Peter is an independent international zoo consultant, critic and writer with over 50 years of work within zoos.
A Cat By The Tail
World Hyaena Day
27th April is World Hyaena Day. It is unfortunate that the Hyaena gets some bad press, often depicted as scavenging cowards whereas the opposite is true. They are accomplished hunters with strong social bonds. Take some time out today to learn more about these wonderful animals.
Hyaena is the British English spelling. The Americans favor Hyena.
All Carnivores will scavenge. It often takes much less energy to scavenge a meal than to hunt or chase one so Lions will steal a meal from Hyaenas and should the opportunity arise Hyaenas will steal from Lions.
There are four species of Hyaena.
Spotted Hyena (Crocuta crocuta)
The Spotted Hyaena (sometimes known as the Laughing Hyaena) is the most common of the four Hyaena species and is also the most numerous. It is found widely over sub Saharan Africa and is the second largest carnivore on the continent as well as being the most common.
Some Spotted Hyaena groups may reach up to 80 but clans of130 animals have been observed. Although not under any direct threat it is like so many animals affected by habitat loss and poaching.
The genitalia of male and female Spotted Hyaena look very similar as the female has a pseudo penis which greatly resembles that of the male. Mating takes place through the pseudo penis rather than through the vagina.
A Pair of Striped Hyaena
Striped Hyaena (Hyaena hyaena)
The Striped Hyaena has a much larger range than the Spotted Hyaena. It may be found in North and Eastern Africa, through the Middle East and across and into India.
Despite the wider range it is more threated and in lower numbers than its smaller cousin. Groups usually consist of a pair and their young.
The Striped Hyaena is the National Animal of Lebanon
A True Story
Whilst working in a large Middle Eastern Zoo I had occasion to have a pair of locally caught Striped Hyaena amongst my charges. Whilst not tame they were both very affable and I would always have word for them on my daily rounds.
One day I noticed a feral cat disappearing into a hole beneath a concrete water bath within their enclosure. I made a mental note of it because, unfortunately, cat control was amongst my less pleasant duties. I didn't see the cat again BUT three weeks later there was four kittens playing outside the hole and they were playing with the Hyaenas!
I was lucky enough to witness this behaviour over several days. One day the kittens disappeared.
Brown Hyaena (Parahyaena brunnea)
The Brown Hyaena is the rarest of the four Hyaena species. It has a much smaller range and is confined to the more arid desert areas of the Kalahari desert and coastal South Africa. The IUCN lists the Brown Hyaena as near threatened.
They live in small family clans of around six animals, They are threatened mainly by their limited range and people who believe they are a threat to livestock.
Aardwolf (Proteles cristata)
The Aardwolf differs from the three other Hyaenas in that it is not a carnivore... it is insectivorous and feeds almost exclusively on termites.
There are two distinct populations, one in South Africa and the other in the East. They are nocturnal. They are not uncommon throughout their range and are classed as Least Concern by the IUCN.
Some Hyaena Facts
- Although resembling a dog in appearance the Hyaena is more closely related to the cat.
- The female Hyaena is the only known mammal not to have a vaginal opening.
- Hyaena clans are ruled by an Alpha female.
- Hyaenas are able to count.
- The oldest Spotted Hyaena in captivity lived till it was over 41 years.
- Hyaenas have one of the widest vocal repertoires of any terrestrial mammal.
- The spotted hyaena has a bite force of 1,100 psi.
- Spotted hyaena milk has the highest protein and fat content of all land-living carnivores.
- A study done by Duke University showed that a captive pair of hyaenas performed better at problem-solving and social cooperation than chimpanzees.
- They can digest bones.
- Far from the scavenging reputation, Spotted hyaenas may kill as many as 95% of the animals they eat.
- Spotted hyaenas may eat up to one third of its body weight at one meal.