Spots, stripes, and a shaggy brown coat

Do you know the different types of hyaenas and where you can find them?

If you’ve been to the bushveld in southern or East Africa, you have more than likely seen the best known of the hyaenas, the spotted hyaena.  Are the other two on your bucket list?

A bad reputation...

Often perceived as ferocious and filthy, hyaenas are unique and vital components of most African ecosystems.  Cast as villains by Disney in The Lion King, one needs to witness the social interactions of hyaenas at their den, and the strong bonds within the clan to change one’s perspective.  Although hyaenas appear similar to dogs, they are classified within their own group of carnivores.

Hyaenas are seen as a livestock predator by farmers and game ranchers, and thus face a battle for survival in unprotected areas, where they have been exterminated to a large extent.  Multiple threats include incidental snaring, illegal hunting and poisoning outside of conservation areas.

Spotted hyaena

What does it look like?

  • dark brown markings or “spots”, on its lighter, greyish coat
  • rounded ears
  • the spotted hyaena is the largest and most common of the three hyaenas.

Where is it found?

  • found in Southern Africa and East Africa in national parks and game reserves.
  • in the Greater Kruger Park where active den sites are reused year after year and we get unrivalled access to the relaxed clans with cubs

Striped hyaena

What does it look like?

  • considerably smaller than the spotted hyaena
  • pointed ears
  • distinct vertical black stripes on its body and legs
  • the striped hyaena weighs 40-55kg while the spotted hyaena is much larger at 60-80kg

Where is it found?

  • found only in East Africa and North Africa, from the dry savanna, through the deserts to the Mediterranean Sea
  • Striped hyaena are decreasing in numbers due to habitat destruction by man and illegal hunting for the striped hyaena skin and body parts for use in traditional medicine

Brown hyaena

What does it look like?

  • similar in size to the striped hyaena at around 45kg
  • easily distinguished by its pointed ears, and particularly shaggy dark brown coat
  • lower legs striped black and light brown

Where is it found?

  • found only in Southern Africa, restricted mainly to the conservation areas in the west of South Africa and south of the Zambezi River in Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia and southern Angola
  • a more enlightened attitude towards predators on stock farms would improve the status of brown hyaena, which is classified as rare by the IUCN