Brown hyena dominates leopard in Namibia

Posted by Anton Crone on 25 June 2020

‘You never get an insight into a leopard’s soul,’ says safari guide Michael Lorentz on observing the footage of a brown hyena confidently walking up to a leopard and dominating it. Despite 35 years in the field, Lorentz has never seen behaviour like this filmed last weekend by Annalien Davin in Okonjima, Namibia.

A brown hyena attempts to take a kill from a male leopard in Okonjima Nature Reserve.

‘I kept expecting different things to happen,’ says Lorentz. ‘The leopard was submissive even when the hyena moved behind her. I expected her to react aggressively at that point.’

It’s fairly well known that brown hyenas don’t pose the same threat as spotted hyenas do to leopards – their base relationship is more neutral. It’s also believed that brown hyenas are shy creatures which makes this specimen’s dominance so remarkable.

Sarah Edwards, a doctor of biological science who is studying brown hyenas at Okinjima was able to shed light on this behaviour.

‘This is an enclosed reserve with a high density of the two species, so they often come across each other,’ she explains. Okonjima’s guides often see such encounters. The fact is the brown hyenas are unusually dominant here. ‘Leopard kills often get stolen by hyenas and the leopards have begun to look at them as dominant.’

The 200 square kilometre reserve was fenced about 10 years ago and has abundant natural prey for leopards. The predator’s numbers have grown to about 25 making this one of the highest concentrations of leopards in the world. Brown hyena numbers have grown in tandem because of the many scavenging opportunities, and their numbers are now almost double that of leopards making this the highest concentration of brown hyenas on earth.

Edwards says a leopard attacking a warthog for example, will attract hyenas because of the loud squeals. ‘Then they’ll take the carcass from the leopard just after it’s made the kill.’

She shared another bit of remarkable footage with Getaway showing a brown hyena attempting to steal a small oryx from a leopard in a tree.

Take a look at additional footage by Rohan van Wyk:

The one certainty is that nature constantly surprises us. ‘It goes to show that adaptation is so important, that you can’t take anything in nature for granted,’ says Lorentz. ‘The truest comment is that leopards always make liars of us.’


Image credit: Richard Zaayman

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