“Come with me
Into the trees
We’ll lay on the grass
And let the hours pass
Take my hand
Come back to the land
Where everything’s ours
For a few hours…”
Hyenas have long been seen as the under dogs of the African predators. Sloped backed, bigheaded creatures with equally big jaws, quite bland in colour and looking slightly on par with skinheads, their slyness of character and cackle of laughter has held back many a viewer from looking past these obvious characteristics.
This is even more cemented due to the endless comparisons to the majestic and regal Lion; Africa’s King of Predators. We can’t all be sleek, toned, strong model-looking creatures now can we?
But there is so much more to Hyena’s than what you initially see or may have heard.
Let me show you why these incredible predators and scavengers are more than what meets the eye, and why they are one of my favorite animals to photograph and spend time with.
It was my first morning in the Kusini area of the Serengeti. I had arrived the afternoon before where I was given a glimpse of the promise that the famous Serengeti offers to all who open their hearts to it. The eerie whooping of Hyena had filled the night and my dreams, and this morning enticed us all to see what happenings had occurred.
It was dark when myself and 2 guests made our way to the open plains that lay just beyond the tree line where our camp was situated. Thousands of Thompson’s Gazelle grazed at the lush short grass while their tails flicked from side to side at a rapid pace, hypnotizing all who focus on that movement for too long. But dotted in and amongst these Thompson’s was a relatively large-sized herd of Wildebeest in the distance, doing much the same as the grazers around them.
It has been hot and dry in the Serengeti. Their seasonal rains had yet to make an appearance so we slowly made our way to a waterhole as the sun made its incline from the horizon.
And there in the water, my eyes and heart awakened at the scene before us.
There was no other sound to be heard but the soft chirping of birds. It was one of the most serene scenes I can recall of ever having the privilege of witnessing.
Walking slowly in the shallow water was a lone Hyena. Head down and sipping with each step, it couldn’t have been described as anything less than beautiful. With the occasional look towards us, the Hyena was alone in its blissful state.
Finally lifting its head up, it started walking up the sand bank and that is when we realised there we were indeed wrong thinking that we were all alone with this lonesome Hyena.
In the grass around us and in water-leached ground was a clan of Hyenas watching us with their ever present inquisitive stares. From the matriarch to juvenille pups, we were in the middle of a Hyena gathering.
And it was too wonderful!
The clouds covered the glow of the sun, leaving the landscape a vision of deep blues and greens. The photographic opportunities never seemed to cease as these marvelous creatures came searchingly towards us, walking towards each other, lying on the ground… you get my drift.
It was play time, and the guests and myself explored many different photographic techniques that would help capture their visions. Capture their stories that they wanted to tell.
“Hyena! Hyena on the hunt!” called out our spotter, and all heads turned in unison to where he was pointing. Low and behold, there in the distance was a clan on the hunt.
Hyenas aren’t built for speed like Cheetahs, or for short bursts of strength like Lions. Hyenas are built for long distance running and tiring out their prey. Their steady and fast-paced speed is due to the shape and build of their muscular and sloping back.
By the time we got to where the Hyena where, it was a chaotic scene of up to 15 Hyena on an adult Wildebeest. Ecstatic cackling mixed with the deep growls of the elder Hyenas reprimanding the sub-adults, which in turn squealed and barked in displeasure overpowered all other sounds.
This feast scene presented another great opportunity to look at capturing a closer and personal look at an overall chaotic scene, whether through slow shutter speeds to show the chaos of the scene, focusing on the interactions between the Hyena, and more.
It is always good to capture the scene as a whole, but with so much occurring all the time, I really encouraged the guests to start looking at individual Hyena and how they react and interact within the bigger picture. This technique enables the viewer to identify with a single subject within a whole, and it can make the overall image a much more personal reading for the viewer. Being able to identify with a subject in a photograph is important as you and the viewer can connect with it as well as on a more emotional level, whether it is positive or negative. Here, you have now given life and substance to your image.
Hyena are an integral part of our ecosystem. They are truly fascinating animals to watch and photograph, and I hope that you see their “beauty”.