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  • Sara Umbrell

Animal of the Week: The Spotted Hyena

By Sara Umbrell, Layout Director


I hope everyone had a great first week back! In the new semester, “Animal of the Week” will start off with an animal that everyone has probably seen in trips to the zoo as a child, or maybe from "The Lion King" — the spotted hyena! While these laughing animals resemble dogs, they are actually more closely related to cats. Spotted hyenas are the largest of the hyena family, with females being slightly larger than males. They have a large head with a thick, muscular neck and a powerful jaw that actually gives it the strongest bite of any mammal. Their fur is yellow- or gray-tinted, with black spots scattered across their body. Spotted hyena ears are more rounded than other hyenas, and they have non-retractable claws on their feet.


The spotted hyena can live in a variety of habitats across Southern Africa, including swamps, savannas, semi-dry regions and even mountainous areas. Depending on their needs, they can be active during both day and night, and their only competition are lions and humans. Hyenas and lions typically fight with each other over territory, lions sometimes stealing prey that the hyena pack has just killed. In a skirmish over food, lions will often kill a hyena to get access to the carcass. Both species are usually warily watching for the other.


Family dynamics in hyena packs involve a hierarchy system, with females ranking much higher than males. The competition starts out right when the litters are born. On average, only two cubs make up each litter, and sometimes the weaker cub will be killed by the stronger one. Mom keeps the cubs in a private den until they are about six weeks old, and then they move to a more communal den. Females stay with the clan they were born into, while males will leave for another clan when they reach sexual maturity — about three years old at the latest.


Luckily, spotted hyena populations are stable, and hopefully they continue to stay that way. The biggest threats to them are drought and deforestation, which force them into closer contact with humans, increasing the chance that they will be hunted for poaching or for being a “nuisance.”



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