Many people, initially dislike hyenas because of how they are depicted in The Lion King; evil, ugly creatures with terrifying laughs that killed innocent Simba’s heroic father, Mufasa, leaving poor, young Simba fatherless and devastated, and the entire kingdom in disarray. Because of this children’s-film-based-interpretation, I did not have much interest in meeting the hyena on the Living with Big Cats program. All of the other volunteers raved about how beautiful and magnificent she was, but all I kept thinking of was a scraggly, gray creature with an annoying laugh.
The hyena on the farm, four-year-old Roxy, to my pleasant surprise, looked and behaved nothing like the hyenas portrayed in the frightening image above. She is a stunning hyena, with a thick coat, perky ears, a rounded nose, big brown eyes, and a laugh that is contagious through its hilarity, rather than fearsome. Like the hyenas in the film, Roxy is a spotted hyena – just a much better, nicer, less insane one.
There are three types of hyena: spotted, brown, and striped, of which spotted hyenas are physically the largest. Spotted hyenas can weigh anywhere between 50 to 86 kilograms (110 to 190 pounds). Their large bodies are covered in a thick coat comprised of yellow, brown, beige, and black. Like Roxy, most spotted hyenas have a beige-yellow base with dark brown spots covering their body, and black stockings on their legs.
Spotted hyenas are scavengers, which means they often dine on the leftovers of other predators rather than hunting for themselves. However, that’s not to say that hyenas cannot strategically hunt and kill their own meal; hyenas have great hearing and sharp eyesight, particularly at night. Further, hyenas can run quickly, and for extensive distances without wearying. Even when they do get tired, they fortunately hunt in a clan, so prey will seldom escape.
Noticeably, hyenas are actually very skilled at hunting and can successfully conquer animals as large as antelope and wildebeest. Hyenas also feast on smaller animals like birds, snakes, lizards, and insects, which they kill for themselves as well. Since Roxy is living in a spacious enclosure on our reserve, she does not have the opportunity to hunt for herself, or scavenge on the remnants of other predator’s food. She is dependent on the staff and volunteers at Living with Big Cats for her food, and is fed an assortment of raw meat twice a week.
Roxy has been at the Living with Big Cats program since she was a baby. She arrived in a package deal – adopt-one-get-one style – with our white lion, Boris, because her previous owners found it too challenging to appropriately care for her. Since Roxy was brought to us alone, she continues to live in solitude now, at the age of four. In the wild, spotted hyenas live together in sizeable groups of clans, led by female hyenas that can be as large as 80 individuals. However, hyenas must be brought into any given group by their mothers in order to be accepted.
Since Roxy was unaccompanied at such a young age, she could not be enlisted into another clan and cannot have another hyena added to her enclosure because, as strangers and thereby enemies, the two would fight until one of them overtakes the other through death. Although she is living in solitude, Roxy is showered with love from volunteers who absolutely marvel her beauty and her powerful laugh. Roxy is quite social and often presses her body against her fence, allowing volunteers to give her a neck scratch. Having met Roxy now, it is no surprise to me that volunteers rave about what an awesome animal she is. Allow Roxy to change your mind by visiting our Living with Big Cats project!