Species Profile: Spotted Hyena
By Ben Daggett (University of Vermont)
An animal that seems to walk the line between cat and dog, the Spotted Hyena (Crocuta crocuta) is one of Botswana’s top predators. The Spotted Hyena can grow to 70-90 cm at the shoulders and can weigh 50-85 kg, with females growing larger than males.
Depicted as mangy scavengers in Disney’s “The Lion King”, it is now well-known that hyenas are efficient hunters.This is largely due to their high aerobic capacity, allowing them to pursue prey over long distances. Combined with one of the most powerful bite forces on the planet, this makes the Spotted Hyena a deadly force. They will readily hunt any type of small to medium-sized ungulate.
Another unique attribute of the Spotted Hyena is the ability to break and digest bone. This adaptation gives them access to large amount of minerals in their diet, mainly calcium. This can be seen in their white feces, whtentyich get their color from dried minerals that have been excreted.
These animals are highly social, but there has been one Spotted Hyena frequenting the water hole near our camp at Dibatana. I met this particular hyena face-to-face one night outside my tent. Luckily, it was just as scared as I was when we met each other’s gaze, and it quickly retreated into the woods! I will never forget those big, alert ears and bright eyes that I saw that night looking back at me in surprise.
(top photo by Susie Dain-Owens)