Three unlikely creatures seen sharing the same den. They haven’t eaten each other yet

A hyena, a warthog and a porcupine walked into a den — and decided to live together.

Researchers discovered this “novel phenomenon” while monitoring animal dens at a wildlife preserve in Kenya, according to a study published on April 20 in the African Journal of Ecology.

Camera traps were set up outside five hyena dens at the preserve between 2016 and 2021, and it was soon observed that two of the dens had three species dwelling in them.

Seven hyenas, three warthogs and two porcupines resided in one of the hollows, while the other had 11 hyenas, six warthogs and two porcupines as residents. The animals lived together for months at a time, sometimes coming and going from the same entrance just minutes apart from each other.

Porcupine photographed outside one of the dens
Porcupine photographed outside one of the dens

It’s likely that separate chambers inside the dens allowed the creatures to keep some distance from one another, meaning they were more neighbors than roommates, Marc Dupuis-Desormeaux, one of the study’s authors, told McClatchy News.

Still, even with some separation, it’s not clear why the African animals — both predators and prey — elected to live in such close proximity to each other.

One theory is that it might be based on a “ ‘healthy respect’ for the threats presented by their mutually formidable weaponry,” namely their tusks, teeth and spikes.

Prey without similar defensive capabilities likely would not risk nearly being bedfellows with hyenas, Dupuis-Desormeaux said.

Warthog spotted outside one of the dens
Warthog spotted outside one of the dens

Interestingly, the hyenas living with warthogs and porcupines did not appear to eat those species, while other hyenas at the study site did, implying a peculiar type of prey selection.

They also tended to be active at different times throughout the day or night, meaning they weren’t always in the hollow at the same time.

“Hyenas and porcupines are mostly nocturnal, and warthogs are mostly diurnal, so shared dens could be occupied on a ‘time-share’ basis,” researchers said, stipulating that there was evidence of all the species being in the dens at the same time.

Hard soil in the region during the dry season likely also made digging new dens difficult, which may have factored into the animals’ decision to cohabitate.

The trio of species appeared to bid adieu to one another when the rains came and soil softened, bringing an end to the alliance, researchers said.

Den sharing has been observed in other species before but little is known about the phenomenon in tropical climates, like sub-Saharan Africa.

Badgers, foxes, pine martens and porcupines were observed living in the same hillside burrow system in Italy, according to a study published in 2019 in the journal Behavioral Processes.

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