In a highly unusual alliance, hyenas and wolves in southern Israel are working together to maximize their respective skill sets, a new study found.
The researchers, Israeli zoologist Beniamin Eligulashvili and University of Tennessee professor of psychology Vladimir Dinets, reported observing striped hyenas (Hyaena hyaena) in the center of a grey wolf (Canis lupus) pack as the two species of predators moved through the Negev desert.
Dinets speculates that the harsh desert conditions and scarcity of food may have triggered the odd pairing, with hyenas bringing their superior sense of smell and wolves their speed and agility to the proverbial table.
The striped hyena is “believed to be a solitary forager” and “is not known to associate with other carnivore species during foraging,” the study noted in its accompanying text. It said that while the grey wolf is a highly social predator, there is however no record of other carnivore species, except the closely related domestic dog, associating with wolf packs.
The behavior was initially brought to the researchers’ attention during observation of animal tracks in the Negev, and witnessed first-hand four years later at roughly the same location, the University of Tennessee said. It is unclear if both instances involved the same animals or even whether it was regular behavior that had hitherto gone unnoticed.
“Animal behavior is often more flexible than described in textbooks,” Dinets said, according to the university. “When necessary, animals can abandon their usual strategies and learn something completely new and unexpected. It’s a very useful skill for people, too.”