Home Forums Tourist Attraction Centres in Africa HYENAS: Africa’s smart, social, yet savage species.

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      • Different animals are found in diverse corners of the world.


      • Some animals are peculiar to Africa and the hyena is one of them.


      • Are they totally useless? Are they good for only harm?


      Humans’ nativity is usually traced down to continents, countries, towns or villages of the world, such that we can refer to people as Europeans, Brazilians, Egyptians, Lagosians, and so on, and most human settlements are not complete without animals. But where do these animals actually come from? Just as humans have countries and towns of origin, animals too have places that their roots can be traced to. So, can we also refer to animals as natives of the countries or continents where they are predominantly found? Can we call animals traditionally found in Europe Europeans or European animals? How about the ones found in Africa, whose roots are traced to the nations of Africa? Can we call them African animals?  Well, one thing seems clear: even though most animals in the wild migrate from time to time, most animals have natural habitats found in different parts of the world.




      In Africa for instance, just as plants like the baobab, palm, rattan and the likes, are predominantly of African origin, there are Animals native to Africa. Some of them are domesticated like the goats and cows, others are traditional beasts of burden like the donkeys and camels in northern Africa, while some are found in the wild regions of Africa like the hyena. Hyenas are found mainly in sub-Saharan Africa. They live in grasslands, savannas, sub-deserts, forests, and bushlands. Hyenas can quickly adapt to various habitats and can thrive in human-dominated places like near refuse dumps. Hyenas have a good sense of family; they live together in small family groups that in turn form big clans with impressive compound social arrangements like territories ranging from hundreds of meters to several kilometers, they thrive because of their advanced communication skills.






      Given their characters as scavengers, and their creepy laughs, it is understandable that plenty people don’t like hyenas, however these creatures have lived for donkey years in Angola, Benin, Botswana Cameroon, Chad, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ivory Coast, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Ghana, Guinea, Kenya, Mali, Mozambique, Namibia, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Somalia, South Africa, Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. Let us close in on the African carnivore called the hyena. Why would anyone consider the hyena important? It is not exactly a readily available source of meat, it is dangerous, and is more comfortable living with other animals in the Savannah. On first thought one may quickly dismiss the hyena as wild, dangerous, and probably unimportant, but these animals usually associated with death and violence actually perform a crucial task for the ecosystem.






      Without this animal, considered Africa’s most common large carnivore, the African savannah would undoubtedly be unhealthier. Hyenas are an unusual animal species with a unique and enigmatic look that has kept people spellbound for centuries. Thanks to their predatory prowess and their ability as decomposers, hyenas help keep the environment clean and healthy, helping to normalize and control life cycles in the savannah. What actual roles do hyenas play in African nature? The first role the hyena is known to play in the savannah is that of a decomposer. They feed on carrion and the remains of dead animals that litter the wild. In doing this, they provide nutrition for themselves as well as help to keep the savannah clean. Take these animals out of the savannahs and they would be overrun with putrid carcasses that would cause serious hygiene problems for other animals and even humans beings living close. They are more like the unsung guardians of the savannah.





      In addition to the job of decomposing, the hyena is also a significant predator. This augments their job as decomposers. Because they are largely active at night but may also be up and about during the day depending on their habitat and availability of prey, they have brilliant night-time vision and hearing, these traits come in handy when they hunt weak or ill beasts, eradicating the feeblest members of the animal population. This helps preserve the overall well-being of the animal population, averting the spread of lethal diseases and parasites among animals. They eliminate potential weak links in the savannah, this implies that they keep their environment healthy, just as they keep it clean. Moreso, they are not the only predators in the wild. These animals are also chief competitors for prey with the big names. While large cats of the savannah, such as lions hunt for preys, hyenas also hunt, and the mere presence of hyenas result in the rationing of existing preys, preventing one predator from amassing too many resources and becoming too powerful and dominating in the savannah. They keep the ecosystem in check by reducing the number of preys available to bigger and stronger predators. This ensures that they keep coexisting since no single predator is too powerful for the ecosystem.






      In addition to all the other functions the hyena performs, it also plays a vital cultural role in human societies living near the savannah. The hyena is considered a sacred animal in many African cultures because of some of its features and traits. Its strength and determination endear some natives to it. According to reports, some native Africans use parts of the hyena’s body for traditional medicine and other cultural practices. In Ethiopia, there is a long history of the people living together with hyenas. Hyenas are considered sacred there. As fascinating as hyenas are, they are usually misunderstood.  They belong to the family Hyaenidae, which includes four species, brown hyena, spotted hyena, striped hyena, and Aardwolf. These carnivores are prominent Hyenas are known for their scavenging ways and their strong jaws.






      Though they are often associated with savanna and desert habitats, hyenas can also be found in a variety of different ecosystems like the deserts and quassi-deserts, high mountains, forests, coastal areas, and grasslands. In the day, they get some rest in small hollow spaces beneath bushes and trees, within their habitat, but at night, they may find warmth in rock clefts where they are protected from potential predators. Hyenas are cunning hunters; their hunting sometimes depend on the accessibility of food in their environment. They prefer dry grasslands with fewer trees so they can access caves, burrows, and underground tunnels, for shelter. Zebras, antelopes, wildebeests, giraffes, gazelles, rhinoceroses, and other beasts share habitats with them. They cohabit with other hunters like lions, cheetahs, and leopards. They periodically wander into human settlements in search for food. Phylogenetically hyenas are closely related to cats, though they share behavioral and morphological traits with dogs. Over time, there have been several types of hyenas, but most of them have become extinct. Today, there are only four species left, making it the least common family of mammals. Beyond eating carcass, people may find other reasons not to fall in love with these cunning creatures, but it is hard to totally disregard them. Other key things to know about Hyenas include:





      ·        Their laughter. Scientists say that a hyena’s laugh indicates social status, they don’t just laugh for fun, from the pitch and tone of a hyena’s laugh one can get an idea how old a hyena is, or its social status.


      ·        Their smartness. Hyenas are known to be smarter than chimps. Science suggests that the size of an animal’s frontal cortex is connected to its social aptitude, and hyenas have a frontal cortex large as those of primates. According to a study by Duke University, a captive pair of hyenas were tested and they did better at problem-solving and social cooperation than chimpanzees. What’s more amazing? The hyenas solved all the problems in silence, using only non-verbal signals for communication.



      ·        Their strength. They are strong enough to kill baby lions. Hyenas and lions often fight over the same territories and hunt the same prey. This leads to regular clashes and fierce competition between the two animals. They steal each food from each other and kill the offspring of their enemies.



      ·        Their cunning nature. Spotted hyenas, especially, are cunning killers. They don’t just scavenge for leftovers; they hunt and kill in packs. Ninety-five percent of what a hyena eats comes from hunting. In less than an hour, a group of hyenas can consume an entire zebra, leaving no leftovers at all, not even the bones. However, the feast comes at a cost because they would claw and fight with one another over the remains of a meal. Stripped hyenas live off of the flesh by the roadsides and are often at risk of being hit by vehicles while feasting on their roadkill.



      ·        Their Female’s relevance. The female hyena rules. The Female spotted hyenas are well-built, more muscular, and aggressive than their male counterparts. This is because the females have three times as much testosterone in their bodies. As a result, spotted hyena societies are matriarchal. Even the girl cubs rule over the boys.



      ·        The female spotted hyena has a penis. Female spotted hyenas have a pseudo-penis, basically an elongated clitoris, some growing up to seven inches long, totally surpassing the average length of the human penis.



      ·        The male hyena’s life is a hard one. In their clans, dominated by women, adult males are relegated to the backyard area. When the male hyena reaches two years old, an age when he is considered sexually matured, he leaves home and goes to find a new group. This is a fierce and brutal process. When the new group’s alpha female eventually allows the male in, he is welcomed with constant harassment, he is forced to struggle for sex and food.



      ·        The baby hyena’s ordeal. The female spotted hyena uses her pseudo-penis for copulation, urination, and childbirth, which can make the birthing process difficult; an estimated 60 percent of hyena cubs die from suffocation. Even the mothers are endangered because the baby cubs can tear the pseudo-penis lining, an injury that can be quite fatal. The survivors face several hardships of their own: Female hyenas have two nipples only, which means that litters of more than two would have to fight to survive and the weakest die of starvation.



      ·        Their creepy greeting ceremonies. After a long separation, when a spotted hyena greets another hyena, they engage in weird greeting ceremonies during which both the male and female develop erections.



      ·        Difficulty in taming them. Historians posited that ancient Egyptians domesticated striped hyenas and used them for various needs including food. In ancient hieroglyphics, hyenas are often depicted in subordinate positions suggesting that they were hunted and tamed. But in a 2010 paper published in the International Journal of Osteoarchaeology, A. J. Legge theorizes that this was all just Egyptian narratives. Because the striped hyena lives off of carcasses, they would not make tasty meals for humans. Legge concludes that while hyenas may have been tamed for a period, it didn’t last long.




      Shady myths and legends about hyenas abound. In Tanzania, legend has it that witches ride hyenas. Hyenas were believed to dig up and consume the bodies of the dead, In the Middle Ages, but research has proven that they do nothing of that sort. Despite the legends, myths, traits, and weirdness of these African creatures, they remain one of the most widespread carnivores on Earth. Human encroachment through activities such as deforestation, hunting, poaching, land conversion for development and infrastructure projects, as well as pollution have resulted in habitat loss and degradation which are some of the biggest threats facing hyena populations worldwide. These activities can lead to local extinction of the species.





      How can hyena habitats be protected?



      Hyenas are vital to African ecosystems, and their habitats must be preserved. To ensure that these habitats are safe, several steps can be taken. Governments in partnership with local authorities must work together to advance conservation plans that protect hyenas’ habitats. Communities must know the importance of protecting hyenas and their habitats.  Governments in African countries where these creatures exist should have a budget for conservation efforts. Financial assistance can help support research projects and other initiatives that protect hyena habitats. Without intensive efforts to conserve hyena habitats, their future is undefined.


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