The Economy of a Hyena Walking

This is a hyena on the move. In this case, Willi on the road to Suquatberi with his spotted bottom bobbing along in typical, hypnotic, hyena fashion. It’s not readily apparent from the footage but hyenas are incredibly efficient when it comes to locomotion. Hyenas in the Kalahari have been known to walk 40kms to a feeding place and then 40kms home the same night! An 80km round trip in one night is pretty lengthy but if you try following a hyena one night you’ll see that, for these animals, its nothing. My legs are pretty long but I still find myself having to really push to keep up with Willi and he’s only small. Keeping up with a fully grown hyena is another challenge altogether. They really motor along and if you don’t push, you find yourself losing ground pretty rapidly. And if you stop to take notes or take off your jacket because you’re sweating so much, you’ll find that the subject has disappeared. When this happens it’s a matter of striking a balance between running to catch up and not scaring the hyena off with the sound of your running footsteps. Jalla’s the best because if I lose her she often waits up for me at the next junction. I’m not entirely sure why, though I think she appreciates the protection from dogs that a human companion affords.

Note also from the video, how Willi uses his ears. Hyenas rotate them individually this way and that and really pay attention to what’s going on around them (Here, Willi is listening to the sounds of dogs barking at a hyena along the road behind him). And they recognise sounds as keenly as they recognise smells. They can differentiate the footsteps of the hyena man from other people with the same kinds of shoes. And they even recognise the sounds of Bajaj taxis that park overnight next to the hyena feeding place. If it’s a familiar Bajaj, they stay wherever they happen to be, but if it’s an unfamiliar Bajaj, they get up expectantly, because chances are it will have tourists on board and tourists mean food. You can only wonder what the world must be like when your senses of smell, sight and hearing are so switched on.

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