Is the hyena a cowardly scavenger or do they hunt for their own food?

The hyena will scavenge and hunt when given the opportunity.

They are accomplished hunters and they get up to 75 per cent of their food from their own kills.

In the Kruger National Park they kill 50% of their own prey.

In the Kalahari game Reserve and Chobe National Park in Botswana they kill 70-80% of their own prey.

They are also renowned and highly effective scavengers.

Carrion is detected by smell from as far as 4 kilometer downwind.

They find carcasses by scent and by the noises made by other predators.

They also keep a look out for vultures.

If they are harassed at a kill by superior numbers of other predators they may cut their losses by tearing a piece off the carcass and running away with it.

How do lions and hyenas get along?

On a one-to-one basis hyenas can displace any predator except a lion from a kill.

Usually lions cannot be displaced from a carcass by a hyena if an adult male is present.

However if they are heavily outnumbered, even lions give away their food to them.

Lionesses and cubs will give way if they are outnumbered four to one.

What hunting techniques do hyenas use?

These African animals are less skilled at stalking than cats and instead rely on their speed and stamina to run down their prey.

They can sprint at 60 km/h and keep up a speed of 40 to 50 km/h over 5 km.

They kill their prey by biting chunks out of it and targeting major blood vessels as it runs.

                                 Photo by Gus Mills.

The victim dies from shock and loss of blood as it is torn apart and pulled down.

Most healthy, adult antelope can escape from a single hyena but collaboration dramatically increases their hunting success.

If two of them hunt wildebeest calves they are five times as successful as one operating alone.

One of the team will distract the mother while the other grabs the calf.

Single hyenas will typically hunt springbok. A group of three can target wildebeest and if they operate in groups of four they can tackle eland and gemsbok.

Where clans are large and there is competition from other predators, they gorge themselves as fast as possible.

One of them can eat 15 kg of meat at a sitting.

They are very noisy when they feed and often chase each other around at meals.

They do not however fight over food like lions do.

What type of prey do hyenas prefer?

In the Savuti 80% of hyena kills are Burchell zebra.

They usually go for large and medium-sized antelope and select young or weakened targets.

They have been known to tackle anything from mice to baby elephants.

They are said to be the predators most likely to attack humans sleeping outside in the open.

The staple diet consists of blue wildebeest, gemsbok, zebra and impala.

In the Kruger National Park kills are -

  • blue wildebeest 15%,
  • kudu 15%,
  • impala 15% and
  • steenbok 22%.

In the Kalahari kills are

  • gemsbok 50%,
  • blue wildebeest 18%,
  • eland 9% and
  •  springbok 6%.

Food is sometimes stored in caches, a favorite site for which is shallow water where jackals and vultures are unable to get at them.

What social organization do these animals have?

These are social creatures and they live in clans of up to 80 animals.

The stable core of a clan consists of a dominant female and successive generations of her daughters and their offspring.

Clans also contain resident males and immigrant males.

The immigrants will only be accepted to membership after weeks of cautious approaches and subordination during which they bear the brunt of the clan aggression.

I certainly hope that by sharing some of the more unusual facts about hyenas you will understand that they have an important role to play in the ecosystems where they appear.

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Want to know some more hyena facts?

What is the dominance hierarchy in a  clan?

Are these animals very territorial?

What is the dominance hierarchy in a  clan?

Are these African animals hermaphrodites?

Are they very territorial?

Why do they get referred to as laughing hyenas?