5 things you didn’t know about hyenas

    Add a header to begin generating the table of contents

    Hyenas have a dog-like appearance. but they are more closely related to cats. These are among the wild animals that you can see witness during your safari trip to Tanzania.

    There might not be another African creature that is more misunderstood than the hyena. Oh, hyenas! You say. But they’re evil, deceptive, and cannibalistic! You say. That scrappy dog, that awful, devilish laughter, and that wicked, razor-toothed grin. What purpose do they serve?

    This unsavory illustration of hyenas in our popular imagination comes mainly from old myths and television, like Disney’s The Lion King. Some old African fables depict witches riding hyenas bareback. But hyenas are far from dumb, cackling drunkards of the savannah, nor are they evil, baby-eating witch transport. In an attempt to put such unfair stigma to rest once and for all, here is your essential briefing on the hyena, possibly the most misunderstood animal you will see on safari.

    Introducing hyena: The misunderstood, matriarchal hunter genius

    Tanzania - safari wildlife facts hyena africa tanzania 2 - 5 things you didn’t know about hyenas

    To start, here are some essential things to orient you with the hyena:

    • Species Name: Spotted Hyena (Crotus crotus) is the most common species of hyena in Tanzania. There are 4 extant hyena species (spotted, striped, brown, aardwolf)
    • Average lifespan: 25 years
    • Size: 2.5ft-3ft at the shoulder, 90-190 lbs. Can grow 4-6 feet long.
    • Range: Previously roamed Western Europe and the Russian Far East, but now only found widespread in Sub-Saharan Africa.
    • Estimated Population: Worldwide: 10,000+; Tanzania: 7,000 Serengeti; 400-500 in Ngorongoro; 3,000-4,000 elsewhere.

    5 mind-blowing facts about hyenas to impress your safari group

    Tanzania - safari wildlife facts hyena africa tanzania 1 - 5 things you didn’t know about hyenas

    1 - Ruled by women​

    Whenever you spot a hyena in the Serengeti, your first thought should always be: that’s an animal dominated by female power. For hyenas, the women are in charge. They are more muscular, more aggressive, ten times heavier on average with triple the testosterone level of their male counterparts. For both male and female, their reproductive parts exist externally and they look very similar.

    2 - As socially complex as primates

    Cartoons have depicted the hyena as dumb and crude, but this mere projection. Hyenas are actually one of the most intelligent and socially complex mammals in the world. Hyenas have a developed frontal cortex comparable to primates. Living in clans of 80-120, hyenas are subject to one of the longest-running studies of any wild animal, which concluded that they are socially just as complex as primates and are able to solve equally challenging cognitive puzzles. (Source)

    3 - More cat than dog

    Before visiting the Serengeti I assumed hyenas were canines, like wild dogs or jackals. This is false. In fact, hyenas are more closely related to cats. As the most common carnivore in Africa, hyenas are actually part of a sub-group Feliformia, a classification for cat-like carnivores. (Source)

    4 - Hyenas don't laugh, they sing

    Far from a monosyllabic chuckle, spotted hyenas hold a symphony inside their jowls, more than a dozen vocalizations to communicate about social status, territory, and age. They will often release a giggle-like sound after being attacked by another hyena trying to steal his or her kill. Here’s an excellent short video explaining the hyena’s sophisticated communication system:

    5 - Skilled hunters, not scrappy scavengers

    Tanzania - safari wildlife facts hyena africa tanzania 3 - 5 things you didn’t know about hyenas

    Hyenas aren’t the janitors of the Serengeti, those that clean up scraps from lion kills. Sure, they are opportunistic, but hyenas are first and foremost cunning hunters, killing roughly 95% of their food. Using bone-crushing jawbones (Top 10 strongest bites on the planet), hyenas work in groups to take down large mammals: buffalo, wildebeest, and zebra. It’s said that, in less than half an hour a pack of hyenas can attack and eat an entire zebra, bones in all! (Source)

    Life lesson?

    Never judge a book by its cover (or a hyena by its cackle.) Hyenas are a complex species, a matriarch of communicative carnivores that deserves just as much respect as any safari all-star. And there’s no doubt you will see packs of hyena on an Easy Travel safari (Best place for hyena sightings? Ngorongoro Crater). Contact us today and let’s start planning your Tanzanian safari now.

    Getting you there?

    With over 30 years of experience, Easy Travel are an award winning tour operator with extensive knowledge of the local wildlife in Tanzania. Our guides all have decades of experience and know where to go, when to go, and how best to see these animals (and many more!). Click here for more info. Get up close and personal on our Comfort Wildlife Encounters tour. Alternatively get in touch and build your journey of a lifetime.

    Musaddiq Gulamhussein - Owner - Easy Travel Tanzania

    About the author: Musaddiq

    Meet Musaddiq Gulamhussein, owner of Easy Travel Tanzania, a tour company creating life-changing safari experiences for over 35 years. Musaddiq has explored Tanzania, developing a deep understanding of the local cultures and traditions. Follow his journey and gain insights into the African Safari experience through Easy Travel's social media and blog.

    Get In Touch

    Read more blogs like this:

    Got questions? We're here to help!

    Why not chat with an expert?

    Get in touch with our expert to plan your Dream Tanzania Tour

    Or WhatsApp us on +255 754 400 141