Mashatu – other carnivores

In this post I want to show other carnivores beyond the popular lions, leopards and cheetahs. Mashatu is home to hyaenas, jackals, and Bat-eared foxes which we see during the day and civets, genets and, occasionally, Aardwolf seen mainly at night.

“Looking outside the spotlight of popularity you can find a wonderland of treasures” ~ Mike Haworth

Not all carnivores are exclusively meat eating. The Bat-eared foxes, civets, genets and Aardwolf are mainly nocturnal and insect eaters, though civets and genets are omnivorous. In this post, I show a few images of hyaenas, Black-backed jackals and Bat-eared foxes.

“Mashatu is dry in winter and spring but there is life in abundance. Looking beyond the popular and obvious reveals another world of fascination and wonder.” ~ Mike Haworth

Spotted hyaenas thrive in Mashatu. There is plenty of food and many leopards, several lions and a small population of cheetahs to steal food from.

Although hyaenas keep their young in dens the clan of adults generally spread out during the day to form a system of sentries. The females with young will return to the den to feed and tend their young. This sentry system ensures the clan can cover a greater surveillance area for them to kill or steal prey. Spotted hyaenas have acute senses of smell and hearing.

Although Spotted hyaenas are well known for scavenging and stealing food they are are excellent hunters in their own right. The majority of all the prey they consume comes from their own hunting efforts. Given the opportunity to scavenge or steal prey from another carnivore they will take it – but so will lions and leopards.

Hyaenas live and operate in female dominated clans led by the matriarch. The dominant female exercises her authority ruthlessly. Armed with great strength, speed and endurance a Spotted hyaena is quite capable of running at speeds of 40 to 50 kilometres per hour, fast enough to catch and take down an adult wildebeest. Hyaenas are also able to pursue their prey until the latter’s exhaustion. The longest recorded pursuit was know to have occurred over 24 kilometres.

“Odours have a power of persuasion stronger than that of words, appearances, emotions, or will. The persuasive power of an odour cannot be fended off, it enters into us like breath into our lungs, it fills us up, imbues us totally. There is no remedy for it.” ~ Patrick Süskind

During the day the Spotted hyaena will lie in a drainage ditch or under a tree or bush for shade watching and waiting for any opportunity to feed. They have extraordinary senses of hearing and smell.

The Spotted hyaena loves water. While it is thirst quenching, it is also a place to lie in the heat of the day to keep cool. Spotted hyaena are also known to hide food in water to keep it out of sight and hide the smell.

Hyaenas have exceptionally powerful carnassial teeth behind the premolars which they use for sawing flesh and premolars for crushing bones. Hyaenas are different in their feeding to other animals as they clearly go for the joints and bones first. Hyaenas have a particularly strong and quick acting digestive system enabling them to eat and digest the entire prey: meat, skin, bones and horn. Spotted Hyenas have an incredible bite force of 1100 psi (pounds per square inch). To put this into perspective, humans have a bite force of around 162 psi, a lion 650 psi, a hippo around 1 800 psi and a five metre long Nile crocodile around 3 500 psi.

There are three species of jackal in Africa, the Black-backed, Side-striped and Golden. The Black-backed jackal is most often seen in southern Africa. I have only seen Black-backed jackal in Mashatu.

“To learn to see- to accustom the eye to calmness, to patience, and to allow things to come up to it; to defer judgment, and to acquire the habit of approaching and grasping an individual case from all sides.” ~ Friedrich Nietzsche

Where ever you see lion, hyaenas and cheetah you will often find Black-backed jackals hoping to benefit from morsels left by the other carnivores. These jackals are cunning and daring especially around lions at a kill. Although scavengers, they are also hunters in their own right, but they are omnivorous so are highly adaptable. This jackal species is mainly nocturnal but often seen during the day, normally lying in the shade of a bush.

During our November safari in Mashatu, on the drive out of camp on the other side of the rock outcrop next to the camp, we found a female jackal had created a den in a PVC pipe which acted as a culvert under the gravel road. Interestingly, this den was frequently watched by a few Spotted hyaenas.

Black-backed jackal mating usually occurs between June and August and with a gestation period of two months produces one to six pups between August and October each year. We estimated the three jackal pups we saw were around one month to two months old.

As with most youngsters these jackal pups were very curious but never ventured too far from their den if their mother was not close by.

Pups are suckled initially and thereafter fed on regurgitated food for up to three months. Thereafter young are able to forage with the adults.

Black-backed jackals are monogamous, so pair for life. The young initially use their parents territory to gain experience and assist in raising subsequent litters. Later in life they range more widely until they find their own mates and territories. Black-backed jackals have a well-developed communication system and are frequently heard at dawn and dusk.

The third frequently seen carnivore in Mashatu is the Bat-eared fox. There are two species of fox found in southern Africa, the Bat-eared fox and the Cape fox, with only the former found in Mashatu. This fox gets its name because it has abnormally large ears for a fox. It has a racoon-like black facial mask.

“The diversity of life is there for all to see but is not immediately apparent. Some wildlife you see during the day, some at night and some only in the diurnal hours. Timing is important and so too are senses and interpretation. Some you hear before you see. Some you only see because you heard from others. You need to waken all your senses to appreciate the diversity.” ~ Mike Haworth

The Bat-eared fox is predominately nocturnal but is often seen at diurnal times. It does most of its foraging during the night where around 80% of its diet is thought to comprise termites and dung beetles. It will also eat birds eggs, rodents, lizards and even chicks if it can find them.

The most distinctive feature of the Bat-eared fox is obviously its bat-like ears which can be 12.5cm in length. These enlarged ears give this fox species acute hearing and with numerous blood vessel act as a heat radiator. These foxes locate their prey mainly by hearing. Characteristically while foraging, this fox species will stop, cock its head pointing its ears towards the ground to accurately locate insects and termites below the ground. Once located they dig their prey out with long claws on their forepaws.

“The web of life both cradles us and calls us to weave it further.” ~Joanna Macy

As you can imagine, these long ears become problematic when the wind is blowing which is why they flatten them to reduce the roaring sound of the wind.

The hyaenas and jackals are always around in the dry and rainy periods and all survived the major floods in 2013. By contrast the Bat-eared foxes usually found near Nel’s vlei, which is an extension of the Limpopo river flood plain, were decimated by the flood. We assume most of the foxes drowned in their burrows and others escaped to higher ground. We did not see the Bat-eared foxes for several years after the flood but slowly and surely they returned and we saw them in 2018.

While it is always interesting to see the larger predators, often the smaller carnivores are more interesting and more active. The nocturnal carnivores are more skittish and more difficult to photograph by spotlight.

“Shallow ecology is anthropocentric, or human-centred. It views humans as above or outside nature, as the source of all value, and ascribes only instrumental, or ‘use’, value to nature. Deep ecology does not separate humans – or anything else – from the natural environment. It does see the world not as a collection of isolated objects but as a network of phenomena that are fundamentally interconnected and interdependent. Deep ecology recognises the intrinsic value of all human beings and views humans as just one particular strand in the web of life.” ~Fritjof Capra

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

Have fun, Mike

4 thoughts on “Mashatu – other carnivores

  1. I am glad you have highlighted these animals: hyenas have earned an unfair reputation – not helped by the way they are depicted in ‘The Lion King’ – and I simply love watching jackals and bat-eared foxes!

  2. Great story telling Mike. You are using your photography to connect with nature in a very deep… even primordial way and in the process you add a substantial degree of understandable zoology. All of this makes your Blogs a must read. Well done mate! Lou

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s