Striped hyaena (Hyaena hyaena)

Also known as: striped hyena
French: Hyène Rayée
GenusHyaena (1)
SizeHead-body length: 100 - 120 cm (2)
Weight25 - 55 kg (2)

Classified as Near Threatened (Near Threatened) on the IUCN Red List (1).

Like other hyaenas, the striped hyaena is dog-like in appearance, with powerful forequarters and a back that slopes down towards the tail. It gets its name from the black stripes on the sides of the pale grey or beige coat (2) (3), which is long and shaggy except for on the face and limbs (2). A crest of particularly long hair, running from the head to the tail, is erected in situations of conflict to make the hyaena look larger and more intimidating (2) (4). The striped hyaena has a long, thick neck, which along with the strong skull and jaw bones enables the hyaena to break up dry bones (2). The black and white tail is long and bushy and the feet bear short, blunt claws (3).

The striped hyaena once occurred from Britain to China, but today it is found in north and north-east Africa, as far south as Tanzania; throughout the Middle East and Arabia into northern India (2).

Striped hyaenas inhabit dry areas, from savanna to true desert, from sea level up to 3,000 metres (2).

The striped hyaena is a well-studied animal; however, what is understood about the behaviour and ecology of the striped hyaena is largely limited to studies undertaken in Kenya, Tanzania and Israel. There are anecdotal reports that elsewhere, such as east of Israel, their ecology could be substantially different (5).

The striped hyaena is most frequently seen singly or in pairs, although groups of up to seven can occur (3).  Social contact is limited by the need to forage alone over very large ranges, which they do so under the cover of night (2) (6). When moving around regularly used paths within their territory, grass stalks are marked with a secretion from the anal pouch (2) (4), leaving a clear sign to any intruders of the owner’s presence (4). If neighbouring hyaenas do happen to meet, they fluff out their fur and erect their crest in an attempt to look intimidating and fights may erupt in which they nip at each others thick necks (2).

The striped hyaena is omnivorous and will feed opportunistically on almost anything it comes across as it roams great distances at night (2) (6). This includes seeds, leaves, fruits, insects, birds, fish, and many species of mammal (7). A competent hunter, a single striped hyaena is known to be capable of killing prey up to the size of a donkey, and can even kill and eat tortoises despite their protective shell. It is rarely a fast enough runner to catch quick and alert animals, but can stalk and seize unaware hares, foxes and rodents. Striped hyaenas also scavenge, feeding on scraps from garbage dumps in some areas (2).

Female striped hyaenas give birth to litters of one to four cubs after a gestation of 90 to 91 days (3). They give birth in a rocky den or a burrow, preferably dug by another animal (6). The hyaena cubs open their eyes after seven to eight days, their teeth erupt after 21 days, and they begin to eat meat at an age of 30 days (3). The young cubs may suckle for up to a year (3), while they learn important foraging skills from their mother (2).

One of the greatest threats to the striped hyaena is the misconceptions and superstitions of humans. Believed to be responsible for killing livestock, robbing graves and the disappearance of small children, the striped hyaena is severely persecuted through baiting, tracking and trapping. In the past, some governments have paid bounties for every hyaena killed, and today the Indian government still organises killings of wolves and striped hyaenas in places where carnivores are thought to be responsible for child disappearances. Even when not deliberately persecuted, striped hyaenas are often poisoned by bait laid out for other carnivores, captured in traps set by fur trappers for other species, and killed in traffic accidents (3). The once very abundant striped hyaena has now declined over most of its range and is extinct in many localities (2) (3); a result of not only those threats listed above, but also caused by a decline in carrion due to decreasing populations of other large carnivores (such as wolves, leopards and tigers) and their prey (3).

The striped hyaena occurs in several protected areas throughout its range including Ranthambore National Park in India (8), and Serengeti National Park in Tanzania, a World Heritage Site (9). In 1998, the Hyaena Specialist Group published a Conservation Action Plan which outlines actions required to improve the conservation status of all hyaena species (3). The actions detailed for the striped hyaena include campaigning for increased protection of the species throughout its range, and undertaking further studies of its behaviour, ecology and biology. It is also recognised that one of the most important, and possibly difficult, challenges, is to alter people’s negative perception of hyaenas. Before the striped hyaena and its relatives are viewed in a more positive light, it will be difficult to improve the status of these fascinating animals (3).

For further information on the striped hyaena see:


To find out more about striped hyaena conservation projects, see:

Authenticated (30/01/08) by Dr Aaron P. Wagner, Department of Zoology, Michigan State University.

  1. IUCN Red List (June, 2009)
  2. Kingdon, J. (1997) The Kingdon Field Guide to African Mammals. Academic Press Ltd, London.
  3. Mills, M.G.L. and Hofer, H. (1998) Hyaenas. Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan. IUCN/SSC Hyaena Specialist Group, IUCN, Gland, Switzerland and Cambridge, UK.
  4. Mills, M.G.M. and Bearder, S.K. (2006) Hyena Family. In: Macdonald, D.W. (Ed) The Encyclopedia of Mammals. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
  5. Wagner, A.P. (2008) Pers. comm.
  6. Stuart, C. and Stuart, T. (1997) Field Guide to the Larger Mammals of Africa. Struik Publishers, Cape Town.
  7. Leakey, L.N., Milledge, S.A.H., Leakey, S.M., Edung, J., Haynes, P., Kiptoo, D.K. and McGeorge, A. (1999) Diet of striped hyaena in northern Kenya. African Journal of Ecology, 37(3): 314 - 326.
  8. UNEP-WCMC: Ranthambore National Park (December, 2007)
  9. UNEP-WCMC: Serengeti National Park (December, 2007)