Hyenas are the most common large carnivore in Africa. Hyenas are neither members of the dog nor the cat family. They are unique, and so have their own family: Hyaenidae, which has four members: striped hyenas, the “laughing” spotted hyenas, brown hyenas, and the aardwolf (which is not a wolf). These animals are sometimes referred to as “the scourge of the Serengeti”. However, their clean-up work is important. The Striped hyena is smaller, more shy, and less social than the more well-known spotted hyena. This species has dark lines along their light-colored fur, and fluffy manes. Having front legs that are longer than the back ones gives them a characteristic loping gait.
A native of North and East Africa, Central Asia, the Indian subcontinent, the Middle East and the Caucasus, Striped hyenas live in open savannas, grasslands, scrub woodlands and arid mountainous regions. Today the species' distribution is patchy in most ranges, thus indicating that it occurs in many isolated populations, particularly in most of west Africa, most of the Sahara, parts of the Middle East, the Caucasus and central Asia.
These animals were once thought to live solitary lives, but in fact they live in small groups. They do forage alone, however. When there is plenty of food, a mother may share her den and hunting ranges with her adult daughters. Young females who have not yet reproduced or found their own home range sometimes help with the raising of their mother’s and sisters’ cubs. This species forages at night and is only active during the day if the weather is rainy, cloudy, or stormy. They sleep or rest in large caves, or will sometimes use dense vegetation for cover. Striped hyenas are typically quiet, but will screech loudly or growl and then roar if seriously threatened. They will call to their cubs, responding to their whines by feeding them. They raise their impressive manes when threatened or upset, which makes them appear nearly double the size, to make enemies back off. They are territorial creatures, and scent-mark their territorial boundaries as a warning to their rivals.
Striped hyenas are omnivorous scavengers and eat mainly carrion and human refuse. They scavenge medium and large-sized mammals, such as wildebeests, zebras, gazelles, and impalas. They will eat bones from carcasses after the meat has gone. They will also eat fruit and insects, and will sometimes kill small animals such as rodents, hares, reptiles, and birds.
Striped hyenas are monogamous, and males help females establish their den, raise the young and feed their mate when the cubs are born. Mating seasons vary with the location: in Transcaucasia they breed from January to February, and in southeast Turkmenia they breed from October to November. In captivity they breed at any time. A litter numbers one to four and is born after a gestation period of 90 days. They are raised in dens, caves, or shallow rock hollows. When born they are blind with their ear canals closed. In 7 to 8 days they can open their eyes. After 3 weeks their teeth develop. They are able to eat solid food in a month. Weaning can be any time from 8 weeks until 12 months, while their mother teaches them foraging skills. These animals reach maturity when they are 2 - 3 years old.
Humans are one of the biggest threats to this species, persecuting it with tracking, trapping and baiting, due to believing the animal kills livestock, robs graves and makes off with small children. They are also often poisoned due to bait being laid out for different carnivores, caught in traps set for other species by fur trappers, and killed in road accidents. Once a very abundant species, it has now declined throughout most of its range, being extinct in many places as a result of the abovementioned threats, as well as a reduction in carrion because the prey of other large carnivores, like leopards, tigers and wolves, is also decreasing in number.
The Striped hyaena is already extinct in many localities and its populations are generally declining throughout its range. The IUCN Red List states that the total population size of the Striped hyena is 5,000 to 14,000 animals, including 5,000-10,000 mature animals. This species is currently classified as Near Threatened (NT) and the numbers continue to decrease.