Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Hyenas

Hyena in Sabi Sand
Hyena in Sabi Sand.

The spotted hyena is a notorious scavenger with a reputation for stealing kills from big cats. They’ll stop at nothing to whisk away a meal from under the noses of predators. However, while being successful scavengers they are also proficient hunters. Hyenas serve a vital role in the ecology of a reserve and help prevent the spread of diseases such as anthrax. 

We refer to hyenas as the “clean-up crew” of the safari world. They devour every last morsel of a carrion from a carcass and strip it of meat and bones. Cleaning up meaty morsels which could become disease ridden is always beneficial to the success of a reserve.

Here’s why hyenas are amazing creatures:

1. They boast over 14 different vocalisations, each of which form a vital part of their communication strategy. The hilarious high-pitched staccato cackle we’ve come to know and love is actually a sign of anxiety. Even though hyenas are socially cohesive and form clans, when it comes to eating it’s “each man for himself”. When they grab a rib cage from a recent kill, it’s their own food and they’ll giggle nervously to show ownership of their meal. The cackling also indicates they’re being chased or under threat.

The famous looping whoop sound is heard in the dead of night and this second most common call heard from hyenas. This is a recruiting call to gather the rest of the clan to together.

Toothfairy Hyena
Toothfairy is a Hyena in Sabi Sand.
Botswana Hyena with Vultures
Hyena in Botswana with Vultures.
Hyena Clans Scavenging
Hyena Clans Scavenging.

2. Hyenas are more closely related to cats than dogs, but they fall under their own family name, Hyaenidae. Their young are referred to as cubs and not pups, despite this species looking quite dog-like in appearance.

3. Hyenas exist in clans and are highly social individuals. Clans are led by testosterone fuelled females who are aggressive in nature. Males rank lower than females and females even have something called a pseudo-penis, which is actually an external birth canal. Females hyenas are often mistaken for males because of their “appendage” and large stature.

Hyena with Cub
Hyena with Cub.
Young Hyena
Young Hyena, Still Fluffy.
Hyena at Night
Hyena at Night.