National Geographic Eternal Enemies: Lions and Hyenas (1992)

Since we left these dark nights in Africa
and escaped to the security of our armchairs
we have forgotten the horror,
the turmoil of the hidden battlefields,
and the secrets of their special magic.
Like ghosts in the moonlight
silhouette shades gather
to confront each other,
lions to beguile the hyenas,
hyenas to torment the lions.
They both have arrived at an
elephant carcass to scavenge.
Even those royal lions can
feed with the rotten flesh.
The rivalry reaches far beyond
the competition for food.
If animals can hate,
this is a blood feud of hatred.
For millennia these two scavengers and hunters
have waged an ancient war against each other.
It is often unpleasant to witness,
desperately sad and horrifying,
always deeply disturbing.
Until now, this war has been veiled
under the secrecy of darkness.
This is the story of two of Africa's
bitter, eternal enemies.
Eternal Enemies
Lions and Hyenas
Two filmmakers, Dereck and Beverly Joubert
have documented an ancient war
by getting to know both the lions
and the hyenas in one area.
These are excerpts from their film notes.
The Central Pride which we know best
comprises nine young lionesses
and two adult males.
Today one lioness is missing
and something is happening
out on the grassland.
Sometime during the night
hyenas have killed a buffalo.
The young lioness is alone
scavenging from their kill.
Their tolerance is short-lived.
The calls of the hyena assault
are carring miles across the grassland,
to a male of the pride's
who is always eager to confront the hyenas.
Usually we think of lions as noble hunters
and hyenas as lower scavengers.
Often it is the other way around.
But for the young lioness,
whom we have named Matsumi
the arrival of the male
makes little difference.
Males often dominate their kills
until they are sated
along the females to feed only on scraps.
We followed Matsumi,
who has left the pride
and seems to be on a mysterious quest.
Methodically, she explores the hills
that jut out like granite fortresses
on the fringe of the pride's territory.
These hills are landmarks
in the northern region
of the African country of Botswana.
Here a place, called Savuti
is famous for its many lion prides
and great numbers of hyenas.
It is here that the miracle happens.
When young lionesses come of age
they always seek out a secluded spot
away from the pride and safe from hyenas.
Three cubs are born in the safe hideaway.
It's surprising to see that their eyes
are open, but as yet they cannot see.
By instinct they know what to search for.
And very soon they locate by smell
the nipples that will feed them
for the next year.
For that time and long
the cubs will rely entirely
on their mother and the pride.
From very early on
there is competition for food among lions.
Like a reigning queen
this hyena is the most dominant
in what we called, the Southern Clan.
She is the female leader, the matriarch.
Her status is probably set for life.
She keeps her two tiny cubs
separate from the other mothers,
and their cubs.
One of these cubs should grow up
to be the matriarch's successor.
As long as their mother is head of the clan
her position will ensure their protection.
But now these tiny cubs are probably
unaware of their privilege in the clan.
Male hyenas are smaller than the females
and subordinate to them all.
The females dominate the hyena clan system,
and a male around the den
is an unwelcome threat to cubs
and a nuisance to females.
This is a female society.
In appearance they are like dogs,
but the myths and legends surrounding hyenas are mostly wrong
in fact, they are closer to cats than to dogs.
These strange animals' nearest relative
is the mongoose.
But in some of their behaviours
hyenas are like no other animals on earth
when the sun beats down on the exposed dens
the alduts retreat to the distance shape
Well within the Southern Clan's territory,
Matsumi is getting to know her new cubs.
All she knows about cubs
is drawn from her
deep well of genetic knowledge.
One of her strongest instincts now
is to protect them.
Like a princess,
one of the hyena cubs remains alone.
Like a child,
she is curious about the older cubs.
Early observers mistakenly reported
that hyenas were hermaphrodites,
animals of dual sex.
Both males and females have
what looks like a penis.
At an early age both males and females
try to engage in mock mating.
This behaviour has never been recorded before.
It is among the many
strange things about hyenas
that make them one of the most fascinating
and least understood creatures of Africa.
The temptation to join them is too great,
but danger stalks the open grassland.
The matriarch is alerted
and storms back to save her cubs.
A lioness from the pride
is surrounded and attacked.
A usual close companion of Matsumi,
who is away in the hills with her cubs.
But the rest of the pride rushes to her aid.
The young male dives in to take on the hyenas.
This youngster,
on the verge of adulthood,
has already had many violent
encounters with hyenas.
Fear has turned to something
what came to hatred.
Hyenas recognise the transition.
It was a skirmish, not a battle.
No blood was spilled today.
The excited hyena clan
gathers around the matriarch.
They greet with a peculiar ritual.
Probably adopted to the dominance of females,
this ritual is centered around the developed
mock penis to signal their dominance.
The ceremony involves sniffing
and licking the genitals.
They mark the area where the lions were
by leaving a scent on the grass as a signpost.
Hyena cubs are like miniature adults
displaying the same behaviour patterns
as their parents.
When the lions appeared
all the cubs bundled into the same den.
The matriarch's female cub,
who we now call the Princess,
finds herself in hostile territory
fighting for her life.
When the matriach returns
the brazen cubs are scent
scurrying to their own dens.
The Princess is safe.
We gave the older, larger male
the African name Mondayvoo,
the younger, lighter one is Untwydumala:
"He Who Greets With Fire".
Cubs dig away inside the dens
working them into secret chambers
that are inaccessible even to adult hyenas.
But even down here they have enemies
and competition among the cubs
can play itself out in the most cruelsome way.
The Princess has killed her sister.
As soon as they can,
hyena cubs will try to kill each other.
From the moment of birth,
the first born or more dominant
has an inherent, aggressive drive
to kill its nearest competitor.
It is genetic selection.
Hyenas are the only mammals
known to carry out this kind of fratricide.
Mothers usually don't intervene.
The Princess is now the probable
future matriarch of her clan.
master of the night wait and watch in the darkness
inspecting off the different conners of their 40 square miles territory
or joining to hunt occasionally when away from femals
the hyenas know each of these males by sight
and stay away
In the hills young Matsumi knows
that it's time to move her cubs.
The air around the birthplace
is saturated with the unmistakeable scent
of vulnerable new life.
Without the protection of a den
like hyenas have
the cubs must frequently be removed.
It is their first move.
Matsumi gently carries them
down to another site.
Soon she will introduce them to the pride.
As we watch, she drops
the cubs off one by one
in a shady spot she has selected
and returns for the next.
The new site is badly chosen.
An Egyptian cobra occupies
a hole under the same bushes.
The cobra is about to shed its skin.
A most dangerous time
because even the skin on its eyes
peels off blurring its vision.
The snake strikes ahead
attacking both the lioness and the cubs.
The cobra's venom has an immediate effect
on Matsumi's nervous system.
As we followed her out into the open
she deteriorated rapidly.
Behind us the cubs,
only a few weeks old, are already dead.
With her sight impaired
she can only sniff at the bodies.
The old adversaries are always watching
and waiting to slip in from the night.
At the water Matsumi quenches
the drastic thirst
that develops from a cobra bite
and listens to the nightmare behind her.
Her cubs are gone
and her own survival now hangs in the balance.
Tucked away in a distant
corner of their territory,
the rest of Matsumi's pride sees out
another hot day in typical lion fashion.
Heat steals the moisture
that all life depends on.
African bees like everything else
are desperate for sustenance.
They seek out any source of moisture.
Although well-equipped for most hazards,
lions have few defences against bees.
They are more of an irritation than a danger.
Especially to Untwydumala.
When the lions move on
the bees go in search of new victims.
Hyenas are more tolerant - or lazier.
But when the matriarch can't take it any longer
she finds a ready solution.
She buries her problem.
We stayed with Matsumi
for four long days and nights
as she struggled against the devilry
of the lingering cobra venom.
Her vision is still unfocused.
The constant salivation dehydrates her.
The ordeal has sucked her energy,
and the pain from the bite
in her back leg is obvious;
as she keeps it from touching the other one.
She is totally vulnerable.
Each day must be an agony,
each night a nighmare.
Like the lions, the hyenas patrol frequently
to guard against neighbouring clans.
Along patrol, they come across
the snake-bitten lioness.
They sense that she can't defend herself
and they circle.
She needs aggression
with what the little strength she has.
No hyena is quite willing
to risk a frontal attack.
We can state Matsumi seems like an easy target,
but suddenly and quite surprisingly,
the hyenas lose interest
and vanish into the night.
We kept up our watch on Matsumi
for another few days,
never knowing when the hyenas might return.
She lay helpless letting time heal her wounds.
Recovery from a cobra bite
is never a sure thing.
But we know she is resilient.
After a full week, the venom
has worked itself out of Matsumi's body.
She is able at least to walk once again.
Her first impulse is to investigate the site
with the confrontation with the cobra
for any sign of her cubs.
There is none. The hyenas saw to that.
As she leaves the area for the last time.
Seasons in Botswana seem to explode
into sudden change
with each rainfall or stirring wind.
A solitary lioness has a difficult time
hunting and protecting herself from hyenas.
Matsumi waits and listens
for her missing companions.
As soon as the pride is back in the area
she recognises their calls and rushes to join.
It's impossible to say just how
much of her story they can smell.
One can't help becoming caught up
in the spine-chilling excitement of the hunt.
Perhaps it has something to do
with the memory of time gone by
when we the prey and
our nights were filled with darkness.
It's the time of the wildebeest again
and the tony shapes are
drawn by the need to devour.
As always,
the killers're watched from the shadows.
Quickly the hyenas identify the lions
and realize that the males are absent.
Because Matsumi is weaker, she has to struggle
to find her way into the feeding frenzy.
The noise attracts the entire Southern Clan.
As the numbers mount up, the battle begins.
Perhaps sparked by recent memories
Matsumi is the most aggressive.
The numbers are too great,
- the battle too fierce.
Hyenas are masters at exploiting chaos.
They keep Matsumi isolated
while attacking other lionesses viciously.
The lions are helpless.
From the safety of the trees
they can only watch their kill disappear.
Blood flows tonight.
This incident at least
was simply a struggle for food,
competition between the superpredators.
We chose to stay with the lions
as the prowling hyenas
melted away into the night.
By dawn the lions were
still isolated in small groups,
reluctant to venture down from the trees.
The pride begins to relax.
They seem confident
by the lifting of the darkness
and the disappearance of their enemies.
Matsumi is still shaken.
Getting up a tree is always easy,
coming down is less dignified.
The matriarch's only surviving cub,
the Princess,
is still enjoying the privilege of her birth.
During the long hours we spent around the dens
the hyenas came to ignore us totally
and played out their social games.
Social time around the den
strengthens the individual's place in the clan.
And along the long journey
from pure scavengers to hunters,
hyenas have adopted a quick
and clear identification system
that is reinforced each day.
The Pricess is being groomed
for leadership of the clan,
but she is still dependent on her mother.
Night after night these hyenas pass the hours
within earshot of the lions,
constantly aware of the others' presence,
always alert for a weakness to be used.
Two families are feuding enemies.
With each passing phase of seasonal change,
Savuti is transformed as if by magic.
Thousands of zebras migrate into the area
and the lions react immediately,
converging on any stampede.
Lions appear from everywhere,
ignoring old established boundaries,
encroaching on forbidden ground.
They are all after the same food supply.
As Matsumi leads the Central Pride in the hunt,
another pride comes running in.
They are neighbours and constant adversaries
like the hyenas.
Matsumi's pride is attacked and chased.
As they retreat, one female is separated
behind the line of attack by the intruders.
She is surrounded and seriously injured.
With only a few minutes of rest
between the attacks
the female is tormented throughout the night.
Matsumi has been waiting in the shadows,
and comes in to investigate
when the growls subside.
The injured lioness is an older female
possibly her mother.
But Matsumi can do nothing.
She is chased off
and the old female is left alone
to whatever fate awaits her.
In the night, her blood drains out
onto the grass.
The Central Pride is now
smaller by one lioness.
It is always sad to watch the death of a lion
or a hyena that we have come to know,
but these endless cycles of life and death
have continued throughout the ages.
Matsumi and her pride reassemble
and walk into the darkness.
The horrors of the night melt away
into the warm glow of survival.
After the death of the older female
and within a month of losing her cubs,
young Matsumi comes into heat again.
Mondayvoo reacts to the scent
and follows her trail
knowing that she is ready for mating.
While the younger male, Untwydumala,
is away patrolling the territory,
his brother dominates the mating.
A few months later the Southern Clan
patrols on the same patch of Savuti
that soaked in the lioness's blood.
They are hunting.
For the first time the Princess has joined
the matriarch on the hunt.
Zebras have returned on their migration.
The clan methodically hunts down the fauls,
not bothering about stealth.
Untwydumala is back from his patrol.
Always ready to confront hyenas.
He catches the matriarch.
It is a moment of supreme opportunity
for the male.
Not concerned with food, his drive is to kill.
Her back is broken.
The matriarch can't survive
a brutal mauling by a male lion.
On her very first hunt,
the Princess is faced with a catastrophy.
She has only just passed
from total dependence
on her mother's milk into the harsh world
where she will have to fend for herself.
As the Princess finds her,
the matriarch breaths her last.
Without the matriarch, the clan is in turmoil.
They are leaderless.
New relationships have to be sorted out.
Second and second-ranked females
now compete for the top position.
The males molest a female,
possibly to force her to choose a mate.
Among hyenas females select
which male to mate with.
For months the clan will be nervous
and quarrelsome,
weakened against attack
by lions or other hyena clans.
The life of the Pincess is also in turmoil.
Without the protection of her mother
she has lost all rank in the hierarchy.
She wanders in and out of the clan's territory
without knowing its limits,
without the guidance of an adult.
Alone, in a world full of enemies.
The old den site has been abandoned
because of fleas,
and the new dens has new young cubs.
The Princess is accepted here
because she is still a clan member.
But now, she has no privileges.
Even the new cubs are allowed
to take advantage of her.
Very soon she becomes alienated
by her uncertainty
and leaves the dens for the last time.
The marking and patrolling of boundaries
by both lions and hyenas
is a way of avoiding a conflict
like the recent lion fight
which can result in death.
The hyena clan uses a waterhole
as a territory boundary in the dry season.
It is here where the Princess
joins up with her clan
at night to tag along on the hunt.
On the north bank,
the clan's neighbours have smelt for days
the intrusions of the Princess
and now rush in to confront
her disruptive clan.
The dispute is over the territorial boundary,
which seems to run through
the centre of the waterhole.
During this crucial confrontation
a new matriarch emerges
and leads the Southern Clan into battle.
When hyenas clash, they use their teeth
as vicious weapons to inflict heavy wounds
on each other sometimes ending
in serious maulings or even deaths.
The Northern Clan is stronger,
but the fighting is confused.
Finally, they retreat again
before the Southern advance.
After the battle has won her own clan
mistakes the Princess as an intruder
and attacks her.
The only safe ground
is in the cente of the waterhole.
In time the falling Pricess
may join either of the clans.
But she will never again
climb a ladder to dominance.
The boundary has been decided.
It will stay fixed for some months
by the smell of the thick, pasty markings
left by both clans after the clash.
Fixed, too, is the relationship
the hyenas have with the lions.
One that can only change with death.
A blood feud that is forever.
Once again Mondayvoo is away from the pride
patrolling on the grassland.
The new clan matriarch is in attendance
following his every move.
In a unique display of overlapping
territorial language,
the lion marks against the hyena.
Usually, territories are disregarded
by other species,
but now the matriarch and the pride male
express their hostility
with unmistakable actions.
This new matriarch is confident and defiant,
marking where he marks
and harrassing the much larger lion.
Her calls and her fluffed up tail posture
attract support from other clan members
and don't go unnoticed by the lionesses
on the edge of the open area.
The matriarch seems to succeed
in the psychological warfare.
This is not a competition for food.
When Matsumi leads the pride out
to meet the hyenas
it is to do battle once again
with their eternal enemies.
Frenzy calls filter across the bush
to the king ears of Untwydumala,
"He Who Greets With Fire".
The hyena killer.
A swift bite to the neck
and the new matriarch is dead.
The day belongs to the lions.
It was not always easy for us
to witness these struggles for life.
But at the end of it all perhaps,
we came to know more about ourselves
and the struggles
that rage within our savage souls.
Creatures of instinct,
helpless to change their destiny,
forever these eternal enemies will fight on.
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