Whether you love them or find them rather strange looking animals, spotted hyena are some of the most characterful and unique predators you will find on safari at Tanda Tula. The Greater Krugerregion is teeming with these skulking animals. Whilst the media have done nothing to promote them in a positive light, it won’t take you long to figure out that they are truly amazing creatures to spend time with!
Here are a bunch of awesome facts regarding this polarising species. These will hopefully help those who don’t quite fancy a hyena sighting, to hold them in a higher regard:
1. When you look at a hyena, it’s easy to assume that they are from the Canidae family. Well, interestingly, they actually form their own unique family called Hyaenidae, which even more interestingly is closer taxonomically to the Felines.
2. The spotted hyena is not the only species found in the Hyaenidae family. They are, however, the biggest. The family is shared by some smaller cousins such as the brown hyena, the stripped hyena and the aardwolf (Ant Wolf).
3. You would be forgiven for thinking that the spotted hyena is a bit of a strange looking beast, what with its sloping back, long neck and huge head & shoulders. But all these things play a very important role in the life of a hyena. You see, that slopping back is actually an adaptation to assist with stamina, as a hyena can move many kilometres in one day in search of its plunder.
4. On the other hand, that massive head (which can rival that of a lion’s in terms of size) combined with those incredibly big shoulders and long neck, all add up to make one very powerful carcass-carrying, meat-tearing and bone-crunching animal! It also allows hyena to eat extremely quickly, as they are able to literally pull a carcass apart in mere minutes. And if need be, quickly pick up their dinner as a preferred take away when lions, or even other hyena, come around looking for a free meal.
5. Their heads also need to be large enough in order to house their very impressive mandibles. There really isn’t another terrestrial mammal on the planet that is able to crack through bones purely by the sheer strength of its jaw. In fact, it is so powerful that men in white coats estimate their bite to produce a force of between 800 and 1000 pounds per square inch! I’m guessing that’s correct, but I have never really allowed one to chomp on my hand so I can’t speak from experience.
6. These powerful jaws, along with a ridiculously powerful digestive system, allow the hyena to not only crack and chew the bones of deceased animals, but also to digest and assimilate the very sought-after calcium phosphate that bones are so rich in. Not forgetting that yummy bone marrow which is almost exclusively reserved for hyenas.
7. Now, what goes in must come out, right? Well, perhaps you have been on safari before, or you have watched our Sofa Safari series and hence you know all about the fact that hyena droppings are extremely white. You’d also then know that it is indeed the heavy bone intake that causes this to happen!
8. It is here that a pretty nifty link in the chain occurs. This is because calcium phosphate is not generally readily available for many creatures found within this environment. So, the friendly hyena processes (for lack of a better word) it for others to make use of. Once the bone has passed through that digestive system it is now far more accessible to many creatures that require the calcium to live and thrive on in the form of hyena poop. Just like we need calcium to make our bones and teeth strong, so do animals. Luckily though, we have found other means to “process” our calcium.
9. While we are on the subject of how and what hyena eat, it is also important to let you know that even though hyena are generally looked down upon for being bottom feeding scavengers, that supposedly exist off the hard work done by lions and leopards. Hyena really do make their own kills; on average 60% of the time, which means they only scavenge around 40% of the time. Of course, this is a generalised statistic and different situations and ecosystems require different habits. The argument against them comes falling down when one learns that on average, lions scavenge around 40%, which means they hunt a total of 60% of the time.
Having gone back and read my opening couple of paragraphs, I am not entirely convinced that the interesting facts I have listed here will actually change the way you see this species. I probably should have used more heart-warming facts about them! But hey, the most important thing I wanted to highlight in this blog is what fascinating animals they are. To be honest, I have only just scratched the surface. Let me know in the comments if you would like a warm and fuzzy follow up article on the hyena!
Until next time, happy snapping.