HYENA / SPOTTED HYENA

by Wildlife South Africa


HYENA / SPOTTED HYENA
Latin Name: Crocuta crocuta
Afrikaans: Gevlekte Hiëna
 
Hyenas or Spotted Hyenas are mainly found in the Northern, Northeastern Eastern and Northwestern regions of South Africa. 
 
They are seldom found outside of protected areas and can be seen in Kruger National Park, Mapungubwe National Park, Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, some Kwa Zulu Natal Parks and in a few other parks and reserves, as well as in protected areas like Private Game reserves.
 
Habitat
 
They are found in a variety of habitat, from semi desert areas to open and bushveld savannah or open plains to dense bush woodland, rocky areas, hills and mountains, as long as there is enough food and carrion (in the form of animals or carcasses from kills by lions) in the area.
 

 
Habits
 
Although they often move around on their own, Spotted Hyenas are highly gregarious, living in family groups (clans) of between 2 and up to 12 or more in some areas. Every pack has a dominant female as leader and they are territorial. They scent mark and will defend their territories against other clans. 
 
Spotted Hyenas have an acute sense of smell, sound and sight and often congregate in large numbers at carcasses of animals killed by lions. Depending on their number, they will on many occasions drive away predators like Lion, Leopard, African Wild Dog and Cheetah from their freshly killed prey and then take over the carcass.
 
Day or Night
 
Hyenas are mainly nocturnal and they are most often seen at dusk and dawn. They are also often seen on cool overcast days. Spotted Hyenas are scavengers as well as hunters and will hunt antelope in packs, chasing the antelope to exhaustion and then killing it. Although they are sometimes seen during daytime when they feed on carcasses of animals killed recently by lions, they mainly rest up in burrows either dug by other animals or dens dug by themselves. They also rest up in tall grass, underneath bushes, rainwater culverts and storm drains (Kruger National Park) or in caves.
 
Difference between male and female
 
Females are larger than the males.
 
Mass
 
Male: From 48 to sometimes even up to about 70 kg 
Female: From 55 to in exceptional cases 80 kg.
 
Weight of Spotted Hyenas varies widely from area to area and factors such as their diet and availability of food play a huge role.
 
Breeding
 
1 to 4 cubs are born any time during the year with peaks in late summer (February / March). The cubs are born in a large burrow or “den”, dug out either completely by themselves or dug out by other animal species (like Aardvark) and enlarged by themselves.
 
 
Lifespan
 
About 20 years
 
Gestation Period
 
3 and a half months or about 105 to 110 days
 
Food and water
 
Spotted Hyenas are opportunistic animals. They are scavengers but also regular and successful hunters and their diet may vary from insects to large animals like Zebra, Blue Wildebeest and even young Giraffe. Whether they will mainly scavenge on carcasses and other carrion or rather hunt regularly, depends on the presence of other large predators like lions and thus the regular availability of carrion / carcasses. If there are many lions around they might scavenge more regularly on carcasses of animals that lions have caught, but in the absence of lions they might hunt much more on their own.
 
Depending on their numbers at a kill they will attempt, more than often, successfully to drive Lions away from their kills.
 
In areas populated by humans, they will raid and scavenge in rubbish bins and rubbish dumps or pits near human dwellings and camps. They require drinking water on a regular basis.
 
Enemies
 
Lions and humans
 
Status
 
Spotted Hyenas are becoming scarcer in South Africa and are rarely found outside Game Reserves and National Parks.
 
Interesting facts
 
Spotted Hyenas have the strongest jaws of all predators and can crack the bones of carcasses easily. They have been observed cracking thighbones of Buffalos.
 
They often hide their food in water like in dams and shallow pools for short periods of time.
 
In the Kruger National Park and other areas where they occur, their whooping calls, screeching giggles and laughter, is of the most interesting (some people may say eerie or frightening) calls of any animal at night in the African bush.
 
Some indigenous people in Southern Africa are superstitious and still believe in witchcraft. They consider Spotted Hyenas as companions of witches and sorcerers that are part of the underworld and view them with awe.
 
Contrary to popular believe, Spotted Hyenas are not cowards at all. If the opportunity arises they will attack and at times even kill lions.
 
When out camping or sleeping in the open in areas where Spotted Hyenas occur, it is wise for humans to take extra care, as many people are attacked and seriously injured or killed by Spotted Hyenas foraging in and around camps.
 
Hyenas are cunning and intelligent animals and are known to watch vultures’ movements to locate carcasses.