The Spotted Hyaena (Crocuta crocuta) is a fairly common animal to spot on safari in Africa, with them being found mostly in protected nature reserves. They have otherwise been eliminated throughout South Africa, southern Namibia, and central Zimbabwe. Other than these areas, they are found in most African countries, as far north as Guinea, Ghana and Nigeria, all the way across to Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya and Tanzania, and then covering pretty much the entirety of southern Africa.
The preferred habitat of spotted Hyaena is varied, however they exclude themselves from dense forest and desert. The only requirement of their habitat is a sufficient supply of medium-sized ungulates (antelopes), which includes wildebeest and some other antelope species.
Hyaenas are rather dog like, although they don’t fit into the canid family. They have a relatively large build; their shoulders are taller than their rump, with a coat varying in colour from a fawn-yellow to a dirty grey containing numerous dark brown spots or splodges. They have a characteristic routine of calls including whooping, giggling and cackling calls, most often heard at night.
Spotted Hyaenas have an average total length of 120-180cm, tail length is 25cm on average, an average shoulder height of 85cm and an average mass of 60-80kg.
Spotted Hyaenas have an IUCN Red List Status of Least Concern, although their population does have a decreasing population trend. The number of individuals in the wild is currently unknown.
The behaviour of Spotted Hyaenas is particularly interesting, they are the only known social hyaena species, with the clan (group) always being dominated by a female. There is a huge variety in size of clan, with some only having 3 or 4 individuals, to some clans having 15 or more individuals. Within these clans, it is usually related females, their young, and unrelated males that remain within the clan for varying lengths of time (up to several years for some). The highest-ranking female dominates all members, including the dominant male.
They are territorial and the clan will defend their territory against other clans, using anal gland secretions to mark territory boundaries, as well as using urine and very distinctive bright white droppings. They are mainly nocturnal, but are frequently seen during the day also. As mentioned already, they are notorious for being vocal and have many types of calls including whoops, groans, grunts, whines, yells and giggles.
Hyaenas use dens to sleep in and protect the cubs; the dens may just be holes in the ground or intricate warren systems which are associated with rocky outcrops and caves.
Spotted Hyaenas gained a reputation for being cowardly scavengers, and although they do perform this behaviour, they are also avid hunters, having witnessed a hyaena clan take down two wildebeest in the Serengeti, I can confirm this is true. They generally go for zebra, wildebeest and sometimes even giraffe. They will also eat smaller critters such as insects, lizards and small mammals if they can find and catch them. They are also notorious raiders and will go through dustbins and rubbish dumps at campsites.
Hyaenas usually have 1 or 2 cubs per litter, there are rare occasions where there will be more cubs. Each cub will weigh around 1.5kg at birth. They don’t generally have a specific breeding season, although in some areas, seasonal peaks have been recorded. The gestation lasts for around 110 days. There may be two or more females that all have cubs at a similar time and keep them in a burrow together for several months, however each mother will only suckle her own cubs. At birth the cubs have a dark brown fur covering their whole body with a lighter fur on their heads and necks.
Lifespan in Spotted Hyaenas has been recorded to be up to 16 years in the wild, with an average lifespan of 12-25 years in captivity. A record lifespan of a Spotted Hyaena in captivity was recorded at 41 years and 1 month.