Spotted Hyena
Crocuta crocuta
Population size
27-47 Thou
Life Span
20-40 years
Top speed
km/h mph 
kg lbs 
cm inch 
cm inch 

A highly misunderstood animal, the Spotted hyena (Crocuta crocuta) has the reputation of being cowardly and sly, but it is actually a fascinating and intelligent creature with a very interesting social system. It looks like a dog but is closer related to cats, civets, and genets. It is also called the laughing hyena. It is a strong and capable hunter and the largest member of the hyena family. Females and males look exactly the same except that females are a little larger.


The spotted hyena has a strong and well-developed neck and forequarters, but relatively underdeveloped hindquarters. The rump is rounded rather than angular, which prevents attackers coming from behind from getting a firm grip on it. The head is wide and flat with a blunt muzzle and broad rhinarium. In contrast to the striped hyena, the ears of the spotted hyena are rounded rather than pointed. Each foot has four digits, which are webbed and armed with short, stout, and blunt claws. The paw-pads are broad and very flat, with the whole undersurface of the foot around them being naked. The tail is relatively short, being 300-350 mm (12-14 in) long, and resembles a pompom in appearance. Unusually among hyaenids, and mammals in general, the female Spotted hyena is considerably larger than the male. Both sexes have a pair of anal glands that produce a white, creamy secretion that is pasted onto grass stalks by everting the rectum. The odor of this secretion is very strong, smelling of boiling cheap soap or burning, and can be detected by humans several meters downwind.




Spotted hyenas live throughout sub-Saharan Africa (Chad, Central African Republic, South Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, Botswana, Angola, Namibia, and parts of South Africa), though not in the far south or the Congo rainforests. They occur in savannas, open and dense dry woodland, grasslands, mountains, tropical rainforests, semi-deserts, and coastal areas. In the rocky areas of East Africa and Congo, Spotted hyenas frequently use caves as dens where they raise their young or rest during the midday heat.

Spotted Hyena habitat map

Climate zones

Spotted Hyena habitat map
Spotted Hyena
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Habits and Lifestyle

In terms of their social intelligence, Spotted hyenas are considered to be close to the same level as certain primates. They have excellent night vision, being mostly nocturnal, hunting at night, and sleeping or staying near their den in the daytime. They have a matriarchal social order of related individuals that are called clans. One alpha female leads the clan. These animals mark their territory by scratching the ground and with an oily substance that they secrete from their anal glands. Areas far away from the den are their “latrines”, another way of marking their clan’s territorial boundary. Spotted hyenas have a large vocal range and communicate with clan members with whoops, yells, grunts, growls, and giggles. The giggling sounds like manic laughter, hence their other name.

Group name
Seasonal behavior

Diet and Nutrition

Spotted hyenas are carnivorous animals that hunt and scavenge. When hunting alone, they prey on smaller animals such as hares, foxes, jackals, birds, fish, and snakes, as well as carrion. In a group, they hunt medium to large-sized hoofed animals like zebra, wildebeest, Grant’s gazelle, Thompson’s gazelle, topi, waterbuck, eland, hartebeest, and impala. They also supplement their diet with eggs, fruit, and invertebrates.

Mating Habits

4 months
1-3 cubs
12-18 months

Mating for this species is polygynous. Males do a bowing display for attracting females before mating. Breeding takes place at any time of the year at intervals of 11 and 21 months. Gestation is for about 4 months, and 1-3 cubs (with an average of 2) are born inside a birthing den. The milk of a spotted hyena is very rich, and cubs can last for a few days between feeds, unlike wild dogs and lions. Females have the sole responsibility for bringing up the cubs. At 2-6 weeks of age, the cubs are moved by their mother to a communal den. The young are entirely dependent on milk for about 8 months and are weaned at 12-18 months old. They reach maturity at the age of 2-3 years. Males leave their birth clan at around 2 years old, whereas females remain.


Population threats

Whilst most populations of Spotted hyenas in protected areas within southern Africa seem to be stable, the ones in western and eastern Africa, including those in protected areas, seem to be declining. The main reason seems to be human persecution through shooting, poisoning, trapping, and snaring, even in protected areas, often in farming areas following actual or assumed killing by hyenas of livestock, or to protect livestock. An additional threat is a decline in habitat quality outside of protected areas

Population number

According to the IUCN Red List, the total Spotted hyena population size is between 27,000 and 47,000 individuals. The largest known populations are in the Serengeti ecosystem in the Tanzania sector with 7,200 -7,700 animals, the Kenya sector with 500 -1,000 animals, and in South Africa’s Kruger National Park with 1,300-3,900 animals. Currently Spotted hyenas are classified as Least Concern (LC), but their numbers today are decreasing.

Ecological niche

Spotted hyenas are the most abundant large African predator in areas where hoofed animals are common. They are therefore a very important part of this ecosystem. A Spotted hyena will eat almost every part of its prey except for the rumen and horns, and they scavenge often.

Fun Facts for Kids

  • A hyena’s heart is double the size of that of mammals of a similar size.
  • A hyena is the only predator which has jaws that are strong enough to rip elephant hide and crush elephant bone.
  • These animals can digest items that most animals cannot, like bones and skin. Special stomach acids break down these animal parts.
  • Hyena fossils have been discovered in Africa, North America, Asia, and Europe. But for the past 8,000 years, spotted hyenas have lived only in Africa.
  • Spotted hyenas can trot for long distances at 6 miles (10 kilometers) an hour and not get tired. They are good swimmers as well.
  • The Spotted hyena’s genus name, “crocuta,” is from a Latin word that means “an unknown wild animal of Ethiopia”.

Coloring Pages


1. Spotted Hyena Wikipedia article -
2. Spotted Hyena on The IUCN Red List site -

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