Celebrating International Hyena Day

Celebrating International Hyena Day

EcoTraining celebrates International Hyena Day as we look at its enormous contribution to our African ecosystem. Some cultures believe that hyenas communicate with the spirit world, possibly because of their well-developed sensory capacity and ability to see, hear, and smell things that humans cannot. Some communities encourage hyenas to roam freely, benefiting from their natural waste disposal services. Some communities also believe hyenas protect them from evil spirits and promote their presence. However, many people believe hyenas to be dangerous threats, and the animals are often hunted and killed in fear. Hyenas also get killed for use in some traditional medicines intended to assist blind people, as well as medicines to provide wisdom and promote fertility. 

How many kinds of hyenas do we have?

There are three species of hyena: spotted, brown, and striped. Hyenas are also related to the Aardwolf. Although hyenas have been said to resemble dogs, they are, in fact, more closely related to cats.

1. Spotted (or laughing) hyena

Spotted hyenas live in female-led communities and mainly survive on hunting prey, although they will also scavenge large carcasses from lions or dispose of carrion. The hyena communities are clans—groups of related individuals who meet up regularly for social connection and shared activity, such as caring for pups. Spotted hyenas have loud calls, which many people think resemble human laughter. In fact, they make a wide variety of sounds that can be eerie and exciting to listen to as they roll over the landscape.

2. Brown hyena

Brown hyenas live in communities, although the groups are usually smaller than spotted hyenas. They hunt live prey but also survive on fruit such as Tsama melons in arid areas. The clan will help feed each other’s pups.

3. Striped hyena

Striped hyenas are usually solitary animals, but all members of their communities cooperate to raise their pups, who live in communal dens. Striped hyenas are omnivores and will eat insects and fruit and hunt small animals and birds. 

4. Aardwolf

Aardwolves primarily eat nocturnal termites and occasionally eat eggs and rodents. They are monogamous, and parents raise their pups in dens. 

Why do we celebrate International Hyena Day?

Although hyenas will adapt their behaviour to avoid humans by becoming more nocturnal, the growth of human settlements and the loss of many wild spaces means that human-hyena interactions become more frequent. The primary threats to hyenas are all to do with humans. Changes in land use by humans reduce the hyenas’ natural living space. Many hyenas get hit by cars and killed. Hunting is also a threat. Fortunately, education can improve our understanding of hyenas, help preserve them, and even provide opportunities for eco-tourism. 

Hyenas are very intelligent and, in some places, have learned to cooperate peacefully with humans, even offering their paws to the vet when an injection is required! Hyena is an integral part of the ecosystem, providing waste disposal services and contributing to Africa’s world-renowned biodiversity. Understanding these unusual and fascinating mammals can help us preserve them and benefit from their contribution to the web of life. Understanding the species we share on our planet within our highly interconnected world can help us conserve and protect our precious environment. 

References: Science Direct, 2024.  Online.  Available from: [Accessed 4 April 2024].

Front row seats

Pridelands and Mashatu both currently have a hyena den. It is an incredible experience to witness how the hyenas and their pups interact, play and get up to mischief in the den. Consider joining one of our guiding courses to learn about animal behaviour. You might see these guys in action.

EcoTraining is an FGASA-endorsed training provider accredited by CATHSSETA.

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EcoTraining Highlights: Hyena Den

EcoTraining looks at the behaviour patterns of the hyena, a born survivor of the African Savannah. We stopped at Pridelands to visit the Hyena Den. What did we find? A couple of laid-back Hyenas.

About the Author:
Picture of Ryana Johnson

Ryana Johnson

Ryana Johnson is an environmental scientist who primarily works in science communication. She writes for popular media, has authored and co-authored publications on Subtropical Thickets and Environmental Impact Assessments, and paints educational nature murals.

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