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The Striped Hyena

Hyaena hyaena

Although there is literature that shows hyenas in a good light, usually that is not the case. Hyenas have always had somewhat of a bad reputation in both literature and film. Most novels do not give Hyenas any credit for doing what they do, or support. Films are quite similar.

In 1994 the movie The Lion King came out. This film portrayed three very different types of hyenas. There was the smart and sly one, the leader, and the stupid one. The movie gave children a reason to fear and hate hyenas because all three of the Hyenas worked for Scar, the main protagonist in the film.

The striped hyena is closing in on the endangered species list but people are not fighting to keep them alive; why not? Is it because they are not as cute and cuddly as the other creatures who are dying? Do they not deserve to live just as much as the others? Hyenas in general have been criticized since the dawning of humans and the stripped hyenas are on the verge of extinction. While most believe that they are scary or freightening, those who spend time with these animals believe that they are sweet and interesting.


Hyenas were typically viewed as a negative species and still are today. Hyenas were believed to have magical powers which made them evil and manipulative. Also hyenas would be able to take away the barks of dogs if they came within the hyenas shadow, which in that case they would not be able to warn a human that it was close. The last claim was that hyenas could circle an animal three times and afterwards the animal would not be able to walk. Striped hyenas were called the Water Wolves in mid-evil times because they resembled the wolf so much and they were often seen lurking by water searching for food.

They were believed to be able to imitate human voices and lure them into a place where they could kill them. They were also believed that they inhabit the tombs of the dead and feed on their bodies. Hyenas were also believed to be unclean, saying that they were not meant to be eaten. Hyenas were also thought to resemble Jews because they were ugly and because they became addicted to wealth and luxury. They were also believed to be hermaphorodites and the singers of sad songs. Although they were freightened by the striped hyenas, humans also used to believe that they had magical healing powers. If they ate their brains and wore their fur during rituals then they would become better.


Striped hyenas have broad heads with large eyes, large muzzles, and large pointed ears. Male and female hyenas look alike except the men are slightly bigger than the female. Although stripped, spotted, and brown hyenas were all once thought of as hermaphrodites, the striped hyena was the one with the most obvious gender difference. The striped hyena has a line underneath its tail which is her The striped hyena's coat color varies from gray to light brown with vertical black stripes along the length of the body with dark, striped legs. The coat is longer, which helps them keep warm in the night time and during the winter. Their muzzle and ears are always completely black. Their bodies are 3 to 4 feet in length and their tales are 12.5 inches. They also weigh around 55 to 121 pounds. They also have a mane that runs down the center of their backs. This mane can appear 38% bigger when the hyena feels threatened. It is also known that the striped hyenas are slightly larger than the other types of hyenas.

Location, Communication, and Eating Habits

Striped hyenas live in Morocco, Senegal, Tanzania, across Asia Minor, to the Asian Peninsula, and in Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and even in Eastern and Southern India. While hyenas used to be in Europe, they have gone extinct in that part of the world. They tend to live in open country, savannahs, thorn bushes, and stony desert regions. Wherever they live, they are always within a 6 mile radius of water.Hyenas use the sense of smell to communicate. They, like dogs, mark their territory. They live in clans of around a dozen or so, but hunt singularly.

Hyenas (striped, brown and spotted) are all considered to be carrion feeders. They will kill their own prey, but they are best known for eating carcasses. Hyenas have jaws so strong that they can crunch through bones without any problems so that they can get through to get to the marrow. They have very powerful digestive systems and every part of the body is swallowed, but the fur, hooves, horns, and bones are regurgitated in pellets (similar to owls). Hyenas will eat pretty much anything, even the hide of an animal that has been laying out in the hot sun for days. On some occasions, a hyena will be seen eating dead sharks that wash up onto shore from close by oceans. When a hyena does decide to kill, it will go to a close-by watering hole and chase the animals out. The weakest and slowest animal will be attacked and is dinner for the whole clan. Typically hyenas hunt at night and is smart enough to steal from larger predators, such as lions.

Altough the hyena is mostly known as a scavenger it also eats insects, birds eggs, fish, small mammals, and even fruits and vegetables because they are good sources of water.

Hyenas communicate differently than most animals. Instead of "calling" or making noises like the spotted hyena, the striped hyena relies mostly on smell for its communication. Typically they mark their territory with their anal pouches.


While most people believe that hyenas are not intelligent creatures, they actually are quite smart. People have different reasons for believing that they aren't intelligent. As mentioned at the beginning, movies such as The Lion King portray hyenas as being somewhat stupid characters. There are also people who believe that hyenas act on natural instincts and that they don't actually think about what they are doing. As Mark and Delia put it in their book, The Cry of the Kalahari the hyenas know who is the stronger one. They don't learn it by fighting, they just know. If a stronger, older hyena is ready to eat, then they eat first, no questions asked. Occasionally the hyenas will fight over dinner, but that is just like children fighting with parents in a home over desert.

People also believe that hyenas are not very smart because they eat dead animals. They also believe that hyenas are lazy or cowardly because of this. Truth of the matter is, hyenas are scavengers because they know a good thing when it comes to them. Why should they use all their effort and risk their lives to kill an animal when they can get a perfectly good left-over from another animals fight? Just because they would prefer to eat something that is already dead does not make them dumb. Also, it is not that hyenas are incapable of killing animals. On the contrary, hyenas are capable of killing an animal in one bite. By eating the animals that are already dead, hyenas are actually helping. They aren't killing any other animals and they are cleaning up. I've heard people refer to them before as the "Clean-up Crew" and I think it fits them perfectly.


The Striped Hyena is considered a rare species because of its habitat destruction and hunting. There are only about 2,000 striped hyenas left and they are decreasing rapidly. Hyenas are often killed because farmers believe that they are eating their livestock, whether they are or not. I was really hoping to not find a picture of this, but below is a picture of hunters with a hyena(and yes, the hyena is dead).

Literature and Film

As mentioned before, most literature and film do not speak of the hyena as a gracious creature. Instead it is usually an "evil" animal or unclean. In Barbara Gowdy's novel, The White Bone she often has her characters talking about how frieghtened they are of the hyenas and how the hyenas kill their kind. The novel, The Life of Pi, shows the evil side of hyenas. Pi is trapped in a boat with the hyena and the hyena keeps eating all the animals and Pi is just scared to death that he is going to be the next one eaten. Astonishingly, hyenas are portrayed as evil in the modern day computer game, World of Warcraft. Millions of people play the game daily, so it is just spreading more and more quickly that hyenas are bad creatures. The folklore mentioning hyenas also makes them sound like evil creatures being magical. There is, however, some literature that speaks some good on behalf of the hyena population. In the novel The Cry of the Kalahari by Mark and Cordelia Owens the hyenas are friends with the humans and are seen as good animals. In one of Hemingway's novels he wrote that he thought it was funny to watch his guide kill the animals; the hyenas most of all.

Final Thoughts

Despite what most people believe, hyenas make excellent pets as long as they are tamed from the time they are cubs. They are very intelligent companions to have, but most people do not want to have them close because when they mark their territory it makes a distinctive smell. If you would like to read more about the Striped Hyena, or maybe about a little about the other two types, I recommend some books and websites in my Bibliography . Also if you would like to see some additional photos, please take a look at the Picture Gallery .