North and Northeast Africa, the Middle East, and Asia


Arid steppes, dry rocky brush, and acacia scrubland

A family matter

Hyenas are not members of the canid (dog) or felid (cat) families. Instead, they are so unique that they have a family all their own, Hyaenidae. There are four members of the Hyaenidae family: the striped hyena, the “giggly” spotted hyena, the brown hyena, and the aardwolf (it’s a hyena, not a wolf). These magnificent animals are sometimes called the scourge of the Serengeti, but they play an important role: cleanup crew!

Very distinguished features

Striped hyenas have a broad head with dark eyes, a thick muzzle, and large, pointed ears. Their muzzle, ears, and throat are entirely black, but their coat may be golden yellow, brown, or gray with black stripes on the body and legs. The stealthy hyena camouflages well in tall, dry grass. The most striking feature on the hyena is the legs: the front legs are much longer than the hind legs. This gives hyenas their distinctive walk, making them seem like they're always limping uphill. Yet hyenas are agile and can run, trot, and walk with ease.

Striped hyenas were once found from Great Britain to China.
She’s the boss! Adult females are aggressive toward one another and dominant over males.
Hyenas have been on Earth for 24 million years.
An adult hyena's bite pressure can reach 800 pounds per square inch (50 kilograms per square centimeter), helping it easily crush bones.
The mongoose and the meerkat are the hyena's closest relatives.
In the Middle East, tombstones may have been used originally to keep striped hyenas from digging up graves and feeding on the remains.

The San Diego Zoo and San Diego Zoo Safari Park are home to Sudanese striped hyenas.

The striped hyena is not considered very aggressive and usually avoids contact with other animals. However, it has been known to attack and kill people, especially children. Misunderstood and viewed as dangerous or destructive, it is poisoned and trapped for preying on livestock or raiding farms. Some people even mistakenly believe the hyena's body parts can be used as medicine for humans. Once numerous, the striped hyena population is dwindling and has disappeared from some areas altogether. The Barbary hyena Hyaena hyaena barbara is endangered.