Wild Dogs Attack Spotted Hyenas to Defend Their Kill

Sep 28 2015

Piercing sounds and action dominates this clip, making one wonder where its going to lead. Wild dogs have chased and killed a female impala. Marc Lindsay Rae, head of the specialist safari division at Africa Direct says, 'Wild dogs are intelligent creatures and use “structures/barriers” so to speak, to increase their chances of a successful hunt. Over the years, I have seen wild dogs, hunting along rivers, around waterholes, lodges, rocky outcrops and drainage lines.' These “barriers” slow the prey down considerably making for an easier kill. 'What most likely happened here is the dogs chased the impala into the steep drainage line potentially causing it to trip or stumble, thus giving the dogs enough time to catch up to the impala and make their kill,' explains Marc.

As heard in this clip wild dogs are noisy on a kill and this often attracts other predators especially lions and hyena. The hyenas would have heard the kill taking place, and would have rushed in for the steal. 'In this case I feel there were just too many wild dogs and the hyena would never stand a chance,' says Marc. Too many dogs and too few hyenas. What an incredible sighting! We chat more to Marc regarding these incredible creatures and their behaviour.

TB: Is it not unusual for such few hyena to take on a pack of wild dogs?
MLR: In this video there are two hyenas trying to steal the kill. However, I don’t think it is at all unusual for a single hyena to take on a pack of wild dogs. A pack is classified as more than one animal. Therefore, 1 hyena taking on a pack of 2 or 3 wild dogs is not unusual. However, in this case with such a large pack, I think they were a little too optimistic thinking they could steal the kill. Hyenas are a lot stronger and hardier than wild dogs, and are willing to take greater risks in trying to secure their food. 

TB: Can you please tell us more about the calls we hear in this clip?
MLR: I am always amazed at the sounds of wild dogs. Especially seeing as that they don't look too different from your average dog, one would perhaps expect the average woof, woof. But No! The most often heard vocalization is what we call a rallying call. It's the high pitched twittering you hear in this video. They use it for a number of reasons. Before the hunt, when they greet each other, when there are pups about, and of course, when there is another predator around trying to steal their kill. It is a rallying to get all the dogs excited together, to strengthen their bond and to show them they working as a team. I can also imagine the hyenas are intimidated by the loud calls coming from so many different angles.

TB: It is said that wild dogs have great team work amongst each other.  Can the same be said for a clan of hyena?

Very much so. There has been some incredible research done recently on hyenas and the way they co-operate with each other. See below a short article:

In the animal world, chimpanzees are regarded as the brainboxes. But new research shows that they can't touch spotted hyenas when it comes to cooperative problem-solving.

In fact, the hyenas were so quick at finding solutions to tasks for which primates usually require extensive training that researchers from Duke University and the University of California, Berkeley, were left open-mouthed with amazement.

Researcher Christine Drea, an evolutionary anthropologist at Duke, said social carnivores that hunt in packs like spotted hyenas might be good models for investigating cooperative problem-solving and the evolution of social intelligence.

'What this study shows is that spotted hyenas are more adept at these sorts of cooperation and problem-solving studies in the lab than chimps are. There is a natural parallel of working together for food in the laboratory and group hunting in the wild.'

The research saw captive pairs of spotted hyenas presented with two ropes, which they needed to tug in unison in order to produce a food reward. The animals figured out how to do the task quickly and with no training.

'The first pair walked in to the pen and figured it out in less than two minutes,' Drea said. 'My jaw literally dropped.'

The research, conducted at Berkeley, also examined how social factors affected the hyenas' performance. When an audience of hyenas was present, experienced animals solved the task faster. But when dominant animals were paired, they performed poorly, even if they had been successful in previous trials with a subordinate partner.

'When the dominant females were paired, they didn't play nicely together,' Drea said. 'Their aggression toward each other led to a failure to cooperate.'

When an animal unfamiliar with the feeding task was paired with a dominant, experienced animal, the hyenas would switch social roles with the dominant animal submissively following the lower-ranking animal. Once the lower-ranked hyena became experienced, they switched back.

Drea said researchers had focused on primates for decades with an assumption that higher cognitive functioning in large-brained animals should enable organised teamwork. But the hyena study demonstrates that social carnivores, including dogs, may be very good at cooperative problem solving, even though their brains are comparatively smaller.

'I'm not saying that spotted hyenas are smarter than chimps,' Drea said. 'I'm saying that these experiments show that they are more hard-wired for social cooperation than chimpanzees.'

TB: Can you explain to us why hyenas are more closely related to cats than dogs?
MLR: Although extant hyenas are rather dog-like in many aspects of their appearance, the family hyaenidae (hyenas) actually belongs to the carnivore suborder feliformia, which also contains cats, mongooses, civets, and allies. Hyenas are thus far more closely related to cats and other feliform taxa than to caniform carnivores such as dogs, bears, or weasels. Fossil data suggest that members of the family hyaenidae last shared a common ancestor with their feliform sister taxon in the oligocene, around 25 million years ago (MYA) and recent molecular data suggest this divergence occurred even earlier, approximately 29 MYA. It is purely an evolutionary relationship.

TB: what is the most interesting thing you can tell us about wild dogs?
MLR: The scientific name for the African wild dog lycaon pictus means “painted wolf”. No two wild dogs have the same markings, which makes them easily identifiable and as unique individuals



Marc Lindsay-Rea


At thirty, Marc Lindsay-Rea, who is from the little town of Empangeni in the Kwa Zulu Natal area of South Africa, already has extensive experience in the African bush. This allows him to be a professional in both tour operating and field guiding divisions.


In addition to the bush Marc also has a massive passion for wildlife photography. He has been placed first and third in two international competitions: Africa Geographic / Canon Field Guides Competition and Wildside Nikon All Africa Competition respectively. Davland Calendars and Art publishers have also purchased some of his images to include in their 2012/2013 calendars of wildlife in action, which is sold internationally.



Other Related Stories

Join the Conversation