What Everybody Ought to Know About Hyenas

by on October 6, 2010

in Wildlife

In the last 3 weeks I have witnessed both the cuter side and the aggressive side of the spotted hyena species.  These misunderstood carnivores are unlike any other animal I have spent time with and provide so many different angles for debate.  After a great response to our post entitled ‘The Lies They Forgot to Tell You‘ I thus wanted to give the followers of our blog a bit more on the spotted hyena….

You will notice that the footage below is taken from the same sighting “Maxabeni Brother chased off kudu kill”.  With this footage I have focused specifically on drawing your attention to the behaviour of hyenas when feeding.  The way in which they eat and the social behaviour when feeding at a carcass.

As many of you know, hyenas have exceptionally powerful carnassial teeth for sawing flesh and premolars for crushing bones.  The hyenas teeth are organised so that the molars which crush bones do not interfere with the carnassial’s which slice the meat.  In the footage below you are able to see exactly how these jaws are used and the incredible strength they channel when chewing on the bones.

Hyenas are different in their feeding to other animals as they clearly go for the joints and bones first.  They are quick to focus in on the hindquarters and eat inwards to find the bone, whereupon they chew that up as well.  I would assume that they do this to get to the marrow and then the meat after that, although this is just my own opinion.  I am not sure if bone marrow contains higher nutrient levels, etc – any thoughts you have are welcome.  Owing to their strong and quick digestive system hyenas can eat and digest their entire prey: meat, skin, bones and horn.

The other interesting thing I noticed in this sighting was the hierarchy  between the hyenas.  Clearly the largest (and probably most mature & senior) female tries to dictate control over the carcass.  She is quick to create a scene when younger hyenas try to feed and in some instances she gets physically aggressive to assert her authority.

I would suggest that hyenas have a similar dynamic to lions when it comes to feeding time.  The most dominant member of the group controls the rights to the largest portion of food.  If a small piece gets ripped off and stolen, it will then be fought over by smaller members of the group.  The need for dominance amongst almost all living species is a fascinating thought and one I shall save for a later date.

I am not sure how many of you have spent time with hyenas, however if you have had an experience with one or more of these animals please tell us your story or give us your thoughts on hyenas in general in the comments section below.  Likewise if you are interested in learning more about Hyenas you, the most up to date National Geographic Documentary is Hyena Queen by Kim Wolhuter which was filmed in the same area as Londolozi.


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