Hyaenas: Their image problem

Hyaenas are important and interesting animals which are essential for the ecosystems that they live in. The following blog post provides you with further interesting facts about these fascinating mammals.


To be honest, they are not the most popular animal of the African savannah. If you listen to conversations about hyaenas, you will often hear terms like "ugly", "cowardly", "deceitful" and "unscrupulous". But what is it about the negative image of these underestimated animals?

Hyaenas play an important role in many ecosystems in Africa. Their enormously strong jaws and their very acid stomach juice can digest almost anything that comes from an animal. As scavengers, they play an indispensable role in the elimination of animal carcasses and thus in the prevention of epidemics. By eating and digesting animal bones, hyaenas also recycle calcium and return it to the environment where it can be used by other living creatures. For example, tortoises eat the faeces of hyenas to absorb the calcium they contain and strengthen their shells.

When hunting hyaenas mainly focus on old and sick prey. This strengthens animal herds and regulates their population density. They do not harm the environment and other animal species but rather make an important contribution to the ecological balance.


Hyaenas have a distinct social behaviour based on matriarchal structures with close ties between females. The suckling and protective behaviour towards their offspring is very distinct. Young animals stay in the den for a long time before they accompany their mother for the first time.

The sexes of hyaenas are difficult to distinguish, as both males and females seem to have a penis. In fact, however, the supposed penis of the female is an extended clitoris and the scrotum is an adapted labium. These adjustments are probably due to increased testosterone levels during embryonic growth of the animals. This makes it possible for the females to be more assertive towards the males and to superimpose themselves on them.


But what is the point of accusing hyaenas of being cowards? Regardless of the question of whether it is appropriate to apply human standards to animals, hyaenas can hardly be considered as cowards since they would compete with almost any other predator except the lion. Hyaenas like to sneak around lions that have just killed an animal to get a piece of the cake, but perhaps this is more clever than cowardly.

Whether hyaenas are ugly or not is up to the viewer. Beauty is known to be relative. The task of nature conservation is to protect all species and to understand their importance in the complex structure of biocoenoses. Hyaenas are important and interesting animals that are indispensable for the ecosystems in which they occur.

Lots of Natucate trips give you the chance to observe these fascinating animals in the wild, such as a field guide course in Botswana or a safari trip in Zambia.

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