Any of three coarse-furred, doglike carnivores, family Hyaenidae, found in Asia and Africa and noted for their scavenging habits. Hyenas are distinguished by having four toes on each foot, comparatively long forelegs, non-retractile claws, and enormously strong jaws and teeth that are capable of crushing large bones. They live alone or in packs and may be active by night or day. In many regions they depend for food on the remains of carcasses left by larger carnivores. Hyenas are generally quite retiring, but when carrion and small game are scarce they will attack helpless animals, such as sheep, goats, and young animals. The spotted, or laughing, hyena ranges through much of Africa south of the Sahara. Length is to about 2 m including the 30-centimetre tail; shoulder height, to about 90 cm, and weight to about 80 kg. Color is yellowish or grayish with dark spots.

The spotted hyena is the most robust and daring of the hyenas, and when food is scarce it has been known to attack sleeping people and to carry off young children. It produces both a wailing and a “laughing” call. Its litters usually contain one or two young; the gestation period is about three and one-half months.

The genus Hyaena includes the striped and brown hyenas. Smaller than the spotted hyena, these animals bear manes of coarse, erectile hair on the back and neck and grow to a length of from 0.9 to 1.2 m, excluding the 30-centimetre tail, with a weight of 25–55 kg. The striped hyena occurs in southwestern Asia and in northern and eastern Africa. It is grayish or yellowish with vertical brown or black stripes. The brown hyena, found in southern Africa, is dark brown with a gray head and stripes on the legs. Litters of both species usually contain two to six young; gestation is about three months. Spotted hyenas feed mainly on carrion, and in some areas of Africa they are allowed to enter villages to consume refuse. The brown hyena, which sometimes preys upon livestock, has been greatly depleted and survives primarily in game parks and reserves. 

Hyenas at Serengeti National Park, Tanzania


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