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They lurk. They pounce. They cackle with glee after seizing their prey.

In the cyber-jungle, they're the hyenas - diapering moms who prowl online boutiques to snatch limited-edition cloth diapers before others get a chance.

Their hunger for the latest in baby-bottom fashions is insatiable, according to Kendell Schafer, a Calgary-based mother and seamstress who gained a cult following with her Freshies line of flannel, fleece and wool-knit "dipes" (diapers to the rest of us).

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Her vividly coloured designs are in such demand that Ms. Schafer took a two-year break from her sewing machine and "all that hyena business," she writes in an e-mail. "It's exhausting being stalked."

For earthy moms with money to spare, cloth diapers aren't just a greener alternative to disposables - they're wearable art. Diaper connoisseurs pay up to $80 (U.S.) for a single diaper that's been handmade, embroidered or appliquéd by a work-at-home mom.

Diapers have fetched staggering prices at online auction sites such as HyenaCart.com and eBay.com (until it banned the sale of diapers earlier this year, stating hygiene concerns).

One creation by designer Ann Hall sold at auction for $150. Bids for other diapers have reached $300.

Working from her home in Denver, Ms. Hall is famous for her Righteous Baby designs embroidered with animals - there's even a hyena - and stitched portraits of her clients' infants.

Equally coveted diaper lines include Muttaqin Baby, Daisy Doodles, BeccaBottoms and Bizzy B Hive.

Playful diapers with tie-dyed, plaid, camouflage or planetary motifs have become such status symbols that many parents allow their children to wear them only after a poop to avoid spoiling the fabric art.

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Some mothers don't even use them. "I've been told by people that they were going to frame my diapers and put them on the walls instead," Ms. Hall says.

For the hyena set, cloth diapering is both a pastime and a competitive sport.

"It's a collector thing," says Inge Brunner of Moylan, Pa., who sells several dozen brands from her online store at DiaperWare.com.

The cloth diaper craze is an extension of fashion, she adds. "If you're got a little girl with a lovely diaper showing under her dress, it looks really cute," Ms. Brunner says. And for mothers who change a zillion diapers a day, "it's a lot more fun putting a pretty diaper on."

Diapers with lace frills are de rigueur, as are natural dyes and fibres such as bamboo.

Whereas the cotton diapers of the 1950s "wouldn't hold a nose blow, let alone a full wetting," Ms. Brunner says, today's cloth diapers are made of ultra-absorbent wool, hemp and other fibres.

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They come in a mind-boggling array of styles - from prefolds to contoured, fitted and all-in-ones - the merits of which spark impassioned debates on sites such as Mothering.com.

Unlike disposables, high-end cloth diapers can be resold for 60 to 80 per cent of their original price on sites such as DiaperSwappers.com. "Some people see them as an investment," Ms. Brunner says.

Mothers who pad their diaper stashes don't mind being compared to carnivorous beasts, she adds. "Most of the hyenas are proud to be hyenas - they enjoy their hobby."

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