Class: Mammalia (Mammals)
Body length: 3.2 to 3.9 feet (100 to 120 centimeters)
Tail length: 10 to 14 inches (25 to 35 centimeters)
Shoulder height: 2 to 3 feet (60 to 94 centimeters)
Weight: 49 to 121 pounds (22 to 55 kilograms)
Life span: 10 to 12 years in the wild, 20 to 25 years in zoos
Gestation: 88 to 92 days
Number of young at birth: 1 to 5 (usually 2 to 4)
Weight at birth: 25 ounces (700 grams)
Age of maturity: 2 to 3 years
Conservation status: Barbary hyena Hyaena hyaena barbara is endangered.
Striped hyenas were once found from Great Britain to China.
• She’s the boss! Adult females are aggressive toward one another and dominant over males.
• Hyenas have been on Earth for 24 million years.
• An adult hyena's bite pressure can reach 800 pounds per square inch (50 kilograms per square centimeter), helping it easily crush bones.
• The mongoose and the meerkat are the hyena's closest relatives.
• In the Middle East, tombstones may have been used originally to keep striped hyenas from digging up graves and feeding on the remains.
Mammals: Striped Hyena
A family matter
Hyenas are not members of the canid (dog) or felid (cat) families. Instead, they are so unique that they have a family all their own, Hyaenidae. There are four members of the Hyaenidae family: the striped hyena Hyaena hyaena, the “giggly” spotted hyena Crocuta crocuta, the brown hyena Parahyaena brunnea, and the aardwolf Proteles cristatus (it’s a hyena, not a wolf). These magnificent animals are sometimes called the “scourge of the Serengeti,” but they play an important role: cleanup crew!
Very distinguished features
Striped hyenas have broad heads with dark eyes, thick muzzles, and large, pointed ears. Their muzzle, ears, and throat are entirely black, but their coats may be golden yellow, brown, or gray with black stripes on the body and legs. The stealthy hyena camouflages well in tall, dry grass. The most striking feature on the hyena is the legs: the front legs are much longer than the hind legs. This gives hyenas their distinctive walk, making them seem like they're always limping uphill. Yet hyenas are agile and can run, trot, and walk with ease.
Watch what I say
In an instant, a striped hyena can nearly double in size—or at least appear much larger! It has a mane of hair along its back that can stand up when the hyena is excited. The position of the ears, tail movement, and body posture also help the hyena communicate its message to others.
Hyenas can hear sounds that human ears cannot, and they listen for sounds from other predators that may lead them to a kill that is miles away. They also have a built-in communication system: an anal scent gland to mark its territory. Each hyena leaves its own unique scent.
Dinner on the run
Hyenas have large heads and strong jaws filled with huge teeth used to crush bone. Their powerful jaws and strong teeth are a sign of their carnivorous diet. Although they are mostly scavengers, hyenas are also skilled hunters able to take down relatively large prey. Some striped hyenas even prey on sheep, goats, donkeys, and horses. When foraging, striped hyenas move in a zigzag pattern at a slow trot.
The striped hyena's diet will vary by season. True to its scavenger nature, the hyena eats mammalian carrion whenever possible. Its massive jaws help the hyena crush and swallow bones, teeth, horns, and hooves, all body parts that other predators leave uneaten. The hyena's digestive system has adapted to maximize the nutritional value of animal remains; only the horns, hooves, and hair will be regurgitated. But these animals have a reputation for stealing crops like dates, melons, cucumbers, and peaches (a favorite). They will also hunt small reptiles and insects. Striped hyenas at the San Diego Zoo and the Safari Park are fed carnivore diet, assorted fruits and vegetables, a mouse or rat, and small bones.
Once thought to be solitary, recent studies have shown that striped hyenas live in small groups led by a dominant female. Primarily nocturnal or crepuscular, they will rest out of sight during the day in a natural cave or a burrow dug into the hillside. Hyenas have even been known to take over another animal’s den. None too tidy, its lair will be littered with leftover bones! Striped hyenas eke out a life in habitat too difficult to live in for other large predators. They avoid true deserts and must have a water source within 6 miles (10 kilometers). Making sure privacy is respected, hyenas scent mark the edges of their territory. With sharp vision, acute hearing (really big ears!), and a keen sense of smell, hyenas patrol their territory nightly.
A hard-knock life
Striped hyena pups certainly do not grow up in the lap of luxury. Not much is known about their solitary and secluded family life. Young are typically born at a time when food is plentiful. After a three-month gestation, mother hyena will return to the den to give birth. Usually two to four fluffy striped hyenas will be born with eyes sealed; they are helpless and don't open their eyes for 7 to 9 days. Without a pack for support, the mother will care for the pups all on her own. The pups will nurse for four to five months. The young carnivores will taste their first solid food at about one month old; when the mother brings food back to the den, the hungry pups bleat with anticipation. They stay with their mother for quite a while to learn proper food gathering and hunting techniques. But when the pups are two years old she is ready for her offspring to leave, and the youngsters must find a territory all their own.
Typically silent, a striped hyena usually travels unnoticed, noiselessly moving through the brush. Its loudest call is a rarely heard cackling howl. The hyena makes successive rapid, brief whinnies or cackles when it's excited. Threat displays with rival hyenas begin with a growl rising to a roar, followed by a low, snapping lunge.
Leave me alone
The striped hyena is not considered very aggressive and usually avoids contact with other animals. However, it has been known to attack and kill people, especially children. Misunderstood and viewed as dangerous or destructive, it is poisoned and trapped for preying on livestock or raiding farms. Some people even mistakenly believe the hyena's body parts can be used as medicine for humans. Once numerous, the striped hyena population is dwindling and has disappeared from some areas altogether.