The Predator Chain
Botswana Wildlife Guide

© Hyenas and lions at the same kill
Lions and Hyenas fight it out at the top of the predator chain in most areas where they occur together. In some areas the Lions have the upper hand and in others it is the Hyenas that are the dominant predator. It was, until recently, believed that Lions were the so called 'king of the beasts' and that they lauded over all but studies have found that in many areas Hyenas are dominant over Lions.

By Leigh Kemp

Scavengers or Hunters?

The classic African image of Hyenas waiting for Lions to finish their kill so that they can move in and scavenge the leftovers added to the image of Lions been the dominant hunter and Hyenas the scavenger. Studies have found, and I have personally witnessed on numerous occasions, that the Hyena does the hunting and the Lion is the scavenger.

A kill can change hands a number of times between Lions and Hyenas. In many areas of Africa the Hyena hunts more food than it scavengers and Lions scavenge more than they hunt.

Hyenas react very differently to male and female Lions. When Hyenas are on a kill and Lions are attempting a takeover the Hyenas will stand and fight if it is a group of Lionesses involved but as soon as a male Lion is in the picture the Hyena will give a wide berth.

If male Lions are on a kill the Hyenas will not make any attempt at a takeover but with Lionesses the Hyenas will show less restraint. It has been noted in some areas that Hyenas challenge the male Lions but this may be from previous incidents with the particular males where the Hyenas gained the upper hand and they have dominance over the males.

Lions and Hyenas scavenge a great deal from other predators such as the Leopard, Cheetah and Wild Dog. To overcome the stealing of their food by other predators Cheetahs eat very quickly once they have killed in order to prevent scavenging by others.

Leopard will often pull their kill into a tree to keep it from other Lions and Hyenas. Wild Dogs can devour a carcass in a few minutes but it has been observed where Lions and Hyenas have stolen the kill.

Wild Dogs and Other Predators

Hyenas and Wild Dogs have an interesting relationship in that the Wild Dog is usually dominant over the Hyena in all aspects except feeding. Depending on the number in each group the Hyena will have the upper hand when it comes to stealing a carcass from Wild Dogs.Cheetah are the lowest on the predator scale among the larger carnivores with incidents of Jackal stealing kills from them been observed. As a Cheetah is built for speed to catch its prey, it does not have the strength to protect itself from other predators. It overcomes its deficiency by eating its food very quickly.Leopard are also low on the predator chain with Lions and Hyenas stealing kills from them but they overcome this by pulling their kills into a tree, safe from Lions and Hyenas, although Lions have, on occasion, been observed climbing into trees and stealing the carcass.

Killing of the Young

In the game of survival predators will kill the young of other predators when they come across them. As the young are left alone when the adults are out hunting they are often targets of other predator species and even individuals of their own species of different prides or territories.

Baboons form a large part of a Leopard diet and they therefore kill leopard cubs when they come across them. They do not eat the cubs but do this as part of their survival strategy.

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