The Enigma of Hyenas and Wild Horses

When asked about his most memorable experience David Attenborough describes a scene in which he, undetected, was privy to the observation of animals going about their lives. The great psychologist C.G. Jung describes a similar scene on his visit to the Mara in Kenya. Describing it as “the eternal beginning, the world as it had always been, in the state of nonbeing; for until then no one had been present to know that it was this world.”

In Namibia we have the opportunity to be privileged to many such encounters … if we can learn to remain quietly unobtrusive. Even more so to be privy to interspecies relationships – and that between the Namib’s and Crocuta crocuta, the Spotted Hyena, is certainly an interesting one.

Based in Luderitz, the Brown Hyena Research Project has, since 2015, extended their study to include the impact of spotted hyena predation on the wild horses in the Garub area. Spotted hyenas have been recorded in the area since the early 1990’s, so are not new to the area. Increased predation on the wild horses however is possibly due to conditions resulting from the current drought.

The project collared two hyenas (named Ny and Zane) in April this year. Studies indicate hyena can have huge home ranges extending as much as 4000 square km in desert environments. Downloaded data from the radio collars indicate Ny and Zane travelled right into the dune field bordering on the Koichab Ephemeral River – an area dissected by our Wild Horses riding Safari

As the drought, which is the greatest threat to the wild horse population, has badly affected the condition of the wild horses, spotted hyena are able to prey on the drought weakened animals. Thanks to very generous public donations the Wild Horses Foundation has been supplementing feed which gives the horses the edge they need to avoid predation. It is mainly the foals, young horses and weak mares which are at risk.

With their distinctive ambling walk, almost half dog-like but more like a bear or a badger than a dog, these powerfully built animals are the most vociferous of Africa’s mammals.

Their distinctive calls around a kill often unwittingly invite other predators and the wily black-backed jackal can often be seen stealing from hyena kills. (click link to hear them!)

Hyena are territorial and live in clans which, in the Namib, appear to be necessarily small due to the absence of large concentrations of prey. Females are generally heavier than males, weighing up to 75kg and so powerful that they are able to bring down bull wildebeest three times their weight. Their reputation for being craven is somewhat erroneous – they are cunning, have endless patience and above all are adept at causing chaos among prey animals. This is no craven scavenger but a master of opportunity.

Hyenas certainly utilize prey more completely and efficiently than other carnivores and can digest bone, horn and even teeth. They have even been known to utilize mummified carcasses which gives them the edge for living in these arid areas. Their ability to lope tirelessly for long distances and even gallop at some 37 km/h allows them to easily pick off drought-weakened prey.

We feel privileged to sometimes catch fleeting glimpses of these fascinating creatures on our horse riding safaris. Your riding guide, Andrew, will most definitely point out the hyena teeth-marks on the toilet sea at Aruvlei for anyone on a Namib Desert Safari! Best not to put your bed out too far from camp here…

Like C.G. Jung and David Attenborough, we too are privileged to be able to watch wild game interacting on the plains of the Namib - sometimes undetected since we, like centaurs, appear to be part of our mounts. Would that we too be struck by the realisation that the scenes rolling out before us could indeed be “the eternal beginning…”


The Safari Companion by Richard D Estes;

Brown Hyena Research Project Newsletter

C.G. Jung: Memories, Dreams, Reflections

#namibwildhorses #hyena #wildhorses #namibia #namibdesert

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