Lots of little girls might dream of having a pet puppy or pony but this two-year-old has befriended a clan of wild hyenas.
Toddler Kiki Wolhuter became fascinated with the carnivorous creatures after her father Kim, and mother Saskia bought her a cuddly hyena when she was a baby.
Incredible new footage shows the delighted toddler running alongside them and holding out sticks for them to chew as they gather around.
Adorable toddler, Kiki Wolhuter, has befriended a clan of hyenas in Zimbabwe after her wildlife film maker father introduced her to them when she begged to play with the young hyenas
The two-year-old holds out sticks for them to chew and runs alongside them as they come to her for love, affection and play. Her father Kim has been studying the clan for years
Kiki plays with the young hyenas with close supervision from her hyena expert father.
She grins and cuddles her own toy hyena with her mother in their car as a young hyena stares up at his friend holding the cuddly version of himself.
Kim, a wildlife film maker who lives with his family in Sango Wildlife Conservancy, Zimbabwe, is an expert on hyenas after studying them and filming them in their natural habitat for years.
He says they are highly intelligent creatures and because he never feeds them they only come to him for love, affection and to play.
The 61-year-old recently decided to introduce Kiki to the clan of hyenas that live nearby.
He said: ‘I had been running and playing with the hyenas that morning and she pleaded with me that she wanted to run with them.
Kim (left) hopes to change people’s perceptions of hyenas and blames films such as The Lion King for giving them such a bad press
Kiki cuddles her toy as a young hyena looks up at her and the cuddly toy version of itself. She grins down at the wild animal with her mother Saskia
‘I was reluctant at first because generally hyenas react very differently to small beings. But she begged me and so I thought if I held her, it would be fine.
‘The youngsters were just curious and just wanted to sniff her. They weren’t into playing with her yet, until they’d had a good sniff and found a safe place.
‘I was a little hesitant of them approaching her because they often bite gently when I’m playing with them.
‘They don’t have hands to play and grab with, so they bite, just like when playing with your puppy. But a little playful bite from them would be really sore for Kiki, so I didn’t want them doing that.
‘But when I realised they were still in the discovering phase, I let them closer to sniff her.’
Hyenas are Kiki’s versions of ‘domestic animals’ as she has watched her father study and play with them for the first few years of her life
Kim said for Kiki the young hyenas are her version of ‘domestic animals’ because she sees him playing with them.
He said: ‘There was never any sign that things could go wrong. Once the adults moved off, it was just the youngsters that were curious and that was of no concern.
‘I just had to be careful they didn’t nip her. I think once they get more familiar with her, I’ll have to be more careful they don’t hurt her. There’s nothing ‘malicious’ in their play. It is just play.
Kim said he thinks the relationship you can have with a wild animal can be ‘better’ than one with a dog, as they are not dependent on you for food, just affection and love
‘I think like most people, we all enjoy the company of animals, domestic animals. For her these are just more animals. For her they seem like domestic animals because dad plays with them. And of course what dad does, she wants to do.
Kim said it is not unusual for someone to be bitten or mauled by a dog and the same goes with wild animals. He said once you understand them ‘you can have the same relationship you have with your dog’.
Kim never feeds the animals so they are not dependent on him which he thinks makes the relationship ‘better’ than with a dog.
He said: ‘You have to feed your dog, they’re dependent on you. These wild animals only come to us for love and affection, so our relationship with them is on a very different level.
A delighted Kiki grins and cuddles her own toy hyena with Saskia in their car after an afternoon playing with her favourite hyena clan
‘So Kiki getting to understand all of this helps her reconnect and stay connected with our natural world.’
Kim, who has also been swimming with hyenas, hopes to change people’s perceptions of them and blames films such as The Lion King for giving them such a bad press.
He said: ‘Today, this film is probably the singular foremost reason why people hate hyenas.
‘None of this is justified as they are such intelligent animals.
‘They are highly successful hunters, amazing mothers and they love to play with me.’