Tag Archives: predators

A Killer Bite

When I cracked open the fresh binding on my senior yearbook an eon ago, I came face to face with the infamous superlatives list, bestowed (wittingly or unwittingly) upon various graduating members of our senior class.  Nicest Eyes, Best Dressed, Most Likely to Open a Gas Station… the list was thoughtfully crafted.

After a few days in Africa observing living animals and taking data off the dead, it occurred to me that if there is one animal in Africa that deserves the award for Best Bite, it’s unequivocally the hyena.

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A killer smile? (c) Arno & Louise Wildlife.

The hyena gest this honor, not because it has the strongest bite—that record goes to another African native, the crocodile—but because it is an equal opportunity lender of mandibular destruction.  Or to put it another way, a hyena doesn’t particularly care what it lends its jaws to.  A hyena is no gourmand.

Time and time again, we found evidence of hyena feeding.  It got to the point that when we approached a carcass the first thing that would run through our mind was: lets see what the hyenas left us this time… But the truth is, it was awe inspiring to see the damage hyenas are capable of inflicting with their teeth.

On every skeleton we found places where hyenas had gnawed off thin parts of bones entirely, such as the shoulder blade or hipbones.

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Hyenas love to chomp on thin bones. Check out the tooth marks on this elephant shoulder blade.

They also appeared to be fond of chewing off the faces of elephant skulls.

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The face on this elephant skull has been chewed off by hyenas.

We even found scat (droppings if you prefer) containing small bones that were swallowed whole by hyenas.

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Hyena scat contains whole bones and turtle shell.  Who needs to chew?

By far the wickedest evidence of hyena feeding was a turtle skeleton we stumbled across in the Kazakini area.  The hyena had taken a young female leopard tortoise up in its jaws and bitten half of it clean off, right through the shell, no finesse required.

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This female leopard tortoise had a bad day.

After all that, I thought I had a handle on the wreckage inflicted by the hyenas.  Boy was I wrong.  Laying in our tent one night I was startled awake by series of hideous sounds—the deep, desperate howls of a large antelope in its death throws overprinted by the frantic, murderous yips and cries of a whole pack of hyenas echoing like a twisted symphony across the grassland.  Then suddenly like the fall of a black curtain, there was only dead silence.  It was enough to make your blood run cold.

Next day we followed the footprints of the successful pack as they walked 50 feet from our campsite.  For a moment the thought of following them to the kill site swept through my mind, but it was quickly followed by the memory of lunatic laughter.

I quickly came to realize I preferred studying the more distant aftermath of the hyena.  Perhaps some things are best left to the cover of night.