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- Aardwolf (insectivore);
- Brown Hyena L. Parahyaena brunnea/L. Hyaena brunnea (scavenger);
- Spotted Hyena L. Crocuta crocuta (pack predator); and
- Striped Hyena Hyaena hyaena (scavenger, omnivore).
The Hyena family is usually looked down upon by the majority. Early on, the hyenas were seen as evil manipulative animals who had the ability to imitate human speech and lure out the poor victim to later eat it. The laughing noise of the Spotted Hyena was found incredibly eerie and supported the beliefs of the native Africans that they could speak human language. The Striped Hyena was believed to provide magic and healing powers through eating of their brains and wearing their fur during rituals.
When the hyena was discovered in the medieval times, it was found categorized under several odd names. The Striped Hyena, for instance, was referred as Water Wolf because of its wolf-like appearance and often showing up at the coasts lurking for food even in the water.
Also characteristic for the hyenas are their manes. However, the Spotted Hyena have no significiant mane but more of tuft along the neck and have slightly round-shaped ears. The Striped Hyena, Brown Hyena and Aardwolf make their manes erect to increase their size when frightened, scared, excited, threatened or aggressive.
But the most-known trait of the hyenas is their incredible strong jaws that can crunch bones and glass with ease, and thus they can eat all of their prey, kill prey with an instant bite, and find tasty treats when rooting around in garbage.
While the Striped Hyena appears in large areas like North Africa, East Africa, Middle East, South Asia and parts of China, there only exist about 2,000 specimens and they are decreasing quickly. In the 1900's, the Striped Hyena could be found in areas like South Europe, Turkey, and all the way up to south Russia. The reason why they have decreased is that the farmers blamed them for killing off their animals even if they usually stayed away from farms and humans. The Brown Hyena sits in the same boat with the Striped Hyena, but for them the status is even more critical; there only exists about 200 specimens, all of them living in South Africa and the majority in the Kalahari Desert.
- Despite their apparent similarity to canines (and speculative similarity to felines), hyenas branched from the evolutionary tree over 7 million years ago, prior to the protocanid and protofelid families from which modern dogs and cats are descended. Hyenas make up their own taxonomical family hyenidae and genetically are most closely related to the civet and mongoose.
- The Spotted Hyena (L. Crocuta crocuta) is also known as the Laughing Hyena and is the most common and populous species of hyena, covering most of Africa.
- Spotted Hyena females are difficult to distinguish from males, due to their strikingly similar genitalia, including females' false scrotums. This has led to many anthropomorphic Hyena characters who are, or are assumed to be, hermaphrodites.
- While the Striped Hyena (L. Hyaena Hyaena) is mainly a scavenger, it also eats small rodents, eggs, tiny lizards, fish, berries, fruit and the occasional vegetable. On the dark side, the Striped Hyena has been known of attacking young humans in India and eating them. However, it is believed that it is, just like in many other animals' cases, a lack of other edible food. Usually, the Striped Hyena is very shy and withdrawn around humans.
- The name for Hyena is pretty much the same in most languages in the world, with spelling difference of "Hiena", based om the Latin word for them (Hyaena). The exception is in India where they are called "Hundar".
- Spotted hyenas are not good pets. Although a few people in Africa in Asia find hyena cubs in nature and raise them as pets, these animals generally appear to be extremely unhappy as adults. They must often be muzzled at all times to not harm people or property. These 'pet' hyenas can't survive in the wild, because they can't hunt. Upon reaching adulthood, many of them must therefore be euthanized.
Hyenas in animation
- Shenzi, Banzai and Ed in the animated film The Lion King by Disney are villains and henchmen of Mufasa's brother Scar. They are supposed to be Spotted Hyenas but show traits of the Striped hyena (such as slanting back, long necks, visible mane and long pointed ears). The film has received criticism for comparing hyenas to a plague or a burden of nature (when Scar took over with the hyenas the land turned grey, dark, empty of food and miserable) and comparing them to Nazis (the Be Prepared marching-scene is heavily based of SS-marches that were held in the former Third Reich of Germany).
- In The Little Jungle Book cartoon series by Disney, a striped hyena shortly appeared in an episode escaping from a forest fire together with the other jungle creatures. It was not shown to be villainous.
- In Noah's Island, an European animation series, four hyenas lived on Noah the Polar bear's moving island. They appeared to be Striped Hyenas save for one of the cubs who had spots. They were not villains through and through but could be a bit of troublemakers and occasional'y picked on the resident poodle.
- In "Simba - King of the Jungle", an Italian animated series heavily based on Disney's movies, mixing The Lion King, Jungle Book and Bambi all in one, had instead of "Tabaqui the Jackal" Tabaqui the Striped Hyena, who was cowardly, a scaredy-cat and the only one looking up to Shere Khan and was the only lackey, but lacking of courage. He made no real impact on the story, besides sucking up to Shere Khan, stuttering, getting smacked and spying on Simba and Bambi.