Written By David Batzofin, 28 September 2019
Is the trio of Disney-cartoon hyenas representative of the species as a whole? Definitely not! Found in most game reserves in Southern Africa, the spotted hyena plays a very important role in the various ecosystems.
Here are some things you might not have known about the spotted hyena…
- Much like other animals that have stripes or spots, the pattern on each hyena is unique, making identification easy.
- These large animals can be found in a vast variety of habitats and have even been found at altitudes as high as 4,100m!
- Although they have their pups in a den, hyenas like to lie in shaded hollows, culverts, and even pools of water during the heat of the day.
- Hyenas have excellent hearing and can hear predators on a kill from up to 10km away. They will eat almost anything on offer, including fish, pythons, and tortoises – if nothing else is available. Most people believe that they scavenge the majority of their food but, in fact, they kill up to 95% of their food and scavenge or ‘steal’ only 5%.
- The pressure exerted by their jaws is far greater than that of any other predator and as a result, they can crush and eat bones that other carnivores cannot.
- The main rival of the hyena is the lion. Interactions between these two species can turn into epic battles. However, lions will often leave a kill if outnumbered by a pack of hyenas. There have been documented instances where lions have killed both the matriarch and her immediate female offspring in order to disrupt the hierarchy of a specific clan of hyenas.
- The clans are matriarchal, as the females outweigh and are larger than their male counterparts.
- Hyenas communicate via a range of vocalisations that go from ‘whoops’ and ‘grunts’ to almost demented human-like laughter. Hence, they are often referred to as ‘laughing hyenas’. Each call has a specific use and is therefore easily distinguished and interpreted by the rest of the groups. Sitting and listening to a pack of hyenas as they call to each other in the dead of night is a cacophony that you won’t easily forget.
- With bodies built like they are running uphill, they can attain speeds of up to 60k/h.
- When pups are born at the den site, they get to interact with each other and thus build up a clan hierarchy. The female offspring of the dominant matriarch is known as a ‘princess’ and will be afforded special privileges by the rest of her peers.
- Females have four nipples and will only give birth to between two to four pups. If extra pups are born, they will invariably not be able to suckle and will, therefore, die at a young age.
Have you ever spotted a spotted hyena in the wild? Why not travel with us and get to know these special animals from a little closer?