One of the characteristic predators of the African savannah the Spotted Hyena was long thought to be solely a scavenger, but it is now known that it is one of the most successful hunters. Its sloping features and ungainly walk, together with its eerie call have earned the Spotted Hyena a bad reputation.
Long thought to be of the dog family the Hyena is now thought to have more cat-like features. The Spotted Hyena is well known for its macabre chuckle or "laugh", which is an indispensable sound of the African bush at night. The large head, sloping back and a keen sense of smell is unique to this species.
Females dominate the social hierarchy and are larger than males. Females are 850 mm heigh at the shoulders and weigh 70 kg, whereas males weigh in at 60 kg.
The spotted hyaena is yellow with dark spots and round ears. Externally female genitalia superficially mimic the male reproductive organs, thus making gender identification difficult.
Some experts would argue that the spotted hyaena is Southern Africa's most successful carnivore, and considering its social structure certainly one of the most interesting. It has been regarded as cowardly in the past, but detailed field studies have revealed it to be an efficient, powerful predator.
It would scavenge by choice, and a pack of hyaenas would drive lions off their kill to gain access to the spoils. However, clans of hyenas are also formidable hunters and are more than capable to take care of their nourishment requirements. They prey on other animals and their young, as well as eating carrion. They can pursue their prey at 60 km/hr for up to three km.
Prey such as Buffalo, Eland and the potentially dangerous rapier-horned Gemsbok can be overcome by a pack of hunting spotted hyaenas.
Young may be born at any time of the year. The gestation period is 3-4 months, and there are usually 2 young per litter. The cubs weigh over 3 pounds at birth. They are not weaned for 12-16 months. No food is necessary during this time, since they receive enough nourishment from their mother's milk.
Cubs are raised in communal dens, but seldom provisioned or guarded by clan members. Males play no parental role, only a privileged few are permitted anywhere near dens, where even juvenile offspring of high-ranking females dare to bully them. The dominant male will father most of the offspring in the group.
Spotted Hyaena prefer dry savannas, open plains, and semi-arid scrub. Extinct over most of South Africa except in central savannah and Skukuza in the Kruger and Kalahari Gemsbok National Parks, Northern Province, and the northern regions of KwaZulu-Natal.