Masai Mara – river crossed but journey’s end

Warning if you do not like seeing an injured animal or seeing it being killed in nature please do not read this post.

This post shows an injured wildebeest resisting a sustained attack from a lone hyaena.

We had watched a major crossing of wildebeest across the Mara river earlier in the morning. Once the herd had crossed we drove away from the river onto Bottom River road. There were throngs of wildebeest and zebras moving west away from the river.

“Courage is the most important of all the virtues because without courage, you can’t practice any other virtue consistently.” ~ Maya Angelou

Hyaenas operate in clans. Each clan member spreads out over the clan’s territory and waits for scavenging or hunting opportunities to arise. During the day each hyaena tends to hide by either lying in a gully or in a large tuft of red oat grass. It is only when an individual needs help will it call for back up. We saw a few hyaena wandering parallel to the moving wildebeest herd but did not think much of it.

That was until we saw a lone adult hyaena scouting close to a lone wildebeest which had been lying in the grass about 50 metres off the road. As soon as the hyaena approached the wildebeest it got up and began to defend itself. Initially the hyaena circled the wildebeest assessing why it was not walking with the rest of the herd.

“Being challenged in life is inevitable, being defeated is optional.” ~ Roger Crawford

The hyaena quickly grasped the opportunity. The wildebeest must have had a broken hind leg during or after the river crossing. It had managed to walk around three quarters of a kilometre from the river before lying down to rest.

The hyaena knows only too well that an attack head on with the wildebeest would cause it injury.

The attacking hyaena was not a large female such as a matriarch. Nevertheless, it quickly worked out that the wildebeest could not spin quickly and managed to get around to its back and began biting at its spine just below its shoulder.

“Pick your battles, big enough to matter and small enough to win.” ~Jonathan Kozal

Time and again the hyaena would attempt to pull the wildebeest over by pulling its mane.

“Patience and tenacity are worth more than twice their weight of cleverness.” ~ Thomas Huxley

When the wildebeest was squarely lying on the ground the hyaena would repeatedly bite at the skin and muscle covering its spine.

While difficult to watch we got an insight into how tough both animals were. The hyaena was tenacious and repeatedly bit at its prey’s spine area. The wildebeest despite a broken back leg continued to get up and swirl around trying to hook the hyaena with its horn.

Initially, the hyaena was just biting at the wildebeest’s hide. It must have been tough because the hyaena struggled to get through the hide into the underlying muscle and bone. It repeated attacked from the back continuously biting in the same place.

Hyaena have an extremely strong bite force. Once this hyaena latched onto the wildebeest the latter found it almost impossible to dislodge it by turning and goring it in the side with its horns.

“When the going gets tough, put one foot in front of the other and just keep going. Don’t give up.” ~ Roy T. Bennett

I learnt that morning how relentless a hyaena can be if it senses weakness in its victim.

After what must have been three quarters of an hour the wildebeest started to slow down probably due to exhaustion and loss of blood.

“It doesn’t matter how many times you get knocked down. All that matters is you get up one more time than you were knocked down.” ~ Roy T. Bennett

Despite its severe injuries, the wildebeest continued to get up and face its attacker.

All the activity soon caught the attention of a nearby hyaena scout who joined in the attack.

Once down the hyaenas took advantage of the fallen wildebeest by repeatedly biting it.

“Choose your battles wisely. After all, life isn’t measured by how many times you stood up to fight. Life is too short to spend it on warring. Fight only the most, most, most important ones, let the rest go.” ~ C. JoyBell C.

The hyaenas then started feeding on the wildebeest while it was still alive.

On the surface it seems that hyaena are particularly cruel by eating their prey alive. But a hyaena does not have claws like a lion to hold onto its prey while it throttles it. All hyaena have are their numbers and their exceptionally strong jaws. The hyaena also so not have the luxury of time as there are many lions in the Masai Mara who will quickly steal the prize – if they can.

It is harrowing to watch a hyaena systematically wear down a wildebeest to the point of exhaustion by continuously biting at tearing at its hide. There is no question that hyaena are skilled hunters, especially when working in a clan. Under normal circumstances a lone hyaena would not pull down a fit strong adult wildebeest but in this case when the weakness was discovered the opportunity was taken.

“Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan ‘Press On!’ has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.”~ Calvin Coolidge

Explore, seek to understand, marvel at its interconnectedness and let it be.

Have fun, Mike

4 thoughts on “Masai Mara – river crossed but journey’s end

    • Hi Lulu – thanks for your comment. Looking beyond the attack we can see the incredible will to survive and tenacity of these wild animals. Of course hyaena do not have the curved claws, like lions, so cannot hold onto their prey and throttle it they can only bite it and hang on. Hyaenas only have strong jaws which they use cunningly and with great persistence.

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