Spotted hyaena (Crocuta crocuta)

Spotted hyaenas have gray/brown coats with solid black spots, and brown tails, that are often erect during social interaction. Their ears are small and rounded and their eyes are dark brown. They have a powerful neck and chest, and long front legs, resulting in their characteristically sloped-back appearance. The club-like feet have five digits each with non-retractable claws. Adult males weigh between 40 and 60 kg, and females are often larger (40 - 80 kg). A distinguishing and fascinating feature of this species is the advanced level of sexual mimicry, where females have false, but utterly convincing male genitals.


There is little distinction between the tracks of male and female spotted hyaenas. The front foot is bigger, and the toes more spread out, than the back foot. Average measurements (mm) are presented (width x height).

Front foot - 88 x 108mm

Back foot - 75 x 97mm

Spotted hyaenas live in highly complex social units called clans where the number of adults may range from 4 to 35. They maintain fixed territories, which average 360 km2 in Namibia. Two to four pups are born at a communal den after a gestation period of 110 days. Spotted hyaena society is dominated by a strong female hierarchical system, and breeding is limited to the alpha female and alpha male in a clan. Mortality of cubs is low and the clan assists in the feeding and rearing of cubs. Independence is reached at approximately 3 years old. Spotted hyaenas can live to between 15 and 20 years. Mortality is mostly due to persecution by humans, but also due to injuries resulting from fights between individuals.

Spotted hyaenas occur at a variety of densities in the north east of Namibia and all along the Namib Desert. High densities persist in parts of Etosha National Park and in the Caprivi Region. Spotted hyaenas are highly adaptable and they are successful in habitats ranging from desert to sub-tropical woodland.

Contrary to popular belief spotted hyaenas are active predators rather than scavengers, and in areas where prey is abundant they kill most of the food they consume. However, in desolate areas spotted hyaenas can adapt to become successful scavengers that can live on scraps and bones. Throughout their range, spotted hyaenas feed predominantly on large or medium-sized antelope. In Etosha NP spotted hyaenas capture and kill more than 70% of the food they consume. Their main prey species are zebra, blue wildebeest, and springbok. In the Namib Desert, however, spotted hyaenas most often feed on gemsboks and mountain zebras.

Spotted hyaenas are successful and competitive predators in most ecosystems. In some areas of Namibia they are formidable predators of domestic livestock. Along the boundaries of Namib Naukluft Park, Etosha National Park and protected areas in the northeast, spotted hyaenas venture onto farmland and cause extensive stock losses. Attempts by farmers to shoot or trap the culprits often fail. Spotted hyaenas are shrewd and generally avoid persecution.

Multimedia (Download QuickTime to view video clips) 00'21 / 1.3Mb
Sound file

Wooping call of a single hyaena, recorded in the Agab River on 12 May 2005.

sphyaena.mp3 (00'04 / 28Kb)


Spotted hyaena feeding on the lion kill near Urunendis Spring on 16 April 2009.