Vanishing Species – Striped Hyena


An Article by Mohan Pai

The Striped Hyena

Hyaena hyaena

Scavenger by profession with a weird, laughing chatter.

A scavenger by profession the hyena seeks its food by scent. Sight plays little part in its search; hearing none at all. They are not hunters. They live chiefly on the carcasses of animals, more truly on what is left of a carcass after a tiger or panther has done with it and the vultures and jackals have eaten their fill. The hyena’s share is then mostly bones and coarse remains. The powerful jaws of the hyena and its large teeth are admirably adapted to bone crushing. These scavengers help clean up the ecosystem by removing dead and rotting carcasses.Striped hyenas usually weigh 30 to 35 kg, and like brown hyenas, stand roughly 70 cm tall at the shoulder. Also like brown hyenas, striped hyaenas are primarily scavengers of a wide array of vertebrate remains, supplemented by fruits, invertebrates, and occasionally garbage from human settlements. Striped hyenas also apparently hunt small vertebrates. Hyaena always forage solitarily, usually at night, but may lie up during the day in pairs or groups of up to four individuals, although such groups never contain more than one adult female . Stories about the hyenas robbing graves or stealing children are greatly exaggerated.

Striped hyena belongs to the Hyaenidae family and is scientifically known as Hyaena hyaena. Strongly related to the Brown hyena, it is basically a solitary creature. The average lifespan of striped hyenas hovers somewhere around 10 to 12 years in the wild. When kept in captivity, they can live longer also.
Physical Traits

The body coat of a striped hyena is covered with grayish-brown fur. Its legs, torso, head and back have black vertical stripes all over, while, muzzle and ears are totally black. There is also a medium sized mane on its neck, shoulders as well as the back. When threatened, a striped hyena erects the hair on its mane, making itself look 30-40 percent bigger than it actually is. This activity is also used in displays against other striped hyenas.
The underside of its neck is covered with a black throat patch. The legs are quite long and the tail is feathery, reaching the hocks. Striped hyena of India may grow to a length of 4 to 5 feet (1.2 to 1.45m). It stands tall at a shoulder height of 2.2 to 2.5 feet (66 to 75cm). Striped hyenas weigh between 57 and 90 pounds (26 and 41 kg). The size of a male and a female striped hyena does not differ too much. Quite similar to a number of other hot climate animals, their ears also radiate heat.
Natural Habitat

Striped hyenas are found occupying the tropical savanna, grasslands, semi-deserts, scrub forests and woodlands. In the Indian subcontinent, they inhabit open country, seashores as well as forests. Their geographical range also stretches on from Morocco and Senegal to Tanzania, across Asia Minor, the Arabian Peninsula, all the way to Iran and Pakistan, apart from India. Striped hyenas are believed to have become extinct in Europe. However, they can be sporadically spotted in Anatolia and Turkey.
Diet

Striped Hyenas are mainly carnivores, but may eat fruit also. Their prey includes insects and small animals like mice, mammalian carrion, tortoise, porcupine and wild pigs. They may also hunt domestic animals, like goats, sheep, donkeys, and horses.
Behavior

Striped hyenas are nomads by nature and move from one water hole to another. Still, they never venture more than 6 miles from their previous water hole. Hyenas are not gregarious creatures and live mostly in isolation. At times, one can find them congregating in small family groups. Striped hyenas of India can be frequently seen seizing and shaking each other by the neck in mock fighting rituals.
Mating BehaviorFemale striped hyenas attain maturity when they reach 2-3 years of age. Their estrous cycle lasts for 45 to 50 days and they can mate throughout the year. The gestation period is 88 to 92 days and the number of young ones may be anywhere from 1 to 5. The usual number of cubs is two and they start eating meat after 30 days.
Relationship with other predators

Striped hyenas of India are basically scavengers, which thrive on the kills of other predators. This habit of theirs results in a confrontation with the other predators. In India and the Middle East, the striped hyenas may, at times, enter into a conflict with the wolves also.

Status

Striped hyenas are included in the list of ‘Near Threatened’ species. The exact population of the striped hyenas of India is not known.
Threats

Striped hyena faces no threat from natural predators, since it does not have one. Their main threat is from humans, with whom they constantly come into conflict. Striped hyenas may make human beings, mainly children, and livestock their target. This is the main reason why they are poisoned and trapped by people. Striped hyena of India is also poached since its parts are believed to have curative properties. Last but not the least, it is facing the threat of habitat destruction.

Reference: The Book of Indian Animals by S. H. Prater

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