Total length 120 - 180 cm; tail 25 cm; shoulder height 85 cm; mass 60 - 80 kg
Unmistakable. Heavily built forequarters stand higher than rump. Large head with prominent rounded ears; black muzzle. Body usually fawn-yellow to grey-fawn with scattering of dark-brown spots and blotches, less distinct in old animals. Head throat and chest not spotted. Short tail has coarse hair covering. Short erect mane along neck and shoulders.
Open country but also rocky areas in open woodland. Absent from the forest and the Namib coastal belt. Requires access to drinking water.
Usually live in family groups (clans) led by a female. Clan members share the same range and dens and may number from 3 or 4 up to 15 or more individuals. Territories are defended against other clans and are marked with anal gland secretion, urine and distinctive bright white droppings - usually deposited in 'latrine' sites. Mainly nocturnal but frequently seen during the day. Very vocal with whoops, groans, grunts, whines, yells and giggles.
They used to be regarded as cowardly scavengers, but now they are known to be efficient and regular hunters. They may hunt individually, or in small groups, depending on the type of food taken. Diet ranges from insects to large game, such as zebra, wildebeest and giraffe. Spotted hyena's also scavenge and will chase other predators from their kills. They also may raid dustbins and rubbish heaps at camps.
IUCN Hyaena Specialist Group website