Recently we have been having multiple Spotted Hyena sightings all over the property and have been hearing their calls as the sun goes down and throughout the night. Spotted Hyena is a rare and very special sighting for us here as many of them are not used to the vehicles.
The spotted hyena has unmistakable, heavily-built front legs which stand higher then its hind quarters, giving the impression of a sloping back. The head, neck and lower parts of the limbs are unspotted. This animal’s head is massive and broad, with very strong jaws. The muzzle is dark brown, while the ears are small and rounded. There is a short crest of coarse hair from the head to the shoulders. The tail is bushy with a dark tip.
Spotted hyenas are highly gregarious, living in groups or “clans” led and dominated by females. The group shares the same den and can comprise from three to 80 individuals. However, in place of co-operation as happens with other social carnivores like lions or wild dogs, the spotted hyena has an openly competitive system in which dominance of the individual is paramount. Spotted hyenas are mainly nocturnal but are also often sighted during the day, especially in cool weather. They are territorial animals and mark their territories by anal gland pasting. Most of this is done by the males and young, low ranking females.
Spotted hyenas usually have from one to four pups which are born in the summer months after a gestation period of 110 days. Two or more females may keep the young in the same burrow for several months. The pups are born a dark brown color with lighter heads. Spots begin to appear at four months old. Spotted hyenas are renowned and highly successful scavengers, relying on scent and vultures circling overhead to find carcasses. They are, however, also accomplished hunters, killing up to 75% of their own prey. They usually target medium- to large-sized antelope. Spotted hyenas rely on their speed and stamina to run down their prey instead of stalking and can run as fast as 60km per hour over distances of four to five kilometers. They will also chase other predators, particularly cheetah, from their kills. Spotted hyenas are very vocal animals with a variety of different sounds. The main call is a long drawn-out who-o-oops, rising in pitch and trailing out into a low moan. This distinctive call can be heard from five km away. They also grunt, groan, and giggle.
By: Frikkie Kotze – River Lodge Ranger