How hyenas gang up to fight lion king

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New research uncovers the intriguing dynamics of how and when hyenas decide to join forces against lions, revealing the power of social relationships in the animal kingdom.

Published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, this study shines a light on the complex social interactions that dictate when hyenas choose to cooperate in mobbing lions, a risky but sometimes necessary endeavor for survival.

Tracy Montgomery, the lead author of the study, embarked on this research during her doctoral studies in Kay Holekamp’s lab at Michigan State University.

The findings indicate that hyenas are more likely to mob lions when they share strong social bonds or have recently engaged in friendly behaviors, such as greeting each other.

This discovery underscores the importance of social relationships among spotted hyenas, animals known for their sophisticated social structures that rival those of primates.

The study’s insights stem from decades of observation in Kenya, where Holekamp and her team have meticulously documented the lives of hyenas.

The researchers analyzed about 1,000 mobbing interactions between hyenas and lions, carefully noting the circumstances under which hyenas chose to engage in mobbing behavior.

Their analysis revealed that hyenas are more inclined to mob lions when the perceived risk is lower, such as in the absence of male lions, which pose a greater threat.

The social aspect of mobbing was particularly striking, with hyenas demonstrating a preference for cooperating with individuals with whom they had established positive relationships.

This finding suggests that hyenas rely on a complex understanding of their social network when deciding whether to participate in mobbing, balancing the risks and rewards of such actions.

Kenna Lehmann, another lead author of the study, highlights the significance of these social relationships, noting that the decision to mob is not a simple transaction but is influenced by the history of interactions between individual hyenas.

This insight challenges previous assumptions about animal behavior, suggesting that hyenas, like humans, are influenced by their social connections.

The research also benefits from the long-term nature of Holekamp’s study, which has been ongoing for 35 years.

The longevity of the project has allowed the team to gather a rich dataset, offering a rare glimpse into the intricacies of hyena social life and their interactions with lions.

This long-term perspective is crucial for understanding the nuances of hyena behavior, which can only be captured through sustained observation.

The study’s implications extend beyond hyenas and lions, offering a window into the evolutionary roots of cooperative behavior.

By examining how social relationships influence the decision-making of hyenas, researchers can gain insights into the development of cooperative strategies in the animal kingdom, including humans.

Supported by funding from the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, and the Human Frontier Science Program, this research not only enriches our understanding of hyena society but also poses new questions about the role of social relationships in the natural world.

As Montgomery points out, each answered question opens the door to further inquiry, promising more discoveries in the fascinating study of animal behavior.

The research findings can be found in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

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