in-residence', documenting both the treasures and the rebuilding of the contractual national park. The Oxfords' work has appeared in magazines around the world, including Africa Geographic, Time, Smithsonian, Life, BBC Wildlife and National Geographic. The couple has published 12 books. Pete is a founding fellow of the prestigious International League of Conservation Photographers, has been represented 10 times in the BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Year awards and was recognised by Outdoor Photographer Magazine as one of the top 40 most influential nature photographers in the world.