Spotted Hyena Facts:
The Spotted Hyena (Crocuta Crocuta
) looks a little like a bear, with spots. A common mammal found on Kenya's Masai Mara, they form family units which are more competitive than cooperative - a lot of fighting between Hyenas of the same family occur. Having said which, they are highly intelligent and far from the image of them as the "slobbering, mangy, stupid poachers" described in the film Lion King. Were it not for Lions, these very successful predators would rule the Kenyan savanna.
The female is difficult to spot, due to a pseudo-penis (they have no vaginal opening). They only tend their own young, unlike Lions
, who look after all young in a pride.
Hyenas live in complex social structures, with an hierarchy known as a 'clan' and numbering approximately 15 animals. Clans will work together, hunting, defending their territory and raising young. Females are the dominant sex within clans and the structure of the social hierarchy provides a strict pecking order. The higher up the pecking order, providing first choice at kills, dominant females often sharing out the spoils to the others. Clans mark their areas using glands under their tails and between their toes
A single Hyena is capable of taking on a medium-sized Antelope, while a group are able to tackle a Cape Buffalo or scare a Lion away from its kill. Not as fast on their feet as the big cats, a Hyena can only achieve 35 mph (60kph). But what they lack in speed, they make up for with cunning. Their tactics involve a steady chase of up to 12 miles (20km), wearing their quarry down, until it drops. With hearts twice the size of a Lion's, Hyenas are far better equipped for endurance runs.
Unlike the big cats, who suffocate their victims, Hyenas disembowel theirs - a much faster way to die..! Lions are then the Hyena's nemisis and the big cats often steal kills from Hyenas, providing the odds are right. Four Hyena to a single Lioness making the balance - one to one with Leopards
Having one of the most powerful jaws (more than twice as strong as a Lion's) in the animal kingdom, Hyena can bite through the leg bone of a Giraffe
. Their jaws contain a mix of flesh-ripping carnassials and bone-crunching premolars, ensuring they waste not a single thing from a kill - horns, hooves and hide.
Hyenas have a gestation period of 16 weeks, bearing 1-3 cubs. The cubs take on their mother's 'rank' within the clan and they quickly learn not to attack a more dominant member of the clan - which can result in death. Over 60% of Hyena cubs live to 2 years of age, more than twice as many as Lions. Hyenas live for up to 16 years in the wild (twice that, in captivity).
Masai people used to put their dead out for Hyenas to devour. The dung of the Hyena, once dried in the sun, becomes pure white, due to the calcium content. Masai collect the dung and spread it on pregnant women's food, as an essential calcium intake for strong bones.