To eat or to mate that’s the question


By Eve Davidian

To reproduce is the ultimate goal of all living creatures. But to achieve this, individuals first have to survive long enough, and so must eat. The more, the better? Not so sure. A good diet may make you strong and appealing to potential mates but an excess of food can turn out to be counterproductive.

Jage, a male from the Ngoitokitok clan wanted it all, to feast and to mate, but he learnt the hard way that one sometimes has to choose. One day, after months spent courting females of his clan, he was lucky enough to find favor with Uvumiliva, a young and high-ranking female (to say, a nice piece). But there was a catch; Jage had feasted earlier in the morning and his belly was so bloated that he could not seal the deal.

It should be pointed out that mating is a very tricky task for male spotted hyenas because females’ private parts are masculinized into a pseudo-penis. This means that reaching seventh heaven requires full cooperation from the female – she has to stand still, put her head down and retract her pseudo-penis. But even when the female does cooperate, the male still has to show great acrobatic skills. It does take males some time and practice to get it right, and those with little experience usually are clumsy and sorely try the female’s patience.

On that hot day, Jage tackled the task. But no matter how much he wiggled and waggled, his huge, flabby belly kept barring the way. Jage was exhausted by all this physical activity. Just picture yourself running a marathon while aiming at a bullseye with an arrow, all this after having devoured a huge platter of meat! Jage was panting and drooling, and had to take regular breaks to catch his breath. Meanwhile, Uvumiliva remained amazingly calm and supportive – she actually got her name, meaning ‘patient’, after that day.

Jage really was not at his best that day. In a moment of weakness, he even tried to blame it all on Nyemeleo, a rival male born in the Shamba clan that had just joined the Ngoitokitok clan. Of course Nyemeleo was not responsible for Jage’s misery; apart from standing beside the couple and peeping at them, which let’s admit was slightly sleazy, Nyemeleo was not really interfering. Maybe Nyemeleo simply wanted to show off his athletic body and perfectly-sized belly, hoping that Uvumiliva would change her mind and pick him instead of the chubby guy. But quite clearly Nyemeleo’s presence did not help Jage to keep his focus on the target. Hyena sweethearts do like to have their privacy and usually do their ‘business’ in remote areas of their clan territory. After spending hours peeping (yes, but for Science!) at the trio, we had to leave them. We hoped for the best but our expectations were low.

Four months later – the duration of gestation in spotted hyenas – Uvumiliva did not give birth to cubs, suggesting both that Jage’s attempts failed and that Uvumiliva did not give Nyemeleo a chance. Let’s hope that Jage at least learnt a lesson from this unfortunate turn of events and that he now thinks twice before having an umpteenth slice of meat.

Moral of the story: Better eat light than miss the boat.

Here is the video showing Jage’s setbacks:

One thought on “To eat or to mate that’s the question”

  1. Great writing, Eve!

    Yeah, this was a less than successful Valentine, so to speak. Jage, the poor guy! What a choice, eh? Food or future cubs. He sure did try though. Bless Uvumiliva for her extraordinary patience! And dear Nyemeleo, just because one might be fit enough to do the deed, doesn’t mean one will be allowed to. Aw! Well, there’s always next time, eh!

    Thank you again to all the Hyena Project Team for being out there, gathering data and sharing these recounts which show the wonderful characters and complex lives of these/”our” dear Hyenas.

    I understand there are great difficulties out there in the World, what with political posturing among Nations and people, the ongoing battle against Wildlife poachers, and the complicated struggle between human-wildlife conflict and conservation of the/”our” Animal-Kin lives.

    Your research and specifically “our” dear Hyenas are somehow a kind of relief in this strained World. I’m not sure I can explain how or why that is, but it is.

    I am deeply grateful for “our” Hyenas’ existence, for them being them and for you sharing them with everyone here.

    Bless your good hearts and work, and Bless these/”our” Spotted Hyenas.

    “Cap’n” Toni…..

    (side notes: I often use the word “our” not as a possessive but as an acknowledgement that all on “our” Earth are connected, that separatism has ever done more harm than good. Also, I frequently use “Bless” not in any specific religious sense but in a general Spiritual regard.)


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