Klein’s Camp, Serengeti, Tanzania – & Beyond


a mother hyena gently carries her cub to a new location

by Jean Campbell 

We woke up to the wonderful sounds of a hyena “drama” in full swing; it went on for a number of minutes escalating in excitement to (what seemed to be) hysterical proportions before calming down to the more subdued “chatter” of the now familiar hoots and whoops.  What a glorious and absolutely insane sound to wake up to; such was our morning wake up call during a recent stay at Klein’s Camp, the wonderful &Beyond property located in the Serengeti (Tanzania), on the edge of the Kuka Hills.


The elevated location of the camp allowed us an undisturbed view of valley floor below, and we watched these superb creatures (viewed as superbly ugly by many) run riot as they tried to regain order in their world.  The guide later told us that there had been a lion kill (zebra?), and two hyena packs had converged to steal the kill only to end up squabbling over which pack would ultimately take the prize. One pack consisted of about 19 hyenas, the other around 16, so there was a lot of very heated “discussion” going on among them all as hierarchy was established.


In total it is thought that the hyena produces about 14 different sounds depending upon the situation.  The most identifiable of these must be the “whoop” and the “laugh” that we experienced that morning.  The “whoop” sound starts low, and modulates up and down in pitch; amazingly, it seems, each hyena has their own unique version of this sound.  It is used to communicate and identify when visual contact is not possible; it is also used when an animal approaches a new clan in order to announce their presence, and prepare for possible rejection.  We also enjoyed some great versions of the “hoot laugh” (much to my joy); hence the name “laughing” hyena.  Apparently this sound is produced at a time of uncertainty when the animal is conflicted between approaching or departing from a situation (“should I stay or should I go”).  This can also be the sound made by a submissive animal as it waits their turn at a kill, as well as when this lower ranking member is chased from the kill by a superior ranking animal.  In addition there are apparently higher or lower pitch versions of this sound that will change the meaning.

The hyena may not appeal to everyone, and certainly it could be argued that they have a face only a mother could love, but I do love to see and especially hear these animals.   These are the moments that touch my soul; these are the moments of relative simplicity that illuminate to me the beauty, and the complexity of nature, and for just a moment it is a glimpse directly into the wild and something very pure and raw; something very special.  What an absolute privilege!

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