Hyenas are dog-like mammals and they belong to the group Hyaenidae. There are four species in the family of hyenas. They all have round ears, long bushy tails, powerful jaws and the front legs are longer than the back legs.
First there is the spotted hyena. It's the largest member of this family. It's about 150 cm in length and 80 cm in height from its shoulder to its feet. It weighs around 60-70 kg. The spotted hyena can be seen in the Sub-Saharan Africa. It's usually found in large and open habitats. The spotted hyena usually hunts alone, but they hunt in packs when going after larger prey. It hunts for zebra, wildebeest, topi and gazelles. The spotted hyena have very powerful jaws and it eats the bones of the animal it kills. The female gives birth to 1-4 puppies 4 months after mating. The puppies are born with teeth and their eyes open. Puppies that are the same gender start fighting for dominance very early after birth.
This is the striped hyena. The striped hyena can be found in northern Africa in dry savannas and rocky deserts. It is very shy and rarely comes around humans. It is smaller than the spotted hyena. It's about 130 cm in length and weighs about 55 kg. It has a brownish-grey coat with black stripes. The striped hyena hunts for food at night, usually alone or in pairs. It hunts for small mammals, birds, reptiles and carcasses.
Here is the brown hyena. It can be found in Africa from Angola to Mozambique and south to northern South Africa. It lives in the dry savanna. The brown hyena's length is about 140 cm and it usually weighs around 40 kg. The brown hyena has very powerful jaws. A five minute old puppy can crush the bones of a springbok. It has long brown fur and black stripes on its legs. It hunts alone at night for small mammals, birds and carcasses.
This is the aardwolf. It is the only hyena that eats termites. The aardwolf can be found in the south-east part of Africa. It lives in open and dry plains. It is 60-80 cm long, excluding its long and bushy tail which is about 20 cm long. The aardwolf lives in packs that are dominated by the females.
Hyenas live on the ground and lack abilities to climb trees, but they can move very smoothly trough rocky regions without any problems. They've got very good stamina. For example, a brown hyena can walk 50 km in one night. All hyenas are most active at night and often sleep during the day. They sleep in caves or hidden among bushes.
Hyenas are very variable in their social behavior. Brown and spotted hyenas occur in groups called clans. The clans are formed by females that are related to each other. Sexually mature males that aren't related to the females are later introduced into the group. Brown hyenas live in clans with 4-14 individuals. The spotted hyena have a very unique social behavior compared to other predators. The spotted hyena lives in groups with up to 80 individuals. The clans are ruled by females and the mothers in the group help their daughters to reach the same rank and social status in the group. The aardwolf often occurs in pairs that live together for many years and they take care of the puppies together. The father doesn't have to be the male that lives with the mother. There have been reports of females who raised the puppies alone or in smaller groups.
The first hyenas occurred in Europe about 17 million years ago. There have been almost 70 different species of hyenas. The earlier species were much smaller than the hyenas we have today. They were about as big as a normal fox. The first hyenas weren't specialized on meat and their teeth were not capable of breaking thicker bones. Some hyenas even lived in trees and ate insects.
Sometimes it happens that hyenas visit pastures to attack one or two cattle. Spotted hyenas have in very rare cases attacked and killed humans when they sleep unprotected outside houses. It's been told that striped hyenas sometimes dig up bodies from cemeteries to eat them. Therefore the hyena is not very popular among locals. They are hunted with shooting weapons, traps and poison. Hyenas can often be seen on roads where they eat carcasses that have been hit by cars. Therefore the hyenas themselves often also get hit by cars.