Status: Least Concern
Known as: Spotted Hyena, Spotted Hyaena, Laughing Hyena.
Estimated numbers left in the wild: Between 27000 to 47000.
The spotted hyena is the largest of the three hyena species with large well developed shoulders and powerful forequarters that slope down to relatively undeveloped hindquarters. In comparison to the striped hyena, the spotted hyena has a larger but narrower sagittal crest and for its size it has one of the most powerfully built skulls for a carnivore. The spotted hyena is regarded as the second largest carnivore in Africa preceded by the Lion. They have strong jaws and teeth which are well designed for crushing large bones.
Their fur varies with age and unlike the striped and brown hyena is shorter and spotted rather than striped. The spotted hyena also lacks the well defined mane of the striped and brown hyena. The fur is generally pale greyish-brown or yellowish-brown with dark irregular spots on the flanks, legs and hindquarter which tend to fade with age.
Hunting and clan structure: Hyenas are accomplished hunters as well as scavengers. They are known to hunt a variety of prey including wildebeest and zebras and often hunt in packs. They live together highly social clans that occupy a territory which are dominated by the larger and more aggressive alpha females.
The clan structure exhibits a strict hierarchy with the highest ranking males falling below the lowest ranking females. This matriarchal society is maintained by the dominant female exerting authority over lower ranking females with aggression. Females remain with the clan for life whilst the males leave the clan at approximately 2.5 years old to join a new clan.
Communication: Spotted hyenas are highly intelligent and have an extensive vocal range. They communicate with other clan members with whoops, grunts, yells, growls and giggles. The giggles closely resemble a manic laugh hence the name ‘laughing hyaena’.
Spotted hyenas have been described as ‘exceedingly cunning, deceptive and suspicious’. They have been known to use warning calls in order to scare off other hyenas to feed in peace. As a result of these character traits they are often misunderstood and like other hyenas they are considered pests and hunted.
Location: The spotted hyena is widely spread throughout sub-Saharan Africa and east through Arabia to India. They are most often found in grasslands, savannas, woodlands and forest and the largest populations can be found in the Serengeti region, Tanzania, Kenya and Kruger in South Africa.
Protected population groups in Southern Africa are generally considered to be stable however groups in east and west Africa, despite being protected, are declining from poisoning and snaring due to their close proximity to and frequent contact with humans and their habitation.
Threats: Decline in numbers due to habitat loss and persecution at the hands of humans. They are hunted by farmers as a result of assumed or actual threats to livestock including cattle and goats. Spotted hyenas have also been hunted for body parts to be used in traditional medicine.
Conservation efforts: Even though the spotted hyena is only listed as least concern on the World Conservation Union (IUCN) Red List conservation remains important as natural habitat and populations decline. An IUCN report published in 1998 set out a Hyena Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan which outlines measures required for conservation of the spotted hyena. The report details campaigns to improve livestock protection as opposed to killing of predators, improved perception and reputation of hyenas, maintenance of protected areas and promotion of tourist activities
Spotted Hyena Videos
Botswana Predator Conservation Trust
Botswana Predator Conservation Trust has designed a programme to encourage farmers to implement livestock protection techniques to limit the conflict with spotted hyenas.