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Why The Hyena IS Africa's Top Predator

Updated on April 30, 2015

Lions Are NOT The Top Predator

Why is the Hyena Africa's Top Predator when many believe the Lion is?

There are many reasons really and as you read along today you may find out many things about hyenas you did not know.

Hyenas are....and remain....the Top Predator. Lions do not even come close.

Hyenas have always been 'Top Dog' (to coin a phrase) They roam and control, vast territories of the African scrubland plains. A territory constantly changing and completely dependent upon the food necessities of the group..

The Maasai Mara ( or Masai Mara) as made famous on The Big Cat Diary and is one such scrubland (one of many) in African plains where the Hyena is the top predator. The Mara is located in S. W. Kenya and is home to many predators, not just the hyenas. Although the Maasai Mara is a favorite of hyenas, it is by no means....the only habitat for these splendid animals.

The Hyenas share their hunting areas with many animals including competitors like Lions, Cheetahs, Leopards, Baboons and others. Even so, they remain the top predators and have been known (in some well documented cases) to roam to the mountain regions in search of food or territory as well as den safety. No other animal comes close to the moniker of Top Predator. Although Hyenas may look like dogs, they are related to cats.

Are The Hyenas really the killers they are made out to be? In a word? Yes.

Nature Parks - Massai Mara, Kenya
Nature Parks - Massai Mara, Kenya

You've seen the story on "Big Cat Diary" about the Massai Mara in Kenya. One of the world's most popular nature parks and home to hundreds of thousands of animals. Now have your own copy and watch in depth about all that you have wanted to see in the "Big Cat" Diary" but were unable to. A must have, buy or rent it today.

Hyenas (Animals That Live in the Grasslands)
Hyenas (Animals That Live in the Grasslands)

If you want your children to learn more about hyenas and why they are Africa's top predator, then get this no nonsense book for them to read. . It's a great introduction to what life is like in the bush. A perfect addition to any school library or your own child's personal library.


The Hyenas, Where Did They Come From?

The African Hyena jpg2
The African Hyena jpg2

As a species

Hyenas as a species, originated some 22 million years ago and have been evolving continually over the centuries into many sub species. Most of those sub species however, had died out roughly ten million years ago. Leaving the four species we see today. The Striped, the Spotted, the Brown Hyenas and finally, the Aardwolves (Termite eaters) Today however, we will concentrate on one species, The Spotted Hyenas

How do they compare to other predators?

To describe what makes hyenas the top predator as well as such a fierce family member of it's clan? You need look at their physical prowess first: The Spotted Hyenas are the largest member of the hyena family. Their necks are thick and short and their skulls are much larger than other hyenas but shorter than a dog. They have large ears that can detect sounds up to a mile away and the strong powerful jaws that give the hyena the most ferocious bite of any mammal.

Why does the neck mane stand up?

They have a large mane along the back of their neck. That mane is always standing upright, making them look dangerous to other predator's and, unlike other species of hyena, the Spotted Hyena females----are larger than the males and are therefore the dominant of their species. She is a true top predator

Why are their Torsos so massive?

Hyena torsos, while massive, are relatively short. Head neck and torso are all supported by long front legs and short back legs.This combination of long powerful front legs leading to short and equally powerful rear legs, gives their spine a noticeably downward slope. But why? The answer may surprise you. It's for the chase. (more on that later)

One more reason Hyenas are Africa's top predator

Unlike most hyenas, when attacked, the Spotted Hyena will NOT feign death. It will instead, defend itself fiercely and in some cases, to it's own death. Like all hyenas though, the Spotted Hyena will spray when attacked as a form of defense. It's spray has a pungent odor that is not hard to miss. They are also very vocal with a variety of sounds from grunts to whines to whoops to growl sounds depending upon what is necessary at that moment.

The only true predators of hyenas, are lions and humans but in comparing all three predator's?

Hyenas are by far, more dangerous.

How about some additional information on Hyenas?

Spotted Hyena: A Study of Predation and Social Behaviour (Wildlife behavior and ecology)
Spotted Hyena: A Study of Predation and Social Behaviour (Wildlife behavior and ecology)

The complete behavior book on the spotted hyena by Hans Kruuk. You think you know hyenas? Buy this book and you will be amazed when you read his in depth study of this predatory animal of Africa


A Custom Made Mouse Pad

3dRose LLC 8 x 8 x 0.25 Inches Mouse Pad, Pete Oxford (mp_76151_1)
3dRose LLC 8 x 8 x 0.25 Inches Mouse Pad, Pete Oxford (mp_76151_1)

Your very own computer mouse pad. A dynamic pose of this splendid beast, The Spotted Hyena. The Photo itself was taken in Botswana.


Hyenas - What makes them dangerous?

hyenas, jpg 7
hyenas, jpg 7

Hyenas are small

How can an animal so small really be the top predator? Actually the hyenas are the fourth-smallest carnivore in Africa and Asia) at roughly 4 feet long in most cases, they are considered an apex predator also known as habitual scavengers. The spotted hyena, (which we will discuss today) is an active pack hunter of an almost all medium sized and even in some cases, large sized animal families.

Is it true, they are Scavengers?

Unlike many of their species, the spotted hyenas are far from being just ordinary scavengers. They hunt and kill roughly 90-95% of their own food. That doesn't mean that Africa's top predator passes up any free meals. They are opportunistic as well and will steal from other animals if presented. Hyenas almost never really attack like lions, choosing instead to catch and kill their prey in a time worn and proven method. Chasing their prey to ultimate collapse. In the end, once their prey has collapsed? The pack eats quickly, devouring their prey while they are still alive.

Why are their front legs longer?

The reason their front legs were longer than the back legs might surprise you. Besides giving hyenas their distinctive gait, it allows them to chase their prey for many miles at a steady, loping, pace. Chasing, watching and waiting for their prey to become exhausted. The spotted hyena then moves in very quickly as a pack.

Why don't they get tired?

Their remarkable ability to run long distances without getting tired is mainly due to the fact that they have a heart that is nearly twice the size of an adult lion, thus giving them extreme stamina and staying power for the chase. Add to all of this, the fact of being pack hunters, they can even drive full grown lions from a kill and can and do chase Cheetahs and Leopards out their territory. With huge jaw muscles and teeth like a cat only stronger, they can easily tear flesh and crush the bones of their kills.

Truly, the hyenas are the top predator and as such, prove themselves to be intelligent as well as a dangerous predator of the African Savannah. One to be respected.

A sense of humor is good for you. Have you ever heard of a laughing hyena with heart burn?

Bob Hope

The Arican Hyena jpg3
The Arican Hyena jpg3

Do Spotted Hyenas Attack Humans?

Are they really maneater's?

Are they really Maneater's?

It is well documented that among the hyenas, the spotted hyenas have been known to attack humans. These attacks are considered rare. There is also information that even though the hyena killings are under reported for a variety of reasons, the do kill humans. One such incident was reported by Hector Duff at the turn of the century. The Hyenas would lie in wait outside people's huts (in an area that is now, current day Malawi) Then the hyenas would kill the villager's when they opened their doors. The victims were generally children, women and the old. Some stories also exist of Hyenas killing and eating humans with the sleeping sickness who slept outside.

There have been some documented cases:

In another well documented case, upwards of 35 people were killed in Mozambique while they slept outside. Another incident was a pair of man eating hyenas roaming Malawi in 1962. They are known to have killed 27 people before they themselves were killed. These incidents sound foreboding for the hyena, but these attacks by hyenas were generally precipitated by the people themselves because they slept unprotected, outside.

Hyena caused deaths are low in comparison:

Over the years, these documented attacks were when the hyenas natural game was actually very low. Factors caused by fires and even drought. These attacks almost always occurred at night and when people slept outside. Even with all of the attacks and deaths of humans by hyenas, the figures are low when compared to deaths of human's by wolves, elephants, tigers, leopards and the like

It is still considered rare for a hyena to openly attack, hunt or even attempt to kill humans.

Just the Facts: Families in the Wild - Hyenas
Just the Facts: Families in the Wild - Hyenas

A really great DVD chronicalling the life of a hyena family and all that it entails. If you want more in depth information on hyenas than I have presented here, then get this DVD


Watering Holes - For Predator and Prey alike

The Arfican Hyena jpg 5
The Arfican Hyena jpg 5

The waterhole

It is a sanctuary and a death trap for predator and prey alike. Water is necessary to life and every animal of the Savannah goes there sooner or later. In the blink of an eye, any one of them can become prey, even a predator. (with the exception of the African Elephant.) The Elephant, being the largest land mammal on the continent and has only one predator to fear, man.

Predator and Prey

Lionesses stalk the waterhole in search of a meal and while they mostly hunt at night, spending their daytime hours in the shade, they never turn down an easy meal. Cheetahs stalk the waterhole but only as a last resort, preferring instead, the long grasses of the Savannah, to disguise their presence. Leopards hunt near Acacia trees, so they can quickly hide their kills from Lions, Buzzards and Hyenas. But the waterhole is a constant draw and the Lioness's have been known to wait in ambush for the right moment to spring a trap. Hyenas on the other hand actually steal more meals from Lions and Cheetahs than any other predator.

Intelligent and opportunistic

The term: "Top Predator" is not given lightly. The Hyenas are ever watchful, constantly on the hunt while at the same time, on the lookout for an easy meal. Hunting near a waterhole affords such an opportunity. If an animal is separated from the others of a herd, the chase is on. A pack of Hyenas will chase that animal for miles until it falls exhausted and the pack draws I. Often devouring their prey while it's still alive. I've remarked above that Hyenas are intelligent. That their intelligence contributes to their being the top predator. Documented evidence suggests, (along with a shared belief in the scientific community) that hyenas are more intelligent than lions and are also thought to be of equal intelligence to some ape species.

Hunting Skills

One indication of hyena intelligence is their pack hunting skills and behavior after the kill. After they have made a kill, they will move their kills so that it is encircled by the pack to protect the kill from other scavengers. If the kill is too large to move, they bring the pack to the kill. Some in the pack keep watch for danger from other scavengers as the others of the pack, feed.

All of this is-----just another indication of their superior and strategic hunting methods and intelligence which makes them the top predator.

Although we followed that hyena for the best part of half an hour, we never caught up with it.

Louis Leakey

A Mother Carrying Her Pup

A Mother Carrying Her Pup
A Mother Carrying Her Pup

Literature and DVD's - Want to know more about the Hyena?

There are hundreds of books and DVD's on the subject and I have included here, just a few of my favorites. They are by no means the only one's, but they are the one's I have read and watched and liked. If you want your children to understand more on the subject, there are a couple of books I have included also.

An Historic Documentary of and African Safari

1936 African Safaris Travel Film DVD: History of Africa & Great Safari Footage
1936 African Safaris Travel Film DVD: History of Africa & Great Safari Footage

This is a stunning documentary of Africa taken in 1936 with a running time of just under an hour. Now before you go pooh poohing this because of it's age, it presents an unprecedented view of an unspoiled Africa. No preconceived Western Bias as was prevalent at the time. No Tarzan or Bomba Boy movie here, (apologies to them both) just a straight up view as seen through the eyes of the viewfinder. Grab a copy before they all disappear.


More Than 60 Extraordinary Pictures Of Africa's Top Predator

Hyenas! Learn About Hyenas and Enjoy Colorful Pictures - Look and Learn! (50+ Photos of Hyenas)
Hyenas! Learn About Hyenas and Enjoy Colorful Pictures - Look and Learn! (50+ Photos of Hyenas)

Another great children's book on the hyena, chock full of color pictures. If you want your children to have a first rate understanding of this fascinating animal, get this book for their own personal library and you won't regret it

hyenas jpg 9
hyenas jpg 9

In Closing Today

The Hyena is not the laughing animal as portrayed in jokes and cartoons

The hyena is a highly intelligent and pack oriented predator. Deadly to be sure, but fiercely brave around it's pups as well as when guarding it's kill. A creature that can no longer be simply thought of as the scavenger of Africa, but a true hunter and top predator.

Of the four known remaining species of Hyenas, the Brown Hyena, the Striped Hyena, the Aardwolves (or termite eaters) and the Spotted Hyenas? It is the Spotted Hyena that remains the top predator in a long line of hyena clans. Surviving for many reasons, but mainly from intelligence. Our African plains have ample supplies of food for now, so their survival looks long term.

Hyenas adapt their specific hunting to the environment in which they live. They can live in clans (packs) of up to 100 animals, but are more generally between 15-30 members total. The amount of large prey animals can make cooperative hunting more necessary or they can simply follow the herds when they migrate.

If hyenas do follow migrating prey, they are less territorial, and hunt anything, from small animals individually, to large animals as packs. Hyenas are capable of taking down a fully grown wildebeest alone, but hunting in packs is proven to be more effective nipping and biting the legs causing bleeding and further weakening of their prey as they chase.

They reason for this, is because hyenas do not kill their prey once it collapses. Such as by suffocation like a lion or members of the cat family. Spotted Hyenas run their prey until it collapses from complete exhaustion. With no ability to resist because of exhaustion, the pack then surrounds the animal and eats it alive. Proving once again, their superior intelligence in that they risk NOT their lives or the lives of their pack by attempting to kill an animal that could possibly kill or maim one of them. They outwit it by running it to exhaustion.

Survival of the fittest of the clan is the first order of business for the Hyena, Africa's true....Top Predator .

Thanks for reading today, stay safe and I'll see you on the trail--CampingmanNW

Do you have any Hyena Stories of your own to share? - Feel free to leave a comment anyway

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    • CampingmanNW profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago

      @Valerie Bloom: You are most welcome, thank you for visiting.

    • Valerie Bloom profile image

      Valerie Bloom 

      5 years ago from Pennsylvania, USA

      I learned a lot -- thanks for the great lens!

    • CampingmanNW profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago

      @smine27: Glad you enjoyed the read

    • smine27 profile image

      Shinichi Mine 

      5 years ago from Tokyo, Japan

      Very interesting. Hyenas fascinate me.

    • CampingmanNW profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago

      @valueapartments: Thank YOU for your visit and comments.

    • valueapartments profile image

      Value Apartments 

      5 years ago from London

      Nice and Informative! Thanks for sharing this great lens.

    • CampingmanNW profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago

      @Bercton1: Glad you enjoyed it.

    • Bercton1 profile image


      5 years ago

      Very informative lens. Thanks for sharing!

    • CampingmanNW profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago

      @crstnblue: Thank you. I will and you do the same.

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      Very nice and informative article dedicated to another creature of the world! : )

      Keep writing!

    • CampingmanNW profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago

      @Gayle Dowell: Yes, they are magnificent. I've seen them on the Masi Mara and our guide said that he figured this group was roughly 30 miles from their den as they hunted. They are nearly unstoppable. I thank you for your visit and your kind comments

    • Gayle Dowell profile image

      Gayle Dowell 

      5 years ago from Kansas

      I got to see one of these in Africa at night. Saw it from a distance.

    • CampingmanNW profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago

      @Stephanie36: Thank you for stopping by today and for your gracious comments. Cheers

    • norma-holt profile image


      5 years ago

      What a wonderful lens about a least known predator. Great information and well researched. Well done and thank you.

    • CampingmanNW profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago

      @Melissa Miotke: Very much so. An element of the plains that is underrated but very necessary. Thank you for your visit and kind comments.

    • Melissa Miotke profile image

      Melissa Miotke 

      5 years ago from Arizona

      The hyena is a really interesting animal!

    • Stephanie36 profile image


      5 years ago from Canada

      I nice look at the hyena! I actually really like these guys.

    • CampingmanNW profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago

      @norma-holt: Thank you so much for your visit and your kind comments. Always appreciated.

    • CampingmanNW profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago

      @TanoCalvenoa: I appreciate your visit and kind comments.

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      This is a lot of excellent information about an amazing animal. Superb lens.

    • CampingmanNW profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago

      @artbyrodriguez: Your kind comments are most appreciated.

    • artbyrodriguez profile image

      Beverly Rodriguez 

      5 years ago from Albany New York

      Great facts about Hyenas, really interesting. I've only seen them on wildlife programs on television, but now I can look at them a little differently.

    • CampingmanNW profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago

      @darkflowers: Thank you for stopping by today and for your kind comments.

    • darkflowers profile image

      Anja Toetenel 

      5 years ago from The Hague, the Netherlands

      Great Lens and beautiful photos! I absolutely enjoyed it a lot! You need to promote this better, because your information deserves much more likes!

    • CampingmanNW profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago

      @othellos: Thank you for your visit and for your comments. It is most appreciated. Cheers.

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      Really beautiful lens with lots of interesting content. Thank you for sharing this information. Very thorough and so well done:=)


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