The spotted hyena (Crocuta crocuta) also known as laughing hyena is a carnivorous mammal of the family Hyaenidae, of which it is the largest member. Though the species’ prehistoric range included Eurasia extending from Atlantic Europe to China, it now only occurs in all of Africa south of the Sahara save for the Congo Basin. Spotted hyenas live in large matriarchal communities called clans, which can consist of up to 80 individuals.

Though often mislabeled as cowardly scavengers, spotted hyenas derive the majority of their nourishment by hunting medium sized ungulates (hoofed animals) and frequently clash with lions over food and territory. They are highly intelligent among the carnivora, with studies indicating that their social intelligence is on par with some primate species.

Spotted hyenas are better equipped for scavenging than other African predators: not only are they able to splinter and eat the largest ungulate bones, they are also able to digest them completely. Spotted hyenas can digest all organic components in bones, not just the marrow. Any inorganic material is excreted with the faeces, which consist almost entirely of a white powder with few hairs.

The spotted hyena features prominently in African mythology and folklore, where its portrayal varies from being a bringer of light, to a symbol of immorality and depravity.

By Wayne Lubbe.

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