The striped hyena (Hyaena hyaena) is an extant species of hyena native to East and North Africa, the Caucasus, Central Asia, the Middle East, and the Indian subcontinent. It is listed as near-threatened on the IUCN list and is the national animal of Lebanon.
Compared to the other true hyenas, it is the smallest, and it also retains many primitive viverrid traits that are lost in larger species, including a smaller and less specialized skull.
Though it is primarily a scavenger, large striped hyenas have been known to kill their prey and attack humans on rare occasions. The striped hyena practices monogamy, with both females and males assisting one another in raising their cubs.
It is a nocturnal animal that emerges in complete darkness and returns to its den before sunrise. Although it has been known to have a habit of feigning death when attacked, it also stands its ground against larger rivals in disputes over food.
The striped hyena features prominently in Asian and Middle Eastern folklore. In some regions, its body parts are considered magical and are used for talismans and charms.
It is mentioned inside the Hebrew Bible and was referred to as zevoa or tzebua (it is absent in some Bible). Ancient Greeks referred to it as ύαινα (húaina) and γλάνος (glános).
The species is assumed to have evolved from H. namaquensis of Pliocene Africa. Recorded fossils of the striped hyena dated back to the Middle Pleistocene and even to Villafranchian.
Due to the absence of striped hyenas fossils in the Mediterranean region, it is assumed that the species most likely is a late invader to Eurasia. They probably spread outside Africa after the extinction of the spotted hyenas in Asia at the closing of the last glacial period.
During the Pleistocene, the striped hyena occurred in Europe for some time and was also found in Germany and France. It also appeared in Hollabrunn, Montmaurin in Austria, the Genista Caves in Gibraltar, and the Furninha Cave in Portugal.
The European form of the striped hyena was similar in appearance to that of modern populations but was larger compared to the brown hyena.
The striped hyena has a short but fairly massive torso set on its legs. The forelimbs are longer than the hind legs, which caused the back to slope downwards. The legs are relatively weak and thin, with the forelimbs being bent at the carpal region.
The neck is long, thick, and largely immobile, while the head is massive and heavy with a shortened facial region. It has small eyes with large, broad, sharply pointed ears that are set on the head. Similar to other hyenas, the striped hyena has bulky pads on its paw as wells as powerful but blunt claws and a short tail.
The striped hyena lacks a false scrotal sack, and enlarged clitoris noted in the female genitalia of the spotted hyena. A female striped hyena has three pairs of nipples.
The adult striped hyena weighs 49 – 121 lb (22 – 55 kg), averaging at about 77 lb (35 kg). Body length can range from 33 – 51 in (85 – 130 cm), not counting a tail of 9.8 – 15.7 in (25 – 40 cm), and shoulder height are between 24 – 31 in (60 – 80 cm).
The anus can be turned inside out up to a length of 5 cm and is everted during mating and social interaction. Its eyes are acute, though its senses of hearing and smell are weak. Having a shortened facial region, high sagittal crest, and an inflated frontal bone in the skull is typical of the genus.
Compared to the spotted and brown hyenas, the skull of the striped hyena is smaller in size and is slightly less massive build. It is nonetheless still well adapted and powerfully structured to anchor exceptionally strong jaw muscles, which provides it with enough bite-force to splinter a camel’s thigh bone.
The winter coats are uniform and unusually long for an animal its size. It has a luxuriant mane of long, tough hairs along the back from the occiput to the base of the tail. The coat is generally bristly and coarse, though it varies on the season.
In winter, the coat is soft, fairly dense, and has a well-developed underfur. The guard hairs are 50 to 75 mm long on the flanks, 150 to 225 mm long on the mane, and 150 mm on the tail. In summer, the coat is much coarser and shorter and lacks underfur even though the mane remains large.
In winter, the coat is usually of a dirty grey or dirty brownish-grey colour. The hairs of the mane are white or light grey at the base and dark brown or black at the tips. The muzzle is grayish brown, dark, black, or brownish-grey, while the cheek and the top of its head are more lightly coloured, and the ears are almost black.
The striped hyena is a scavenger that feeds on ungulate carcasses at different stages of decomposition, cartilages, fresh bones, bone marrow, and ligaments.
It crushes large bones into smaller particles and swallows them, though sometimes an entire bone is eaten whole. It will infrequently attack and kill any animal it can overcome.
In Turkmenistan, the striped hyena is recorded to feed on kulan, wild boar, tortoises, and porcupines. In eastern Jordan, the main sources of food for the striped hyena include water buffalo, feral horse, and village refuse.
Some reports indicate that only the large hyenas found in the Asia Minor, Middle East, Central Asia, and the Indian subcontinent, attack large prey, with no evidence of their smaller east Africa and Arabian cousins doing so.
Due to its scavenging diet, the striped hyena requires more water to survive compared to other carnivores.
The striped hyena practices monogamy, with the male creating the den with the female, helping her feed and raise the cubs when they are born.
The mating season varies on the location; in southeast Turkmenia, hyenas breed in October or November, while those in Transcaucasia, they breed in January or February. Breeding in-captivity is non-seasonal, and it occurs at any time of the day.
The gestation period lasts 90 to 91 days. The striped hyena cubs are born with closed eyes, adult markings, and small ears. The cub’s eyes open after 7 to 8 days and leave the dens after one month.
The mother weans the cubs at the age of 2 months, and after that, the cubs are fed by the parents. The lifespan of the striped hyena in the wild is 12 years, while in captivity, it is known to live for as long as 23 years.