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Brown Hyena Calmly Robs Five Cheetahs.

In becoming a lethal speedster – the fastest land animal on the planet – specialised for the hunting of small antelope, the cheetah has sacrificed the brawn of its fellow big cats for a lean, light, stretched-out build.

Across its grassland and savannah range in Africa, that means this whippet-framed feline must generally eat fast when it lands a meal, before a more dominant carnivore shows up to steal the spoils. In the Kalahari Desert, one such carnivore is the brown hyena. In a wonderful way, a bit like a demonic hound – goes about pilfering from the cats.

Five cheetahs feasting on a freshly killed springbok in the South African portion of the huge Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park shared with Botswana when a brown hyena ambled over. Scavenging unconcernedly alongside the cheetahs, the hyena set about gnawing off the hindquarters of the antelope, which it then wandered away with. Unfortunately for the cheetah quintet, the hyena wasn’t through: it reappeared not long after, hurrying back to the carcass and then summarily hauling off the rest of it.

“The cheetahs looked absolutely dejected,” Keats wrote in a post over at Africa Geographic. “The jackals then took their change to move in, cleaning up the intestines and other nasty bits.” What Keats saw is typical brown-hyena scavenging behaviour. The animal often shears off a leg from a carcass and caches it several hundred yards away, then returns for more.

Leopards, too, can lose their kills to brown hyenas: in that same study, a female hyena stole a springbok from a male leopard and then treed the big cat after it tried reclaiming the carcass. Here’s some after-hours camera-trap footage of a similar encounter:

Lions are another matter: brown hyenas take pains to avoid them and wait awhile after they’ve left a carcass before coming in to scavenge. Spotted hyenas and African wild dogs also usually dominate brown hyenas. Those two species, though, are uncommon in the latter’s heartland, and lions there tend to be seasonal and localised forces – so in the drylands of southwestern Africa, the brown hyena is effectively top dog most of the time.

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