SPOTTED HYENA – You can Hear their Laughing and Howling at Night
By Chitraparna Sinha
The most common and large carnivore in Africa is the spotted hyena (Crocuta crocuta). History speaks of hyenas in Egypt, where they would be domesticated and well looked after for the purpose of eating them.
The hyena, though it is timid and cowardly by nature, can suddenly go bold and dangerously attack animals and humans.
There are three types of hyenas found in Africa:
- Spotted hyena – shy and rare to find.
- Striped hyena (Hyaena hyaena) – found in East Africa.
- Brown hyena (Hyaena brunnea) – small, very shy – found in southern Africa.
A spotted hyena has cannibalistic tendency and when hungry, it can eat its young ones. The female spotted hyena is dominant over the male counterpart and weighs more. Though the external female genitalia have a superficial similarity to those of the male spotted hyena (they are mistaken as male spotted hyena), they are actually female organs which enable the female to bear and nurse the young ones. It is yet not known why the female develop in such a manner!
A spotted hyena has various calls – wailing, howling and laughing. Hyena’s ‘laughter’ is very famous.
A brief profile of the spotted hyena is as follows:
- It is roughly 28 inches to 35 inches tall.
- It weighs between 90 lb and 190 lb.
- It lives up to 25 years in captivity and less in the open.
- It prefers a habitat of savannas, grasslands, forest edges, woodlands, mountains.
- It is carnivorous.
- Its gestation period is about 90 to 110 days.
- It is a target to the hunting dogs, lions and other hyenas.
A spotted hyena’s preferred habitat is either the savannas, or the grasslands, or the forest edges, or the woodlands, or the mountains – places up to 13,000 ft level. It seems that it adapts to any environment, any habitat.
Spotted hyenas are very organized – they move around in clans and defend their home vehemently. Their den, situated usually on high ground, is where the young ones are raised and looked after till they could be on their own.
By depositing a strong-smelling substance produced by its anal glands or by its droppings along the grass boundaries, it marks and guards its territory. When it carries its tail straight, it means it will attack; when the tail is held up and forward over the back, it means it is excited; when the tail hangs down straight, it means it is in a leisurely mood and when it tucks the tail between its legs and flat against the belly, it means it is frightened.
Being a marked hunter and a scavenger, it eats other animals like domestic stock, other small hyenas, animal droppings, vegetable matter, carrion and bones. It hunts mostly during the night and finishes up all the food by morning – sometimes traces of their food are not even found! It also drinks very little water.
Size and Lifespan
A spotted hyena stands between 28 inches and 35 inches and weighs between 90 lb and 190 lb. It normally lives up to 25 years in captivity and about 19-20 years in the open.
At one time, a spotted hyena gives birth to 2 to 3 cubs; though these cubs start eating from 5 months, they suckle mother’s milk till they are about 1½ years of age. When they are of 1 year, they start to follow their mother on her hunting and scavenging spree.
Spotted hyenas tend to emit giggles and grunt-laughter in situations of great excitement. That could perhaps indicate a conflicting tendency to flee or stay. The giggles, yells and grunts which accompany mass feeding tend to be directed at competing individuals at a carcass, and has the secondary, disadvantageous effect of attracting lions and other spotted hyenas. The pitch of the laugh indicates the hyena’s age, while variations in the frequency of notes used when hyenas make noises convey information about the animal’s social rank. Soft grunts are made by females calling their cubs. When attacked, spotted hyenas will emit loud growls and whimpers.
Hunting dogs, lions and other hyenas make a spotted hyena their easy target.