The healthy flows of water in the Linyanti River over the past few years have been good for the local hippo population. And where animals live, so too they die, and when an adult hippo succumbed just a few hundred metres from the river, its demise signalled a free-for-all amongst some of the resident carnivores. For the first day and a half, a clan of spotted hyaena dominated the carcass, tearing it open from the belly, and eating a large portion of the meat. The next day, the hyaenas, having fed to saturation point, moved a short distance away.
Some of them lay down in nearby pools of water to cool off, and others made their way to the river to drink. Some simply lay in the shade of bushes, digesting their easy meal. Their absence allowed another carnivore’s access to the remnants of the hippo, in the form of a young male leopard. When we arrived at the sighting the leopard was struggling mightily to try and bite his way through the very tough skin of the hippo’s leg. It looked to us as if he was trying to sever the leg and make off with it. The skin was too tough though, and the leopard continued to methodically work off small bits of meat, and gulp them down.
Later that afternoon, as the sun was setting, the first hyaena returned. The hyaena approached the carcass directly opposite the leopard, and began to eat, but the leopard was having none of it, and after threatening the hyaena for several seconds, he made a sudden, snarling rush at his bigger adversary.
When male leopards and hyaena clash, it is not always clear which animal is dominant. On many occasions an adult spotted hyaena will manage to drive a leopard off a kill, but at other times the leopards fight back and successfully defend their food. The outcome may depend on the motivation levels at that time of the particular animals in question, in other words, which one is the hungriest. Any sustained fighting carries risks for both participants as neither of them can afford to carry injuries.
In this instance, the male leopard had the most to lose. The hyaena had a bulging belly but no stomach for the fight, and this time it backed off in the face of the leopard’s aggression. Darkness had already fallen when we left the leopard quietly tearing away at the carcass. The next day there was no sign of him, and the hyaena were back, finishing off what was left of the hippo.
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Observers: Lets Kamogelo and Grant Atkinson
Photographers: Lets Kamogelo and Grant Atkinson