Hyena facts


A spotted hyena (Crocuta crocuta) on the plains of the Mara

A few kilometres from the Big Cat Live camp was a hyena den whose occupants we were able to follow on the webcams and with thermal imaging cameras. Such dens are hard to spot unless the hyenas are at home — just flattened grass and a hole in the ground.

The spotted hyena is a common dog–like carnivore found on the dry open plains of the Masai Mara and much of sub–Saharan Africa. Dark spots cover yellow–brown fur and their long muscular necks and powerful shoulders make them instantly recognisable. Hyenas are built for endurance — their large hearts help them pursue prey over great distances.

Hyenas live in social groups — clans — but they are structured very differently to a lion pride. A clan can have as many as 50 members, headed by a female. As with elephants, this alpha female is known as the matriarch. Male hyenas rank not just below her, but below all the females in the clan.


Being the dominant sex, the females are more aggressive and larger than the males. They weigh up to 80kg, around 20kg heavier than the males. Fascinatingly, the female genitalia is almost indistinguishable from the malehttp://'''s penis and testicles.

There are around 1,500 hyenas in the Mara Reserve. Outnumbering lions by three to one, and with such large clans, theyhttp://'''re a serious threat to the lionhttp://'''s status as top predator. Famous for scavenging, hyenas are actually skillful hunters. The team recently witnessed a small group rushing a wildebeest herd in a bid to identify and target the weaker members. During the Great Migration, whole clans will set out on hunting trips.

Nothing much goes to waste when hyenas dine out. Hugely powerful jaws crack open all but the very largest bones, releasing the nutritious marrow. The acidic fluids in their stomachs can digest skin, hair, bone and even teeth.

The plains of the Mara echo with the squeals and greeting whoops of this much maligned animal. Their infamous http://'''laughterhttp://''' is actually a sign of aggression, fear or excitement. Hear and see our wild hyena clan from the comfort of your own home, streamed live from the wilds of Africa.

Did you know?

  • A hyenahttp://'''s heart comprises 10% of its body weight, powering it to speeds of up to 50kph over 3km while chasing prey.
  • In ancient Egypt hyenas were domesticated and even eaten.
  • Hyena cubs are born with their eyes open, unlike the big cats, and have teeth.
  • The 15% protein and fat mix of hyena milk — human milk is around 5% — means the pups can last a week between feeds.
  • A group of hyenas can consume a whole adult zebra in around half an hour.
  • The hyenahttp://'''s famous http://'''laughhttp://''' can be heard up to 4.5km away.

Image Gallery

On the Website

Big Cat Raw: the final episode

Cam Highlight: John Aitchisonhttp://'''s Web Safari

More on the Web

Hyena Specialist Group
A wealth of information about hyenas written by the biologists that study them

More photos and videos of hyenas in action

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