Hyenas don’t have the best reputation (blame The Lion King again), and it’s easy to see why — they’re vicious carnivores that make their living in part by stealing other animals’ hard-hunted prey.
The bad rep isn’t entirely fair. Hyenas actually hunt their own prey most of the time, and most predators, even lions, scavenge regularly. Hyenas just happen to be known for their scavenging because they are so good at it. They’re blessed with the perfect marriage of incredibly strong jaws and incredibly strong stomach acids that allow them to eat every part of an animal and digest everything except for hooves and hair, which they throw up later on. Hyena droppings are often white from all of the calcium that they draw from digesting bones. Much of what they eat would go to waste if they weren’t there.
That said, seeing hyenas in person doesn’t go very far towards solving their PR problem. They have kind of an unusual body shape (the front legs are longer than the back, and the back is long and sort of hunched over) and an odd way of walking that makes them look like they’re always skulking. And the sounds — when we were camping in Serengeti, we heard them every night, and laughing is definitely a misnomer. It’s more like a demented shriek. A honking cackle at best. On our last morning in Serengeti, we came across a pack of hyenas devouring a dead Wildebeest, and we could hear the sound of bones cracking mixed with the shrieking. Not exactly warm and fuzzy.
Early morning hyena feast:
A Jackal and some Storks hovering nearby, hoping for a piece of the action:
The softer side: a young hyena trying to warm up in the sun after a mudbath.