Although somewhat dog-like in appearance, the hyaenas are placed in a family of their own and are more closely related to cats than dogs!


Food and Hunting

The aardwolf is the only remaining descendant of a group of dog-like hyaenas, the rest of which died out during a period of climate change 5 to 7 million years ago.  It eats insects, such as termites and their larvae.  Its sticky tongue has adapted to endure the bites of termites and means the aardwolf can eat up to 300,000 termites in one night!

The striped, spotted and brown hyaenas are descendants of the cat-like, ‘bone crushing’ hyaenas and they hunt in packs, bringing down prey with their teeth. They also scavenge on carrion (the remains of animals killed by other predators or that have died of old age). 

Of these three 'true' hyaenas, it is the spotted species which is most likely to attack humans, and there are many cases of humans maimed or killed by these animals.  A pack of spotted hyaenas will attack even a large animal like a zebra. The hyaena will seize the leg or flank of the prey, then hold on with its powerful jaws until the animal is brought down.

The striped and spotted hyaenas have very strong front limbs, well adapted for digging. Often, if the hyaena has killed or scavenged more food than it can eat, it will bury it and dig it up at a later date. This habit of digging up caches of meat has even sometimes attracted them to graveyards and native burial grounds, where they will dig up and consume recently buried bodies.

Equipped with its tremendously powerful jaws, the hyaena has little difficulty in cracking even the strongest of bones. It is not at all fussy about its food and will eat the vilest of rotting flesh.  The highest ranking female in a pack will be granted the best pieces of meat, whereas the lowest ranking hyaenas will be left to scavenge leftover pieces of bone. 

The fact that the hyaena is such an unfussy eater is good for its chances of survival and it is therefore not currently endangered as a species.  Much of its success is also due to its ability to work within a team, both when hunting and when sharing food.  It lives in groups of up to 100 animals, with a dominant female presiding over the group.

Read More: Breeding

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