A harsh desert environment seems to have made strange bedfellows out of hyenas and wolves in southern Israel, researchers have observed.
In a study recently published in the journal Zoology in the Middle East, scientists from the United States and Israel report sightings of striped hyenas roaming amid packs of grey wolves in the Negev desert.
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Neither hyenas nor wolves usually behave very well in their dealings with other carnivores. Hyenas will fight, usurp kills from, and make life miserable for animals from lions to leopards to cheetahs. Wolves, for their part, will make meals out of coyotes and dogs.
The study's co-authors -- University of Tennessee, Knoxville researcher Vladimir Dinets and Israeli zoologist Beniamin Eligulashvili -- think the two species traveling together may be an example of animals bending their own rules and instincts a bit, in the name of survival in an extreme, arid landscape.
"Animal behavior is often more flexible than described in textbooks," said Dinets in a statement. "When necessary, animals can abandon their usual strategies and learn something completely new and unexpected. It's a very useful skill for people, too."
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Why would working together help the two species?
The researchers suspect the predatory animals are willing to put up with each other because each gets something out of the deal. Wolves can take down large prey themselves, while hyenas are super sniffers that can smell and find, from miles away, dead animals worth eating.
Hyenas, the scientists note, are also adept at ferreting food out of human refuse -- digging up buried garbage and opening cans and large boxes.
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Dinets and Eligulashvili first noticed tracks on the ground that suggested hyenas and wolves might be wandering together, and then, four years later, they were eyewitnesses to the two species moving together through canyons in the Negev desert.
The scientists say they don't know yet if the animals roaming together was an aberration or whether it was something that occurs regularly.