By Oliver Höner
We just got confirmation that a new triplet litter survived to adulthood in the Crater! This is very exciting news because spotted hyenas only very rarely give birth to triplets and raising all three cubs of a triplet litter to adulthood (2 years of age) is extremely rare! Spotted hyena females only have two functional teats, forcing mothers of triplet litters to show great organisational skills to allocate sufficient suckling time for each cub.
This is only the third ever reported case of surviving triplets in spotted hyenas! The mother is Mkakati, the alpha female of the Forest clan. The other two litters were also reared in the Ngorongoro Crater, both by Kiwanda, the former alpha female of the Ngoitokitok clan. We had previously performed genetic analyses to verify that Mkakati was indeed the mother of the three cubs. Confirming maternity with genetic data is important because hyena mothers can, in rare cases, adopt cubs form another female.
We now also finalised the paternity analysis for all three cubs. In contrast to the two previous triplet litters that were sired by a single male, the three cubs of Mkakati were sired by two fathers. This is in line with our observations from twin litters where 84% of litters are sired by a single male but 16% are sired by two different males. These results are very interesting for our study of female mate choice and of male reproductive success.