Hyena | African Wildlife Foundation

Depicted as scavengers, hyenas
are actually skillful hunters

  • Spread the word

Hyena

Conservation Status:

Least Threatened

  • There are 3 subspecies of hyena
  • Estimated population of 10K mature individuals
  • Clans can grow to 80 individuals

Quick Facts

Scientific name

Crocuta crocuta (spotted hyena)

Weight

90 to 190 lb.

Size

28 to 35 in. tall

Life span

Up to 25 years in captivity

Habitat

Savannas, grasslands, woodlands, forest edges, subdeserts, and mountains up to 13,000 ft.

Diet

Carnivorous

Gestation

90 to 110 days

Predators

Humans

Habitat

Where do hyenas live?

Hyenas are widespread and found in most habitats. Spotted hyenas are found in all habitats, including savannas, grasslands, woodlands, forest edges, subdeserts, and even mountains up to 13,000 ft.

 

Tags: Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, DRC, Kenya, Mozambique, Namibia, Niger, Rwanda, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Kazungula, Limpopo, Maasai Steppe, Regional Parc W, Samburu, Virunga, East Africa, Southern Africa, West/Central Africa View Africa | Habitat

Physical Characteristics

What are hyenas?

The hyena (spelled “hyaena” in some parts of the world) is Africa’s most common large carnivore. There are three hyena species—spotted, brown, and striped. Spotted hyenas are the largest of the three. Hyenas are fairly large in build and have relatively short torsos with lower hindquarters and sloping backs. They have excellent nighttime vision and hearing.

Behavior & Diet

Hyenas are not picky eaters.

The spotted hyena is a skillful hunter but also an opportunistic scavenger. It consumes animals of various types and sizes, carrion, bones, vegetable matter, and other animals' droppings. The powerful jaws and digestive tract of the hyena allow it to process and obtain nutrients from skin and bones. The only parts of prey not fully digested are hair, horns, and hooves—these are regurgitated in the form of pellets. The high-mineral content of the bones hyenas consume make their droppings a highly visible, chalky white. According to campers, hyenas have even been known to consume aluminum pots and pans.

They have a great sense of humor. 

Hyenas make a variety of vocalizations, including wailing calls, howling screams, and the well-known "laughter," which can be heard up to 3 miles away and is used to alert other clan members of a food source. 

Hyena cubs stick close to their mothers.

Hyenas usually bear litters of two to four cubs. Cubs begin to eat meat from kills near the den at about 5 months, but they are suckled for as long as 12 to 18 months—an unusually long time for carnivores. This is probably a necessity, as most kills are made far from the den, and hyenas, unlike jackals and hunting dogs, do not bring back food and regurgitate it for their young. At about 1 year, cubs begin to follow their mothers on their hunting and scavenging forays. Until then, they are left behind at the den with a baby-sitting adult.

They are very territorial.

Spotted hyenas are organized into territorial clans of related individuals. The center of clan activity is the den, where the cubs are raised and individuals meet. Hyenas mark and patrol their territories by depositing a strong-smelling substance produced by the anal glands on stalks of grass along the boundaries. "Latrines," places where members of a clan deposit their droppings, also mark territories. 

Gallery
  • Hyena Craig R. Sholley
  • Hyena Lee Slabber
  • Hyena Alejandro Tawil
Challenges

Human-wildlife conflict is a major threat to hyenas.

Like many carnivores, hyenas come into conflict with humans when they prey on livestock. Farmers often retaliate and kill hyenas. 

Humans are encroaching on hyenas’ habitats. 

As human populations expand and growth of agriculture, settlements, and roads results, wildlife is losing space in which it was previously able to roam freely.

Solutions

Our solutions to protecting the hyena:

  • Employ scientific research.

    African Wildlife Foundation’s researchers are working to gain an understanding of large carnivores’—including hyenas’—populations, behaviors, movements, and interactions with people in order to develop appropriate conservation actions. Since 2002, our Large Carnivore Research Project has undertaken research aimed at ensuring the continued survival of large predators living around Botswana, Namibia, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.

  • Proactively mitigate human-wildlife conflict.

    Retaliation is the primary reason for hyena killings. We work with communities to help them construct bomas—livestock enclosures—that protect livestock from predators.

Projects

Will you show the hyena your support?

With your help, AWF can continue working on vital programs like constructing bomas and conducting carnivore research to diffuse conflicts between humans and lions. Donate for a cause that will help with wildlife conservation and ensure the hyena does not become an endangered species.

  • Maasai Steppe Predator-Proof Bomas
    Ending human-carnivore conflict in Tanzania

    Lions face violence from local pastoralists. 

    Lion populations across Africa face many threats to their continued existence. Habitat loss, disease, and violence all...

    Read more
    All Projects

  • Ol Lentille Lodge
    Protecting Kenyan wildlife

    Kenyan wildlife is diverse but threatened.

    Kenya is home to some of Africa’s most diverse ecosystems and identifiable species. Lush savanna landscapes play host to...

    Read more
    All Projects

Get Involved

Become a member

Join African Wildlife Foundation as a member for just $25. Your partnership is vital to our mission to protect Africa’s most precious - and imperiled - creatures.

Join Now

  • Spread the word