IUCN- (International Union for Conservation of Nature) Classification:
Grade of endangerment: 4 – slightly endangered
© Kunstzirkus / pixelio.de
Hyenas belong to the family of carnivores. They are civets. Their physique is eye-catching, as their forelegs are considerably longer than their back legs. As a result, the back slopes in an angular direction. Chest and foreleg musculature are very strong in comparison to the rest of the hyenas build. The jaw is incredibly strong, so that they are able to bite through bones and large pieces of meat without any problem, whereas other civets must drag their prey behind them.
Their body length ranges around 1,65 m, the weight varies between 40 and 90 kg. The tail is fairly short being 44 cm long. The species hyena is divided in to three subfamilies, which are distinguished by the shade of their brown fur: there are spotted hyenas, striped hyenas and brown hyenas.
The way they move is extraordinary. In contrast to other four-legged animals, hyenas pace forward. This means that that they move forward by shifting the limbs of one side and then shifting the two from the other. Their visual, audio and smelling senses are very pronounced, so they can smell carrion from long distances. Hyenas have a heart twice as large as a lion’s therefore they can travel up to 100 km a day.
Today, hyenas live in Africa and in parts of South and West Asia. You can find them in extensive plains and savannas. The nocturnal animals tend to occupy abandoned constructions, caves and bushes. In Africa they are the most widespread predator.
Hyenas live in packs. Often, they expand caves and animal constructions to raise their offspring. When they catch an enemy’s attention, they immediately lay flat on the floor and stop moving. Since predators tend to notice their prey through their movement, they lose interest quite rapidly.
Hyenas are meat-eaters and everything-eaters. They eat plants, fruit, eggs, meat and carrion. They even digest bones. They seize their prey by throwing it on the ground and ripping open its stomach. Usually, it is immediately dead. Though, in contrast to their reputation, hyenas are active hunters. However, often they must give up their prey to stronger animals such as lions. Hence, they are apt to wait from a distance, to see if there will be leftovers. That is how they got the name scavenger. Lions get the short end of the stick when there is a hyena lion ratio of at least 3:1. Furthermore, hyenas are not shy of chasing weaker animals away from their prey, in order to eat it themselves.
There is no defined time when copulation cannot be completed. The average gestation time for a striped hyena is 90 days. A litter usually contains 2-3 puppies that are raised in constructions and nursed for a year and a half. As of the age of two to three, they are sexually mature. The gestation period and the amount of young depend on the subfamily. Hyenas cannot randomly copulate with their fellow kind. There is a strict hierarchy in which repetitive fights occur among the same species that can often result in death. Hence, the multiplication of hyenas is restricted, although they barely have natural enemies.
Hyenas are violated by toxic bait, lack of food resources and cadavers that have been devoured by other scavengers first, such as wolves.
The largest threat is man, as they define hyenas as serious thieves and destroyers of agriculture. Therefore, multiple bait traps and poisoned carrions are laid out to kill them. Between 1918 and 1948 the species became extinct along the Mediterranean coast of Israel. Furthermore, there is an illegal hyena skin and body parts market, as some cultures require such for alternative, traditional medical purposes. For example, in Morocco, the trade of hyena parts is highly priced.
In addition, the brown and spotted hyenas require large and harbored areas to establish their packs. Hyenas can easily exist beside people and adapt to other environments and circumstances. Therefore, domestic pets and farm animals stand in need of adequate protection. Although, cattle dogs and secure fences can assure such protection.
The IUCN estimates that the endangerment of hyenas will rapidly grow in the next few years. We still have a chance to save them from their fate! It is not too late yet!