Skip to main content

Hyenas are the most common of all African wild carnivores and can be found in almost all parts of Africa and some parts of Asia. The hyena's reputation in both folklore and modern popular culture isn't as flattering or exciting as its fellow African predators.

However, when you dig deep and look at the facts, you quickly realize that hyenas are very interesting animals and an important part of the African wilderness. They are much more than the dumb, merciless scavengers of the savannah and we hope this article sheds more light - favourable to the life of hyenas.

stripped hyena

There are 3 hyena species - the brown, stripped, and spotted hyena. This article looks at hyenas as a whole, and whenever the specifics are necessary, the distinctions are indicated.

Read on and learn some interesting facts about hyenas, and hopefully, this will put seeing a hyena in the wild high on your wildlife bucket list.

Interesting Facts About Hyenas

1. Are Hyenas Dogs Or Cats?

While Hyenas have snouts and pointed ears, they are not dogs. Hyenas are more closely related to cats than they are to dogs but don't belong in the cat family either.

In terms of relation to other animals, hyenas are more genetically related to meerkats and mongooses.

Hyenas do have some features and characteristics that are common in cats and dogs but these do not indicate any scientific relationship, other than adaptation. They belong to the scientific family of Hyaenidae.

2. How Much Does A Hyena Weigh?

The spotted hyena is the biggest and heaviest of all hyena species and can weigh up to 75 kilograms. Female hyenas are often bigger than their male counterparts.

A male hyena weighs between 56 and 63 kilograms. On the other hand, a female hyena weighs between 67 and 75 kilograms.

spotted hyena

3. How Big Is A Hyena?

Of the 3 hyena species, the spotted hyena is the largest and can be as tall as 3 feet at the shoulder, and 5 feet in length from head to tail. Here are the sizes of the various hyena species.

Spotted Hyena 36 inches 65 inches 14 inches
Stripped Hyena 31 inches 51 inches 15 inches
Brown Hyena 31 inches 57 inches 13 inches

4. Where Do Hyenas Live?

Hyenas are very adaptable animals that live in all African countries south of the Sahara - except extreme deserts and thick forests. They can live in mountains, woodlands, grasslands, and semi-desert environments.

You can easily find hyenas in the wild in the following African countries.

Namibia Kenya Rwanda
Botswana Uganda Ethiopia
South Africa Tanzania Sudan
Angola Mozambique South Sudan
Zimbabwe Zambia D.R. Congo
Ghana Nigeria Chad
Burundi Togo  

5. Are Hyenas Smart?

Most people wouldn't expect hyenas to be crude and unintelligent. They have a large frontal cortex of the brain and are quite good at problem-solving and social cooperation.

Some studies suggest that hyenas can count. This is to determine the number of other hyenas/other predators and take the action that is more likely to succeed.

Hyenas have complex social structures that are very complex and evolved. Brain scans have shown that the brains of hyenas have evolved to have a bigger frontal brain which is helpful for decision-making.


Therefore while hyenas might not be thought of as smart, their brains are quite evolved and close to those of more intelligent animals like dolphins, chimps, gorillas, and other primates.

6. How Do Hyenas Reproduce?

During mating season, hyenas will mate with members of other hyena clans. The female hyena is pregnant for around 4 months and produces between 1 and 4 young cubs.

Young hyenas become sexually mature at around 3 years. Female cubs take a bit longer than males to reach sexual maturity.

7. Are Female Hyenas Hermaphrodites?

While the female genitalia of a hyena does extend outwards, hyenas are not hermaphrodites. Modern science has identified more than 65,000 cross-sexual species but hyenas are not among them.

And while the genitalia does look like that of males, female hyenas must copulate and give birth through this multi-tasking pseudo-penis. As you can guess, giving birth is tough and most cubs and first-time mothers don't make it.

8. Are Hyenas Good Mothers?

Hyenas are caring animals that take good care of their cubs. The mothers in a given clan collectively feed and protect the young ones.

Other hyenas in the group often help out by bringing food back to the den for the young hyena cubs that can't go out yet.

hyena cubs

9. Are Hyenas Social?

Hyenas are social animals that live in groups called clans. The clan is dominated by females and can typically have around 50 to 70 members.

While hyenas live in larger groups, most of the day-to-day activities happen in smaller social groups.

10. Why Do Hyenas Laugh?

The hyena laugh is only made by spotted hyenas and is a sign of excitement or submission to a more dominant hyena. The laugh of a hyena sounds like a human's giggling.

Other hyena species don't make that specific sound. The laugh is therefore an easy way for you to tell which kind of hyena is nearby.

Like most animals, hyenas have several ways of communicating among themselves.

11. What Do Hyenas Eat?

Hyenas are carnivores that only eat meat. Hyenas often hunt and kill medium-sized prey such as wildebeest, zebras, medium-sized antelopes, pythons, and hippo calves among others.

Besides hunting, hyenas can scavenge for food and eat leftover carcasses in all stages of decay. Hyenas do a good job of cleaning up the wild because they are capable of eating the skin, hooves, and bones of leftover animal carcasses.

In different areas all over Africa, the primary diet of hyenas is different because of the availability of certain animals and other competing predators.

hyena eating

12. Can Hyenas Hunt?

While hyenas have garnered a reputation for scavenging, hyenas are very good hunters. Recent studies have found that hyenas steal from other predators, just as much as they get stolen from after killing prey.

Hyenas are capable of killing strong animals such as wildebeest and hippos. More than 60% of what hyenas eat is a result of their hunting skills.

Like all carnivores, scavenging and stealing another animal's kills is a great way of saving energy. This is why hyenas as well as lions or leopards will steal food whenever there is a chance.

Related article: Strongest bite force of African animals

13. How Fast Can Hyenas Run

Hyenas are very fast and can run at a speed of 60 kilometres per hour. This is around the average speed of many animals in the wild.

Hyenas, like African wild dogs, are blessed with the endurance to chase after an animal for a long time until it gets tired and is eventually caught and killed.

14. Is A Hyena's Bite Strong?

Hyenas have powerful jaws that can exert enough pressure to crush bones. A hyena's bite force can reach up to 1100 psi.

With a bite force of 1100 PSI, hyenas bite harder than lions whose bite force is around 650 PSI. For context, the strongest human bite force is around 160 PSI. Spotted hyenas are the strongest species of hyena and they easily crush the bones of the animals they kill.

hyena kill

15. Can A Hyena Kill A Human?

In most cases, hyenas will try to avoid human contact, but they are capable of killing a person. The bigger spotted hyenas can weigh up to 82 kilograms (180 pounds)which is heavier than most humans, especially children.

Given that hyenas often hunt in groups of more than 20 and have strong bites, killing a human is not very hard.

Like many animals in the wild, hyenas try to avoid humans, and thus the risk of someone being killed by a hyena is much lower than that of a hippo or crocodile.

Man-eating hyenas are often hunted and killed by the authorities because they often start seeking out humans as prey.

16. Can A Hyena Kill A Lion?

If a lion and a hyena were to fight, the lion would kill the hyena. However, both these animals often move with their group, and group involvement might help hyenas in cases where the lion is alone or the lions are greatly outmatched.

One of the best-known qualities of a lion is its bravery, and a few lions can defend themselves from a much larger group of hyenas.

lion v hyena

17. What Animals Kill Hyenas?

Hyenas in the wild are primarily killed by other predators such as lions, leopards, and crocodiles. Lions and leopards often kill hyenas when the hyenas are trying to steal their already-hunted meat. Sometimes, this is also the other way around.

18. How Long Do Hyenas Live?

The lifespan of a hyena in the wild is around 20 years. In captivity, hyenas can live up to 25 years. A lifespan of 20 years in the wild is impressive given that other predators - especially lions often live for around 10 years.

Related article: How long do most African animals live in the wild?

Final Thoughts

Besides their depiction in popular culture, hyenas are smart and more interesting than most people know. The fact that they can easily be found in many countries all over Africa means that curiosity to see hyenas in the wild can easily be fulfilled.

Knowing so much about the hyenas can make a wildlife safari even more interesting because you are watching out for so much more. You are attentive and in tune with their lives at that very moment.

Related Articles