Although well-known for being a scavenger, the spotted hyaena is also an adept hunter, capable of bringing down a wildebeest (3). Spotted hyaenas live in clans and frequently hunt in groups, as cooperation can improve their hunting success. However, this often depends on prey availability; in the Ngorongoro Crate, large groups are required to kill a zebra, whilst in the southern Kalahari, gemsbok calves are the primary prey, for which a single hyaena will suffice (2). Even when moving alone, spotted hyaenas keep in touch with other members of their clan with whoops, yells and a manic cackle, which gave rise to their name ‘laughing hyaena’ (2). Spotted hyaenas eat with incredible speed, consuming everything except horns; a group of hyaenas was observed demolishing an adult zebra in just 15 minutes (4).
Each hyaena clan occupies a territory and defends it against neighbouring clans. Female spotted hyaenas, which are more aggressive than males (5), are the dominant sex. The clan is structured by a strict hierarchy where the highest ranking male is subordinate to the lowest ranking female (2) (4). The alpha female is the best fed in the clan (3). When around two and a half years of age, males leave the clan they were born in and work their way into a new clan, whereas females usually remain with the same clan for life (2) (4).
Mature females usually give birth to one or two cubs a year, after a gestation period of 110 days (6). Males play no parental role to the cubs (3), which are born in dens with a set of teeth and their eyes already open. Within minutes of birth they can engage in aggressive interactions, which quickly lead to the establishment of a dominance hierarchy, with the dominant cub getting to control access to the mother’s milk (2). Sometimes this aggression can lead to the death of the weaker cub (4) (7). The cubs are fed meat at nine months, leave the den at 9 to 12 months, but are not weaned until they are 12 to 16 months (8).