The Spotted Hyena is my favourite animal in the African bush and for good reason.
By Stephan Du Preez, Operations Manager and qualified Game Ranger, Rockfig Lodge, Madikwe.
It all started when I was studying back in 2013, we had to choose a mammal and do a presentation on that animal, I was a bit slow in choosing a animal and at the end the only animal that was left was the Spotted Hyena, I don’t regret it at all.
I believe spotted hyenas are extremely misunderstood and perceived as terrible animals, a lot of people don’t like Spotted Hyenas and I always blame the movie ‘The Lion King’ for that as they make them out be cowardly animals.
Spotted Hyenas are in fact extremely intelligent animals with a complex social structure. They have a Matriarchal structure similar to that of Elephants where there is a dominant female.
In the predator world in order for a female to be dominant they need to be bigger than the males. This means that the females have a lot of testosterone, and therefore makes them completely different to any other female predator.
The females are much bigger and much stronger than the males and this is so that they can be dominant and fight of aggressive males if need be. Sexing hyenas can be a bit tricky especially if you see single hyenas and not multiple ones, normally males are the bigger one in the animal world and you can look at the genitalia of the animals in order to sex them correctly. That is not the case with Spotted Hyenas, the females are the bigger of the two and by looking at the genitals can be confusing as it all looks the same. Throughout evolution in hyenas the clitoris has become enlarged to look like a penis (called a peniform clitoris), the labia have evolved to look like a scrotum with what looks like ‘testes’ but are actually just fatty deposits which shrinks with age.
Spotted Hyenas are known for scavenging however they are excellent hunters as well, in areas where the lion population is small, the lions would scavenge of off your hyenas instead of the other way around, the way hyenas hunt is very similar to Wild Dogs, they will hunt in clans and they have a lot of stamina and endurance and they will use this to their advantage by chasing the prey down by tiring them out and then disembowelling them or eat them alive. Your hyenas have blunt teeth with extremely powerful jaws, in order to crush bones to get to the marrow. Spotted hyenas will eat almost everything at a carcass that they can, because of all the calcium they are getting form the bones they eat their faeces become bleached white when it dries out.
They are also territorial, and they will mark their territory by secreting a paste from their anal gland, the size of their territory is determined by the area size as well as population of hyena and lions in the area. You will notice a lot more scent marking around den sites and regularly visited areas.
Spotted Hyenas are very social animals and clan sizes can reach up to 40 individuals, in all clans there is always only the one dominant female called the matriarch, females will usually always stay with their natal clan however it does sometimes happen that they disperse away from the clan. When it comes to the mating behaviour the female will mate with males outside of their clan so that there is no interbreeding. The average gestation period is about 110 days, with the litter normally consisting of two cubs. Spotted Hyenas weigh bout 1.5kg at birth and are the only predators born with their eyes open as well as with canines between 5 and 7mm long. The cubs also practise siblicide especially when both cubs are the same sex. This process can start right after birth with the stronger of the two cubs killing the weaker one, this is very important with females especially as the stronger female cub usually take over the matriarchal role from their mother when they are bigger.
If you look at the structure of hyenas their front quarters are much bigger giving that prominent slant in their back, this adds to them being very powerful animals in order to carry large chunks of a carcass and ripping meat off the carcasses. Their front quarters are so strong that if they lose the use of their back legs they can still walk around only on their front legs. Spotted hyenas also appear to look more like a dog than a cat, however they are actually more closely related to cats with their closest relative being a African Civet.
I don’t believe there are any other animal even close to the Spotted Hyena therefore making it my favourite animal in the African Bush.