It is never much fun to be misunderstood. There might not be another African animal that is more misunderstood than the hyena. Yep the hyena. I have actually been told by some of my readers that they dislike the hyena. “Look at him in the Lion King.” Now come on everyone, that is a movie and play-not real life.
The hyena is dominated by female power. The females are more muscular, more aggressive, ten times heavier on average with triple the testosterone level of their male counterparts. They rule.
They are often depicted as dumb and crude. Hyenas are actually one of the most intelligent and socially complex mammals in the world. They have a developed a frontal cortex comparable to primates. Research has concluded that they are socially just as complex as primates and are able to solve equally challenging cognitive puzzles.
The spotted hyena has more than a dozen vocalizations to communicate about social status, territory, and age. They will often release a giggle-like sound after being attacked by another hyena trying to steal his or her kill.
Hyenas are cunning hunters, killing roughly 95% of their food. Using bone-crushing jawbones (Top 10 strongest bites on the planet), hyenas work in groups to take down large mammals: buffalo, wildebeest, and zebra. In less than half an hour a pack of hyenas can attack and eat an entire zebra, bones and all.
While in the greater Kruger eco-system a guide took a group of us to a hyena den. We were able to sit and observe this matriarchal community at home. There were all ages of hyenas, from babies of all sizes, and adults. Upon first arriving at the den there appeared to be an eruption of a feud among the adults. One of them ran away screaming while others gave chase. After a few moments all seemed to be forgiven and they settled down to family living again.
Out of the animals I was able to observe in South Africa the hyena became a favorite of mine. It was eerie to hear them call at night while I was snuggled into my bed. I like the sound of the call and it gave me some comfort to know they were out there.
Before you choose to like or dislike this often misunderstood animal, do some research and if at all possible talk the opportunity to watch them as they interact with their world. Maybe, you too will decide to give this much maligned mammal a chance.