Hyaena, a digitigrade carnivorous mammal, most numerous in Africa, but found also in southern and middle Asia, where the genus has probably spread while following the track of armies and caravans. Zoologists are not agreed as to the position of this animal; the older authors place it in the feline family, with which it agrees in the single true molar on each side of both jaws, and in the single tuberculate tooth on each side of the upper jaw only; Waterhouse regarded it as a small divergent group of viverrina or civet cats; Linnaeus ranked it in his genus canis; and Hamilton Smith puts it in juxtaposition to the dogs. It seems to be an osculant type, united on the one hand to the dogs by the genus lycaon, and on the other to the civets by the genus proteles (aard-wolf); its general aspect is decidedly canine, as also are most of its habits. The dental formula, according to Owen, is: incisors 6/6, canines2/2, premolars, 4/3-4/3, and molars 1/1-1/1 - 34 in all. The disposition of the hyaena is fierce and cowardly, and its habits are revolting; it is able to withstand any temperatures and privations, revels in the foulest air, and gorges on the filthiest substances when living prey fails; of powerful form, thick skin, and strong jaws and teeth, the bands of hyaenas fear not the lion and tiger, and will attack even man in the night time.
Its appearance is very repulsive; the head is large and truncated, the neck short and stout, the body thick and short, high at the shoulders and declining rapidly toward the tail, a long stiff mane from the nape to the rump, and a short tail; the gait is clumsy, the voice harsh and frightful, the expression of the face malignant, and its body offensive from its carrion food and the strong odor of its anal pouch. The feet are all four-toed, with strong non-retractile claws fitted for digging, the dorsals and the pairs of ribs 15 or 16, and the lumbar vertebra) 4 or 5; the tibia and fibula are much shorter than the radius and ulna; the tongue is covered with horny papillae, the irides elliptical above and circular below, the erect ears long and pointed, and mammae four. The prevailing color is an ochrey gray, with dark stripes or spots. The hyaena is among mammals what the vulture is among birds, the scavenger of the wilderness, the woods, and the shore, and useful in this way in disposing of carcasses which otherwise would pollute the air; often it attacks cattle and disabled animals, prowls in the rear of the larger car-nivora, whose leavings it devours, and digs up when possible the dead bodies of man and beast; from this last undisputed habit, the hyaena has been regarded as a horrible and mysterious creature, and is the subject of many superstitious fears and beliefs among the Semitic races.
Its teeth are so powerful that they can crack the bones of an ox with ease, and their grip is tenacious to the last degree; were its speed great and its courage equal to its strength, it would be among the most dangerous of the carnivora; it sometimes burrows in the earth or hides in caverns, but generally passes the day in the desert, insensible to the scorching sun. The spotted hyaena (H. crocuta, Erxl.) is the most dog-like of the genus; it is about 4 1/2 ft. long from nose to base of tail, the latter measuring about 13 in. and the head about 12; the height at the shoulders is 2 1/2 ft.; the general color is a dingy whitish gray, with small round brown spots, the muzzle as far as the eyes and lower limbs sooty, and the tail dark; the mane is rather short. It is found in South Africa, and on the coasts of Senegal and Guinea, and with the next species is generally called wolf by the Dutch colonists. It is fierce but cowardlv, and will sometimes approach camps and make severo gashes on the limbs and faces of persons asleep; it is said sometimes to drag off children, which from its strength it could easily do; from the resemblance of its voice to a human laugh, it has received the name of the laughing hyaena; it rarely burrows, but occupies the retreats of other animals, prowling about at night.
The striped hyaena (H. vulgaris, Desm., or H. striata, Zimm.), a rather larger animal, is found in Africa, Asia Minor, Arabia, and Persia; the head is wider, the muzzle fuller, and the eyes further from the nose, than in the preceding species; the hair is coarse and thick, of a dirty gray color, with transverse dark stripes on the sides and limbs; there is a stiff mane along the back; the habits are the same as those of the spotted hyaena. There are some varieties of smaller size, and one .with a skin almost naked, in the Nubian deserts. The brown hyaena, or strand wolf of the Dutch colonists (H. brunnea, Thunb.), is only 4 ft. long to the end of the tail, and a little over 2 ft. high at the shoulders; the hair is long and shaggy, of a dirty yellow color, with tawny tints on the back and irregular stripes on the sides; it is less in size than the other species, and less destructive to cattle. The hyaenas act very much the part of the wolf of northern climates, being equally fierce, cowardly except at night and when in packs, and annoying to the herdsman by their destruction of sheep and oxen. - There are in Africa certain dog-like animals, the wilde honden of the Dutch, constituting the genus lycaon (Brooks), which seem to connect the dogs with the hyaenas, and which are believed by Hamilton Smith to be partly the progenitors of the mastiff races.
The head is short and truncated, the mouth broad, the teeth strong and dog-like; the ears erect and large; neck long, body short, the limbs slender and highest before; tail short, hanging down, and inflexible; four toes on all the feet; pupils round; mammae eight or ten. They hunt in packs, being swift, active, hardy, with excellent scent and acute sight; they do not burrow. They are found in Africa south of the great desert, and in Arabia, and as far as the Indus in Asia. The hunting hyaena (lycaon venaticus, Burch.) of the Cape is about as tall as a large greyhound, with long legs; the color is ochrey, white on the breast, with spots of the same edged with black on the neck, shoulders, loins, and croup, with wavy black streaks on the sides; the muzzle and cheeks black, the color passing up on the nape and down on the throat. It hunts in packs both by day and night, frequently destroying sheep, and sometimes surprising cattle, biting off their tails; it is considered untamable. The painted hyaena (L. pictus, Temm.) is by many thought to be a mere variety of the last; it is about 3 ft. long, the tail 1 ft. more, and 1 3/4 ft. high at the shoulders; the colors are much the same as in the preceding animal; it hunts also in packs, surprising antelopes, and attacking when hard pressed for food cattle and even man; Ruppell says it looks much less like a hyaena and more like a dog than the L. venaticus. - In anterior geological epochs the hyaenas were not confined to tropical Africa and Asia, nor to the old world.
They appeared in Europe toward the end of the tertiary age, but were most numerous during the diluvial period, and were found in England, Belgium, and Germany; there were about half a dozen species, numerous in individuals, and of a size sometimes superior to the living animal. In the Kirkdale and other caverns of Europe three species are found, of which the best known is the H. spelaea (Goldf.). In Asia they were numerous in the Himalaya region, of which the most remarkable is the H. Sivalensis (Cautl. and Falc). In the Caverns of Brazil Lund has found abundant remains of a hyaena which he calls H. neogcea, mixed with the bones of rodents, peccaries, megalonyx, and other American types, seeming to show that the geographical distribution of animals in the modern faunae is in no way connected with their ancient distribution. The bones of the caverns bear unmistakable marks of the teeth of hyaenas, even if the remains of the latter did not prove their existence; and this animal seems to have been the principal consumer of the great proboscidians and ruminants of the diluvial age.
Spotted llyaena (Hyaena crocuta).
Striped Hyaena (Hyaena striata).
Hunting Hyaena (Lycaon venaticus).