Queen takes King: dynamic interactions between spotted hyaenas and lions.

Spotted hyaenas have been traditionally thought to be only a lowly scavenger, stealing from lion kills and being subordinate to them. But in the recent years, thanks to dedicated group of hyeanas enthusiasts scientists, a new picture is starting to emerge. And well, let’s say that hyaenas are not what we thought them to be!

When studying interactions between animals, a key starting point is to quantify when, where and how often they actually encounter each other. The next step is to understand who looked for the other one and what happens after the encounter. For a long time, such data was impossible to gather in sufficient quantity, but thanks to GPS collars, we can now go back in time and investigate these encounters. This is what we did in Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe, where we followed 9 spotted hyeanas and 27 lions for 4 years.

We found that when encounters occurred in close proximity of a carcass, lions were usually the first to arrive and were dominant and therefore maintained prime access to the carcass. However, away from carcasses, hyeanas appear to be attracted to lions and never avoided them after the encounter, while lions quickly moved away. Interestingly, most of the encounters at a carcass occurred during the wet season and away from waterholes, while encounters in the absence of a carcass occurred manly during the dry season and close to water.

So, what did we learn? Well first, we confirmed that in most cases, lions manage to dominate hyeanas at carcasses and secure access to food. However, while hyaenas gave way in that context, lions seem to avoid encountering hyaenas and staying in close proximity to them away from carcasses. We suggest that these seasonal patterns reveal that during the wet season, competition for food is dominated by lions but their presence facilitated carcass detection for hyaenas who benefit from leftovers after lion’s departure, while during the dry season, hyeanas dominate access to waterhole areas, which are prime hunting ground. This work highlights the complexity and seasonal dynamics of predator interactions. In Nature, nothing is simple, nor fixed in time…

Périquet, S. et al. Dynamic interactions between apex predators reveal contrasting seasonal attraction patterns. Oecologia 129, 1–13 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00442-020-04802-w