Hyena, Spotted

Crocuta crocuta

Hyenas are neither a dog nor a cat but of the two they are more closely related to the latter. Spotted hyenas live in a clan run by one female, the matriarch. All females out rank males and each sex has its own pecking order with cubs inheriting their mothers rank. In order to compete with the male for food the female needs to be as big, if not bigger as the male and aggressive. For this she needs male hormones, in particular testosterone. Spotted hyenas do not just scavenge, they are actually one of the most effective hunters on the savanna.

Conservation status : Least concern
Shoulder height : 80 cm
Weight : Male 60 kg, Female 70 kg
Life span : 20 years
Gestation : 3.5 months
Young : 1 to 2

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A female spotted hyenas genitals mimic those of a male. So much so that it is very difficult to sex the animals other than by their overall size

Rather than fighting amongst themselves spotted hyenas will compete by eating quickly. A hyena can eat 18kg in one siting, 1/3 of its own body weight. The gluttonous lion can only manage one quarter of its own weight.

The backward sloping body structure of a spotted hyena gives it an energy efficient gait which allows it to walk effortlessly at ten kph for an inordinate amount of time, covering as much as 70 km in one night.

The jaws of the spotted hyenas are capable of exerting a pressure of 800 kg/cm2, it uses this power to crush bone to extract the highly nutritious marrow. They also have specially adapted molars for this job and strong digestive juices to finish off the job.

The spotted hyena will run its prey to exhaustion. Its top speed of 60 kph can only be maintained for a short distance but it can continue at 40-50 kph for several kilometres before catching its prey.

Spotted hyenas greet one another head to tail by presenting their erect penis and pseudo-penis, for inspection. Such an encounter, which can last up to 30 seconds, is a demonstration of great trust and is done only with fellow clan members.

Due to the high calcium content of the bones that a spotted hyena eats its faeces are white on drying.

Spotted hyenas can chase lions off a kill if they outnumber them four to one. However, if a male lion is present they will not be able to do so.