All You Need to Know About the Infamous Hyena


Meet the animal who’s gotten a bad rap in the Lion King with their earie “laughs” .

These distinctive animals look similar to dogs and despite their low diversity, play a vital role in the African ecosystem.

Hyenas are part of the Hyaenidae family and are feliform carnivoran mammals.

Get to know these mammals below.

Quick Facts

Average Lifespan

12 Years


Up to 170 centimetres


Up to 64 kg

Main Prey

leftovers, wildebeest, antelope

Physical Characteristics

These dog-like carnivores have a distinctive sloping back because of their front legs being longer than their hind legs.

They weigh around 60 kg and reach a shoulder height of 80 cm. They have short, sandy-coloured to grey or brown coats with black spots covering their bodies.

The spotted hyena has rounded, short ears and an extremely strong jaw.Hyenas also have non-retractable claws, the same as dogs and each paw has four toes with broad toe pads.


You’ll mostly find the spotted hyena inhabiting the Kruger. Other places you can catch a glimpse of these animals is Savuti, the south-west Okavango and Linyanti. You’ll most likely find the brown hyena in Southern Africa’s dry environments.

Hunting & Social Life

Hyenas hunt when they are the dominant carnivores in particular areas and usually scavenge for food when other predators are around. They take their chances by snatching meat from lions and are often killed in the process.

These animals have the ability to seek out the weakest animal in the herd and then isolate it from the rest. Once they have tasted the animal’s blood, they will not stop until it has been hunted.

Hyenas are social animals and live in clans of 10 to 80 other hyenas. These clans are led by a dominant female.

Hyenas are territorial and mark their hunting ground through communal defecation. The size of their territories depends on the amount of prey nearby as well as the number of other clans. Although these territories aren’t vigorously defended, hyena clans will respond with aggression if other predators enter their area.


There are a few subspecies of hyenas roaming Africa. Read more about them below:

Spotted Hyena

Known for its “laugh” the spotted hyena is the largest subspecies and can reach a height of up to 81 cm and a length of 1.8 m.  Its coat is sandy or grey with dark brown or black spots.

Brown Hyena

The second-largest subspecies of hyenas. These hyenas reach a length up to 160 centimetres and can weigh up to 72.6 kg. They can be distinguished by their long, shaggy hair which reaches a length of 30.5 cm.

Striped Hyena

The striped hyena reaches a length of 115 cm and a height of 75 cm. Striped hyenas have grey or straw-coloured hair and their muzzles are black. They also have black stripes across their head, torso and legs.


The smallest of the species is the Aardwolf. They weigh around 14 kg and reach a length of 105 cm. They look similar to striped hyenas with similar fur colour and texture.


While Aardwolves are insectivores, eating termites, the rest of the hyena subspecies follow a carnivores diet.

The Aardwolves lick termites off services with their sticky tongues. Termites secrete a toxin but aardwolves don’t seem to be affected by it. They consume around 30,000 termites in a single night.

Although hyenas are known as scavengers, they also hunt for wildebeest, hippos, snakes, antelope, foxes, lizards, etc. They also don’t like wasting food so they will store extra food in watering holes. Hyenas eat every part of their kill, including its hooves and bones.

Interested in Seeing the Hyena in its Natural Habitat?

Want to see a hyena clan going scavenging in the wild? Africa Travel Co offers many tours for travelers to experience seeing hyenas in their home. Visit www.africatravelco.com or simply send an email to cpt@africatravelco.com to book your tour with us today.