Wildlife Wednesday: Matriach Special Spotted Hyena

07 Aug

Wildlife Wednesday: Women’s Month Matriach Special

Spotted Hyena – Crocuta crocuta

Scientific name translations from either Latin or Greek are fascinating as they usually accurately describe one or more of the animals’ characteristics. In the case of the Spotted Hyaena, it translates to ‘saffron-coloured one’ in reference to its coat.

This very misunderstood gregarious carnivore is a sophisticated hunter that lives in a complex societal structure called a clan. Long frowned upon as only filthy scavengers, they are protective parents, very clever and accomplished hunters!

That said – they are not to be messed with.

Status and rank are everything in a Spotted Hyena clan; it determines how your life will be lived as both an individual and a clan member.

Some facts you may like to learn about these fascinating predators

  • The four species of hyena are most closely related to mongooses and civets.
  • ‘Spotties’ as they’re affectionately referred to, are famous not only for their odd sloping backs and loping gait, but they are gender benders and role reversers in their clans!
  • They DO scavenge but obtain 95% of their food by hunting down their prey.
  • Hyenas have incredibly powerful jaws and will crush bone as if it were the consistency of a tenderised steak.
  • Nature even equipped them with dual-purpose teeth – a third pre-molar on the top and bottom jaws specifically for bone-crushing. This is what makes their carnassial shear different to other cats!
  • Females are bigger and more aggressive than males, with each clan ruled by the alpha female.
  • In the very complex and strict clan structure, adult males rank last, having to be submissive to any juvenile females.
  • These rules continue with mating and females decide who, what, when, and where!
  • Hyena cubs fight for dominance within minutes of being born.
  • Mom only has two teats, so if there are 3 cubs born the less assertive cub usually suffers.
  • At an age of 2 or 3 years, males leave their natal clan to seek acceptance into another clan – a process that is humiliating and can take up to 2 years before being granted acceptance by the alpha female of that pack.
  • Perhaps part of their success and strength as a species lies partly in that they have adapted to eat just about anything…. From termites to rotting, yes putrid meat, and even sometimes have been seen eating the dung of certain animals.

A truly a unique & strange, but formidable and fascinating animal…

We’ll end off with ‘Hyena’ in different African languages:

‘Fisi’ – Swahili

‘Impisi’ – Ndebele & Zulu

‘Ingcuka’ – IsiXhosa (pronounced ing-ncu-ga)

‘Bere’ – Shona (pronounced bear-reh)

‘Phiri’ – Setswana

Article: Melissa Gomes

Photos: Lynne Harrison

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