Spotted hyena

Spotted Hyena (Crocuta crocuta)

General Overview

The spotted hyena is the most abundant large carnivore in Africa and it occurs throughout sub-Saharan Africa. It occurs in an array of habitat types, such as open grassland, forests, and desert.  Hyena density varies widely among different habitats, while they have been extirpated from many parts of Africa. Spotted hyenaThe total world population size of the spotted hyena is well above 10,000 individuals, of which several 1,000 live in West- and Central Africa. Some subpopulations exceed 1,000 individuals. Although the spotted hyena is well represented throughout its historical range, there is still a rapid decline of populations both inside and outside conservation areas due to persecution and habitat loss. Therefore this animal is classified by the IUCN as “Lower Risk: conservation dependent”.

Female spotted hyenas are socially dominant to males, which is highly unusual among mammals. Contrary to popular belief, the spotted hyena is a very effective predator, and the majority of its diet consists of prey it kills itself. Spotted hyenas primarily kill and scavenge mammalian herbivores,  and they may chase lions away from their kills, although lions chase hyenas from hyena kills far more often than hyenas chase lions. Their diet consists of small, medium and large-sized antelope and other herbivores such as zebra, warthog, and the juveniles of giraffe, hippopotamus and rhinoceros. In addition, the spotted hyena can be very opportunistic and has been recorded eating almost any mammal, bird, fish or reptile, irrespective of size or species and it may also ingest carrion, insects and human-associated organic material. These animals weigh 45-85 kg as adults, with females weighing roughly 10% more than males.

West- and Central Africa

A distribution map of the spotted hyena populations in Africa

The smallest spotted hyenas occur in East African animals, and those in central and southern Africa are larger. Very few data exists on body size in spotted hyenas from western Africa. In West Africa, the hyena’s preferred habitat includes the Guinea and Sudan savannahs.

Whereas the populations of spotted hyenas in protected areas in southern Africa are considered to be stable, many populations in eastern and western Africa, even in protected areas, are declining drastically, mostly due to incidental snaring, deliberate poisoning and habitat conversion.


  • Poaching
  • Prey depletion
  • Habitat fragmentation, degradation and conversion
  • Human-wildlife conflict
  • Superstition and medicine

Bush-meat hunting reduces abundance of prey available to spotted hyenas in western Africa, and anthropogenic activity near the borders of protected areas results in substantial hyena mortality even inside parks and reserves. Some spotted hyenas are killed accidentally on roads or intentionally in sport hunting, but neither of these represent significant mortality sources. Instead, large-scale poisoning in retaliation for livestock depredation is currently the hyena’s primary mortality source.