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Hyesteria, a fictional hyena character in Extinctioners

Hyenas, also known as hyaenas are a group of carnivorous mammals of the family Hyaenidae. There are four main species of hyenas:

General information[edit]

Hyenas throughout history have been feared by humans. 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.[2] The Striped Hyena was believed to provide magic and healing powers through eating of their brains and wearing their fur during rituals.[citation needed]

When the hyena was discovered by various civilisations through history, scholars struggled to classify the animal. Strabo in Geographica wrote "it is not a wild beast, but rather a domesticated animal, for it shows no signs of wildness."[3]

Also characteristic for the hyenas are their manes. However, the Spotted hyena have no significant 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.[citation needed]

The most-known trait of the bone-cracking hyenas (Spotted, Striped and Brown 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. However, the Aardwolf is the only member of the family that neither hunts nor has the aforementioned trait. Instead it eats insects, like termites.[citation needed]

Conservation Status[edit]

Hyena conservation has been largely successful, with the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species listing the Aardwolf and the Spotted Hyena as "Least Concern" and the Brown Hyena and Striped Hyena as "Near Threatened"[4]

Hyena facts[edit]

  • Despite their apparent similarity to canines, hyenas are technically more closely related to felines, being within the suborder Feliformia.[5]
  • 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.[4]
  • 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.[6]
  • 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.[citation needed]
  • Aardwolves are the smallest members of the hyena family. Unlike the other members of the family, they do not hunt or scavenge. Instead, they feed on insects, like termites.[6]

Hyenas in animation[edit]

  • Shenzi, Banzai and Ed in the animated film The Lion King by Disney are villains and minions 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).[citation needed]
    • There is a clan of good spotted hyenas in animated series The Lion Guard based on The Lion King. Hyenas in this clan live in the Outlands, but they respect Circle of Life. Their leader is a young female named Jasiri. One of the enemies of Kion and his team include Janja, but later reforms in the third and final season.
  • 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 occasionally 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.
  • Har Har from the Hanna-Barbera series Lippy the Lion and Hardy Har Har is a hyena.

Hyenas in comics[edit]

  • Bud and Lou in the DC comic books and related media, are the pet hyenas of Joker and Harley Quinn.[7]

See also[edit]

External links[edit]


  1. Integrated Taxonomic Information System Report on Hyaenidae, retrieved April 27, 2024.
  2. The Spotted Hyena from Aristotle to the Lion King: Reputation is Everything, retrieved April 27, 2024.
  3. penelope.uchicago.edu mirror of the Geographica, section 16, retrieved April 27, 2024.
  4. 4.0 4.1 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, Hyaenidae Family, retrieved April 27, 2024.
  5. ResearchGate article on the evolution of Felidae, retrieved April 27, 2024.
  6. 6.0 6.1 LiveScience article about Hyenas, retrieved April 27, 2024.
  7. CBR article about DC's Bud & Lou, retrieved April 27, 2024.
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