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Field Notes
Photograph by TBD
Anup Shah

What was your best experience in the field covering this story?

Finding a den with a female who had cubs took a long time, but it was great to finally find one. I really wanted to photograph this because hyenas are social, and the focal point of all the social activity is at their dens. Finding it allowed me to get started with the work.

What was your worst experience in the field covering this story?

A hyena mother has to commute a long distance when the animals she preys on migrate. She travels maybe 25 or 30 miles (40 or 50 kilometers), and then comes back after a few days, having killed and eaten. The pups—who depend on her milk for six months—can now suckle again.

But one mother I was observing didn't come back. Her two cubs waited and waited and kept looking in the direction they thought she would come. I also waited by the den to see a dot on the horizon, but the dot never materialized. The days went by, and the cubs got thinner and thinner. In the end, they didn't make it.

Eventually the mother came back, but it was too late. I guess she wasn't able to pull off the single mother act.

What was your quirkiest experience in the field covering this story?

I found out that hyenas love chewing on rubber. That's my contribution to science. They're like dogs that love to exercise their teeth on bones. For hyenas, it's car tires.

During the time the cubs and I waited for their mother to return, it became part of their daily routine to chew on my car tires. What could I do? If I tried to shoo them away, they didn't understand. And I don't speak hyena language. The constant chewing made me pretty nervous. I had loose wires under my car, so I was afraid they might pull at one or cut it in two—they've got very sharp teeth.