The spotted hyaena (Crocuta crocuta – Erxleben, 1777) is an African predator steeped in folk lore. The eerie “whoop” of hyaena calling at night is one of the most haunting and well known sounds of Africa. Their hunting habits have earned them an unjust reputation as being devious, sly and cruel. Yet when it comes to “family life” hyaena have a remarkable, well ordered, and structured society. They are caring and devoted parents.
Females become sexually mature at about three years of age and alternate between an oestrus and anoestrus cycle of 14 days each. The gestation period is 110 days. The female will find a suitable hole such as an old aardvark burrow in which to give birth. These are often located in old termitaries as shown in the images. The average litter size is two with a range of one to four. The pups are ugly but disarmingly endearing. When they are a week or two old the female will carry them to the clans communal den which form the focal point of the clans activities. There can therefore be a number of pups from different litters at a communal burrow.
Adults seldom go down into the burrows themselves but lie close to or in the entrances where the lactating female also suckles the young. Females have a single pair of nipples located between the hind legs (see image top left). Hyaena females will only allow their own offspring to suckle on them and will discourage pups from other litters from attempting to do so. Young hyaena are almost black when born but by the age of two months the heads start to lighten to a greyish colour and by four months the first spots can be seen on the flanks. They begin scent marking around the den when they are only about a month and a half old. They drink until they are weaned at about the age of one year. Pups are very playful, chasing each other and pestering adult animals who are, by and large, very tolerant. When a couple of months old the pups will begin to accompany the mother on hunts but will not take an active part in the hunt itself until they are almost full grown. Pups consume little meat until they are about seven to eight months old.