An extremely unusual behavior has been reported by Indian researchers in the middle east: a pack of wolves has been spotted hunting with a hyena, something that has never been reported before.
Different species of predators don’t really get along. Most of the time, they compete for prey. Sometimes, they fight for it, and other times they even kill each other. Wolves are social creatures, but they almost never accept outside species in their pack – even dogs, they chase away or hunt more often than they accept. While spotted hyenas are also social creatures, striped hyenas are often solitary. So when researchers found hyena tracks mixed with gray wolf tracks, they knew something strange was up.
“Animal behavior is often more flexible than described in textbooks,” said Vladimir Dinets, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. “When necessary, animals can abandon their usual strategies and learn something completely new and unexpected. It’s a very useful skill for people, too.”
They followed the tracks several times, including a clear layer of moist sand imprinted with hyena and wolf tracks. Initially, they thought the hyena came after the wolves (or the other way around), but this was shown not to be the case. In some places, the prints of one of the three wolves was on top of the prints of the hyena. In other places, the hyena print was on top of a wolf print.
Finally, after four years, they managed to spot the wolves with the hyena. Beniamin Eligulashvili, a zoologist in Israel, witnessed the pack, recalling that the hyena traveled with the wolves, as a member of the pack.
“The hyena was not following the wolves, but moving in the middle of the pack,” said the study, which both men authored.
This likely benefits both sizes. The Negev Desert is one of the harshest environments in the range of either of these animals, and both species need all the help they can get. Wolves are better hunters (especially in a pack) than the hyenas. They’re also faster and more agile. However, the hyena has a finer sense of smell and can break larger bones, excavating garbage and ripping open tin cans. In the desert, food is very, very scarce and they need each other to survive.
Interspecies cooperative hunting is rare, but perhaps not as rare as we thought, Dinets argues.