The spotted hyena is one of the most unique and fascinating predators in sub-Saharan Africa. Though they are widely thought of as scavengers, they are in fact apex predators that have been documented killing at least 65% of their prey. Where lions and spotted hyenas overlap in range, they are competitors. Spotted hyenas can digest nearly everything, including bone. Their droppings are often pure white from the bones they eat. Immune to many diseases, they serve an important role as a large part of the clean-up crew in the ecosystem.
Spotted hyenas live in complex female-led social groups, are extremely intelligent, and have even been shown to outperform chimpanzees on some problem solving tests. Females lead the clans and outrank all males, but also have their own challenges: they copulate and give birth all through a narrow pseudo-penis that looks very similar to the male’s genitalia. The intelligence and unusual reproductive methods of spotted hyenas have led to numerous superstitions and rumors, yet it is undeniable that they are unique, social predators that are integral to ecosystem function.
Hyena Research and Monitoring at Soysambu
Starting in June 2018 in partnership with a PhD student from UC Berkeley, we began identifying the individual members of spotted hyena clans on Soysambu Conservancy, to help understand their presence, range size, movement, behavior, and social relationships. In March 2019, three hyenas, representing three of the Soysambu Conservancy hyena clans, were outfitted with GPS collars.
This information will all be used to aid in alleviating human-wildlife conflict and to discover how spotted hyenas are surviving in densely developed and mixed-use landscapes. So far, we have identified upward of 80 spotted hyenas living on Soysambu, with a minimum estimate of 120 individuals. (Funding Note: The initial hyena project has been funded by National Geographic Society.)
Movements are recorded and tracked for each clan. There are perhaps two other clans residing in the blank areas.
Identifying Spotted Hyenas
Spotted hyenas can be told apart via their spot patterns- just like human fingerprints, every hyena has a completely different spot pattern! To identify an individual, we ideally use a left side photo and a right side photo. Spotted hyenas can be elusive, and the more people looking for them, the better!