Updated: Apr 20, 2020
The Hyena has sadly been a victim of type casting. An unpopular species of the bush it has been called a ‘pest’, ‘a ruthless scavenger’, and ‘ugly’ unlike its fellow inhabitants Lions and Leopards who are often described as ‘majestic’, ‘powerful’ and ‘beautiful’. Certain animated films have also contributed to this animal's reputation. However, Hyenas are highly skilled hunters, taking down large prey like antelope and wildebeest as well as eating snakes, birds and insects.
Spotted Hyenas can be found across Africa and some parts of India. They are the largest of the 3 hyena species, Striped and Brown being the other two. They are highly social, in fact their social groups, or clans are the largest carnivore groups in the world, with up to 80 members. They use vocalisations to communicate different messages. The most famous sound being the ‘laugh’ or ‘giggle’. Although it sounds endearing it is actually a stress call, or to signal frustration or fear, it is often heard when they are around their enemies, lions.
Hyenas are an extremely important part of the ecosystem, like vultures they can eat pretty much anything. Clearing up dead carcasses which prevent disease. They are able to break down bones, releasing calcium back into the ecosystem for other animals to make use of. It has also been known that the Maasai people leave out their dead for Hyenas to dispose of. When hunting, Hyenas usually target weaker animals such as old or sick individuals, this in turn strengthens the prey species herd and allows them to thrive.
The Spotted Hyena, although of least concern on the IUCN red list, is decreasing in numbers. This is mainly due to human- wildlife conflict. As human populations grow so does competition for space and Hyenas are increasingly coming into contact with farms and livestock as well as wandering into more populated areas like towns. In response, they are often shot or poisoned by some communities.
Without Hyenas, prey species would increase, depleting vegetation for other animals. The risk of disease would also rise.
Hyenas are so misunderstood. They are opportunistic which gives them their bad reputation but really this makes them highly intelligent and adaptable animals.
All images by ©Heidi Crundwell