Want to learn more about spotted hyenas? In this post, you'll learn 33 spotted hyena facts, including: Are they related to dogs? Do they really laugh? Are they dangerous or friendly? This post provides you answers to these questions plus lots more surprising guides to spotted hyenas.
Guide to the Spotted Hyena
- Latin name: Crocuta crocuta
- Range: Eastern and Southern Africa
- Population Status: Least Concern
- Size: Length from head to tail: 4 to 6 feet (1.22 to 1.83 m)
- Weight: 89 to 153 pounds (41 to 69 kg)
- Diet: Wildebeests, zebras, antelopes, carrion, reptiles, birds
- Physical features: Resembles a cross between a large dog and cat with dark spots
- Where it lives: Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia, Namibia, Botswana, and South Africa
Spotted Hyena Overview
1. Where do spotted hyenas live in Africa? What Areas?
Native to Sub-Saharan Africa, spotted hyenas are found in a continuous distribution over wide areas of eastern and southern countries that include Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia, Namibia, Botswana, and South Africa.
2. What is the spotted hyena's habitat?
Spotted hyenas are hardy animals that are found living in a variety of habitats.
These include semi-deserts, savannah grasslands, dry woodlands and forested mountains that ascend as high as 13,000 feet (4,000 m) in altitude.
3. Where can I see spotted hyenas in Uganda?
Spotted hyenas can often be spotted on safaris in Uganda, especially in Queen Elizabeth National Park, Kidepo Valley National Park, and Lake Mburo National Park.
Learn more about national parks in Uganda.
4. How many species of hyena are there?
There are four species of hyena:
- Spotted hyena (Crocuta crocuta)
- Striped hyena (Hyaena hyaena)
- Brown hyena (Hyaena brunnea)
- Aardwolf (Proteles cristata)
Spotted hyena is “Fisi” in Swahili.
Diet, Sounds, Traits of Spotted Hyenas
5. Is a hyena a dog or cat?
Hyenas may look like they’re related to dogs, but they’re nowhere near the canine family. They aren’t considered cats either but are genetically similar to the feline family.
Believe it or not, these unique animals are more genetically similar to mongooses than dogs and cats.
6. Can hyenas breed with dogs?
No, not only are dogs and hyenas completely different species, but they’re also classified into different scientific families.
It would be like trying to breed a cat and dog. It’s just not happening.
7. Can hyenas be tamed?
Hyenas are fearsome creatures and are difficult to tame. Most African villagers do whatever they can to avoid hyenas.
Because of ancient hieroglyphics depicting Egyptians with hyenas, some historians propose that these animals were once trained to hunt for humans. If that’s true, the art of taming hyenas was lost with the ancient Egyptians.
8. Are spotted hyenas dangerous?
Yes, spotted hyenas are dangerous. They need respect and should not be approached. They can be considered as dangerous as lions.
For centuries, they’ve posed a threat to livestock. In modern times, they’re known to scavenge garbage bins in metropolitan areas.
While spotted hyenas tend to shy away from people, there are reports of them attacking people. With this being said, humans pose more of a threat to hyenas by hunting and killing them for being pests.
9. Do hyenas eat humans?
Humans are not their preferred choice of food, but hyenas will eat human corpses.
According to National Geographic, the traditional Maasai people of Tanzania and Kenya are known to leave their dead relatives out for hyenas to eat instead of burying them.
10. Do hyenas kill their prey?
Yes, although hyenas are known as scavengers that eat the leftover carcasses of animals previously killed by lions and other predators, they are skilled hunters that can take down zebras, antelope and wildebeest as their own prey.
Learn more about other animals in Uganda.
11. What sound does a spotted hyena make?
Spotted hyenas are best known for their distinctive laughing sound which you can read more about in #12 of these spotted hyena facts.
But they’re also known to use a wide range of other vocal sounds to communicate with one another that include growling, grunts, groans, whoops, whines and squeals.
Often heard eerily at night, the “whoop” sound helps these hyenas to keep contact with one another in the darkness.
12. Do hyenas really laugh?
Only spotted hyenas make the vocalization that resembles a human laugh. Other hyena species make little to no sounds.
This laughing sound gives spotted hyenas the nickname, “laughing hyenas.” Spotted hyenas make this laughing call when they are anxious, excited or when submitting to a more dominant hyena.
Learn more about hyena laughs (and their other vocalizations).
Spotted Hyena Size and Color
13. What does a spotted hyena look like?
The largest of all the hyena species, the spotted hyena gets its name from the dark spots covering its tan or reddish-brown fur. It also has a mane on its neck that is much shorter than the striped and brown hyena.
Like other hyenas, the spotted hyena has a bear-like shape with a long, powerful neck and front legs that are longer than the back legs. It also has a wide head, dark face, and large, rounded ears.
14. How much does a spotted hyena weigh?
Of all four hyena species, the spotted hyena is the largest, weighing between 89 and 153 pounds (40.5 and 69.2 kg).
Females tend to be larger and heavier than males, and for some reason, the spotted hyenas in Zambia are often bigger than those in other parts of Africa.
Spotted hyena cubs weigh around 3 pounds (1.5 kg) at birth.
15. How tall is a spotted hyena?
From paw to shoulder, an adult spotted hyena measures between 2.3 and 3 feet (0.70 and .91 m) in height.
To give you a better perspective, the head of an adult spotted hyena comes to the hip of an average adult man.
Population and Risks to Spotted Hyena
16. Are spotted hyenas dangerous or friendly?
Spotted hyenas are dangerous as discussed earlier in this post, but it’s possible they can be friendly. However, it takes plenty of patience and careful effort to gain their trust.
In the small Ethiopian village of Harar, this man has taught spotted hyenas to come into his house and eat food. His special relationship with the hyenas has established a peace treaty between his community and the fierce animals.
17. What are spotted hyenas afraid of?
While they’re usually among the top African predators, spotted hyenas are sometimes killed by lions during fights over prey.
They’re also hunted and killed by humans as wild game but also because they’re considered pests and threats to livestock.
18. What eats a spotted hyena?
Lions and humans are the primary predators of a spotted hyena.
19. How many spotted hyenas are left in the world?
This species is considered one of the most abundant in Africa, with an estimated population between 27,000 and 47,000 spotted hyenas.
20. Are spotted hyenas going extinct?
Spotted hyenas are not in danger of going extinct, but their numbers are decreasing due to being hunted, trapped and poisoned by humans for game and in the prevention of livestock killing.
Habitat loss due to human expansion is another threat to their population numbers.
21. Are striped hyenas endangered?
With less than 10,000 mature individuals, striped hyenas are classified as Near Threatened by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List.
Threats to this species include human development, hunting, trapping, and disease.
22. What is a group of spotted hyena called?
These hyenas are social creatures that live in groups called “clans.”
23. How large is a clan of spotted hyenas?
Spotted hyena clans can be as large as 80 to 100 individuals. This means hyenas may have more friends than many humans.
24. Why do spotted hyenas live in large groups?
Spotted hyenas form large, complex groups dominated by a matriarchal structure so that they can work together as a team to hunt large prey as well as defend one another from predators and other threats.
25. How fast can a spotted hyena run?
When chasing prey, these hyenas can reach a speed of up to 37 mph (60 kph) and can maintain it for long distances before tiring.
26. Can you outrun a spotted hyena?
No. It’s highly unlikely you could outrun a spotted hyena since humans can’t run anywhere as fast as these beasts.
Even Usain Bolt, who holds the fastest human footspeed record (27.8 mph) probably could not outrun a spotted hyena.
Spotted Hyena Reproduction
27. How do spotted hyenas give birth?
They give live birth like most other mammals but in a surprisingly unique (and painful) manner.
Unlike any other mammal species, female spotted hyenas have no vaginal opening but rather a narrow, elongated clitoris that resembles a male penis. The mother spotted hyena delivers her cubs through this organ.
28. How many babies can a spotted hyena have?
Spotted hyenas typically have two to four cubs per birth.
29. How often do spotted hyenas give birth?
Spotted hyenas are pregnant for roughly three months and nurse their cubs afterward between 12 and 16 months. So, it’s possible they give birth every other year or so.
30. What is a female spotted hyena called?
Just like a female dog or wolf, a female spotted hyena is called a “bitch.”
31. How long does a spotted hyena stay pregnant?
The average gestation period for a spotted hyena is around 110 days, although this can vary.
32. What age do spotted hyenas have babies?
Spotted hyenas begin to have cubs at about three years of age when they reach sexual maturity.
33. How long can a spotted hyena live?
In the wild, spotted hyenas can live between 12 and 19 years. In captivity, they can live up to 25 years.
From their unusual anatomy to their complex social behavior, spotted hyenas are fascinating creatures. What did you think of these spotted hyena facts? Were you surprised by any of them? Would you like to see a spotted hyena on a Uganda safari? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.