Though known for being scavengers, spotted hyenas are also highly efficient predators. They can be seen on safari in all the countries of Southern Africa.Need Advice?
They are light, dull brown, with darker dots or spots that have given them their name and helps them camouflage in the long grass of Africa's savannah areas. Hyenas are large and some of the African grasslands' most dominant predators and scavengers.
These animals are widespread within Sub-Saharan Africa, with the only significant range exclusions being the heart of the Congo's rainforests and West Africa's coast, along with scattered areas of Namibia and Zimbabwe further south. They are also absent within the most significant part of South Africa, which includes the Cape Provinces and mainland areas, but occur in the national parks in the north.
Spotted hyenas are the primary scavengers of the African plains, alongside vultures and jackals. They are widespread and currently in no danger or threat, though their numbers rapidly decrease. Poaching and habitat loss are the leading causes of the decrease in their populations in recent years. On the positive side, their wide distribution range means that the species is less vulnerable to extinction in the future, with most areas lower than 4100m occupied by hyenas. Their total population is estimated at between 27 000 and 47 000 individuals. Of these, 1 300 to 3 900 can be found in the Kruger National Park. An early morning or late afternoon drive in the park may result in a hyena sighting.
The spotted hyena is one of the main characters in the epic events on the great grasslands of Africa, where big hunters and big prey battle it out in the endless struggle for survival. They flourish in great numbers, although they are found in smaller areas of woodland, grassland, or savanna and bushveld areas, where they hunt more often. However, when given a choice, they avoid situations like these, preferring to play the role of "beta" on the great plains. They consume the most meat of all hyena species, and rarely adopt an omnivore's diet, despite being able to when the need is great enough.
They take up the role of bottom feeders, scavengers and runner's up to great prides of lions in a typical intense African battlefield found on the great plains and grasslands. In areas where lion populations are depleted, the tables have since turned, and spotted hyenas have become the primary hunters. They form large clans of many individuals, of which the majority are female and are all led by a matriarch or dominant female hyena. They live together in a series of shelters collectively called their den, though rivalries between clans and the battle for territory may cause a clan to have to find a new den.
We recommend the following National Parks and Private Reserves for the best chances of spotting the spotted hyena on safari game drives and bush walks.
Hyenas are territorial and spend a portion of their time on scent marking and protecting their clan's territory. Scent marking is usually done through defecation and pasting. Rival clans will compete against one another for the spoils of a kill, with confrontations often getting violent. They have a unique way of greeting where members sniff each other's behind, a ritual greeting, or means of identification. When competing for kills or communicating over a distance, hyenas send out their signature laughing sound while keeping their head faced to the ground as they do so. This whooping sound has many variations, with differences in pitch and rhythm, and is one of the few vocal means of communication among hyenas.
Spotted hyenas reproduce at any point throughout the year after females go into heat for two weeks. Both males and females reach sexual maturity at around three years of age. Their pre-copulatory rituals are not of the glamorous kind. Males generally get the confidence to mount a female and are either met by an aggressive response where the male either continues or stops and moves away – mating is not always consensual. After a female conceives, it takes up to 132 days to finally give birth to her litter of new clan members, ranging from 1 to 4 pups – two on average.
The thought of predators or attacks does not generally torment spotted hyenas, but they do face competition for kills and meat from other large predators like lions. Spotted hyenas are usually the ones that make a nuisance of themselves as they attempt to steal a kill. So, they often face backlash that could result in serious injury or death – especially at the hands of an annoyed male lion. They often steal leopard, cheetah, and lion kills if their numbers are enough to prevail and sometimes get into epic battles in dry periods when food is scarce. Their main strategy when defending opposition is to gang up on them in numbers, a method called "mobbing." It, however, is only ever really effective if they have the upper hand in numbers.