- Common Name:
- Striped hyenas
- Scientific Name:
- Hyaena hyaena
- Average Life Span In The Wild:
- 10 to 12 years
- About 28 inches tall at the shoulder
- Between 57 and 90 pounds
- IUCN Red List Status:
- Near threatened
What is a striped hyena?
Spotted hyenas tend to get most of the, well, spotlight, but there are three other members of the hyena family, including the striped hyena, the smallest and least studied.
Striped hyenas sport a dog-like appearance, with a long, black muzzle and large, pointed ears, which provide excellent hearing. Their gold or brownish gray fur is lined with black stripes that camouflages them in the tall grass, and a bushy mane that stretches from neck to tail—like a full-body mohawk—makes them look more intimidating to rivals. Like spotted hyenas, their front legs are longer than their back legs, allowing for a loping gait that saves energy while traveling long distances in search of food.
Though the species has a vast range, including sub-Saharan and northwestern Africa, India, and Turkey, their populations are sparse. This, coupled with their shyness; nocturnal nature; and habitats, which include rocky outcroppings, dense shrublands, and wetlands, can make them difficult to see.
While the spotted hyena is one of Africa’s top predators, striped hyenas are mostly scavengers, feasting on the carcasses of large animals. They have exceptionally strong jaws to chew up bones, horns, and hooves, and a digestive system that can kill bacteria in carrion. By dining on the dead, striped hyenas perform the important service of cleaning up the landscape. In the rare instances that they hunt, striped hyenas pursue smaller animals such as reptiles or rodents, and round out their diet with fruit and insects.
Recent research has revealed more about striped hyenas, for instance that their social structures are much more complex than thought. The scavengers were long thought to be mostly solitary, but recent research has shown these animals form small groups of up to seven animals in areas with abundant food or water.
Little is known about striped hyena courtship. During estrus, a female will mate frequently with multiple males, and after three months, she’ll give birth to a litter of between one to six cubs. (Read "Hyena myths busted: are they really hermaphrodites?”)
These youngsters spend much of their time in the den, which may be located underground or in a cave or a rocky crevice.
They open their eyes for the first time after about a week and start walking and growing teeth at two weeks. Striped hyena mothers are devoted, nursing their young for a full year. Everyone in the family group, which may include previous offspring and a couple of adults, takes care of the young.
The International Union for the Conservation of Nature lists striped hyenas as near-threatened by extinction. Striped hyenas are now extinct in Bangladesh, and their status is uncertain in other parts of their range. The last global population survey, in 2014, estimated their population at between 5,000 and 9,999 total individuals—and decreasing. (See 14 incredible photos of African predators in action.)
As is the case with many hyenas, striped hyenas have a false reputation as grave robbers, child killers, and transport for witches. These myths have led to wholesale persecution by humans, who have poisoned and attacked hyenas, in some cases killing them with dogs. Poachers also kill striped hyenas for their body parts; the brain is especially prized in Morocco. There’s also an illegal market for their skins.
Habitat destruction, and the resulting decline of prey, has hit striped hyenas hard. Isolated populations, scattered across their wide range, are vulnerable to local extinction.
On the positive side, the lack of scientific knowledge on striped hyenas, paired with their decline, has sparked an interest in the species and their ecology. For instance, one wildlife sanctuary in Lebanon, a country where striped hyenas are often killed, rehabilitates injured striped hyenas.
Striped hyenas' powerful jaws and digestive systems enable them to crush and draw the nutrients from bones.
Striped hyenas strongly resemble dogs, but are more closely related to cats.
Striped hyenas are almost extinct in Central Asia, but animals have been spotted in Turkmenistan.