Hyenas are often portrayed as the villain, however, they are proficient and intelligent hunters, as well as scavengers, who deserve respect. The spotted hyena (Crocuta crocuta) lives in unforested areas of sub-Saharan Africa and feeds on carrion or hunts down ungulates such as wildebeest, zebra or antelope. They may also kill and eat birds, lizards, snakes, and insects.
Spotted hyenas hunt in large groups (called clans) with up to 80 individuals and use impressive hunting techniques to take down their prey or scare away their competition. Their clans have complex social structures and a strict hierarchy, and their groups are matriarchal since females are larger and more dominant than males. During a hunt, packs work together to isolate a herd animal – usually a weak or young individual – and chase their prey for miles until they finally and collaboratively take them down. The victors will then squabble with other hyenas, or even larger predators like lions, for the feast.
Hyenas are primarily nocturnal mammals but will often look out for vultures feeding on carrion during the day. Although the media sees them as stupid, vile creatures, in reality, they are extremely intelligent and a study observed that the spotted hyena outperforms chimpanzees in cooperative tasks. Spotted hyenas have also been observed to utilise deceptive behaviour, including giving alarm calls (used to signify a predator is nearby) during feeding when no enemies are present, thus frightening off other hyenas and allowing them to temporarily eat in peace. A very cunning technique.
They can also create a range of vocalisations, from their iconic ‘laughing’ to loud ‘whoop’ sounds which can be heard from kilometres around. They have scruffy, reddish-brown to light tan fur, with blackish-brown spots dotted around their coat (hence their name).
Although they have a widespread range across sub-Saharan Africa, certain populations outside of protected areas are declining due to poaching and habitat loss. With Africa’s rapidly increasing population, hyenas and humans are coming into contact frequently, some communities even view these majestic animals as pests. Our new world with over 7 billion humans and thousands of cities means that species like the spotted hyena will have to endure more and more hardship just to survive in a planet rules by homo sapiens.