Tank, Brick and Bison

Billie and Ben playing

Giving the animals names could be seen as frivolous and unnecessarily anthropomorphising them. But without giving them names, we have difficulty understanding who's who, and in a complex society like that of hyenas, we need to be able to describe individuals with a quick shorthand - names.

There's one who likes to rip the cables off the front of the car (he's called Cable Biter), and youngster who whines a lot at feeding time (you guessed it, Whiner) - probably because his mother is cutting off his milk supply.

But there are unforgettable hyenas who's stature and demeanour inspire names like Tank, Brick, and in the clan we are following now, Bison. These are the matriarchs of the clan, mothers and grandmothers to quite a few of the females in the clan. As they rarely need to hunt they have been able to dispense with the usual lithe and fast hyena bodies for sheer bulk and muscle. They are the huge testosterone filled monsters, who have created in observers the mistaken impression that the (smaller) male hyenas have only low status in the clan (as they have lower testosterone counts and do sometimes get beaten up).

Today, we witnessed Billie and Ben romping about playing, chasing and generally jumping on each other despite the fact that they are adults - in Ben's case, and probably almost so in Billie's case. Billie was trying to excavate a burrow, presumably in readiness for the time she will give birth (clearly not yet). Meanwhile, Ben was acting as sentinel, while also trying to mate as she was digging. He didn't seem serious, and she seemed to be enjoying the attention. We watched and filmed for an hour as they romped across the plains. What energy - but no sign of dominating behaviour from Billie. Perhaps in another 10 years or so, Billie will become like her grandmother - and need another name should we ever meet her again. 'Hulk' perhaps.

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