Natural History and Wildlife

Unholy Alliance: Leopards and Hyenas


Two stranger bedfellows you will not find. Big cats hate hyenas, and hyenas hate cats just as much. So, when a hyena outcast begins to hunt with a young female leopard, it more than raises eyebrows in the wilds of Zambia.

It’s like the tale of Montague and Capulet. The house of Hyena and the House of Leopard never mix. In short, they simply hate each other. But here, two stories of hardship collide in possibly the strangest partnership ever.

Male hyenas are treated like dirt. They rank the lowest in the clan, which is lorded over by huge, testosterone-loaded females. They eat last, are too small to hunt effectively and are only called on to mate. Female leopards also have a tough time of it. They’re smaller than the males, play second fiddle in the race for territory and prey… and they have to raise cubs alone, with zero support.

The story begins with failure. The female leopard struggles to hunt effectively, and she’s constantly badgered by hyena. At one point both have nothing to lose, and when leopard does strike on an effective hunting strategy, hyena has learnt to hang back in hope that this predator will prevail. The relationship develops to scavenging. Both are often at the kill, and when leopard trees her carcass, she drops tidbits for hyena to pick up below. Intentional? Maybe, maybe not…

But soon, hyena’s herding prey towards leopard night-time ambushes, and it works well. More meat for both of them. Sometimes they feed at each end of the carcass – an uncommon sight to behold.

While this private symbiosis continues, the clan is waging full-scale war with the local lion pride. The clan needs lots of meat, and they haven’t yet got wind of the leopard’s hunting prowess… When they do, it could be trouble for both our characters.


Programme Details

1 x 60'