How can you not love hyenas, yet they are one of our great, misunderstood animals. Literature, folklore and even movies haven’t done them any favors.

From the writings of Aristotle and Hemingway to movies like The Lion King, they are often portrayed as cowardly or villains with unkempt fur and awkward gaits. Yet hyenas are one of the smartest animals in Africa.

Plus they are great hunters and excellent scavengers providing a vital role to our ecosystem by keeping it clean. So we think the bum rap is definitely not deserved!


Two baby hyenas emerging from their den seen on our safari to Kenya


A clan of hyenas in Kenya protecting their den

Do Hyenas Really Laugh?

Most hyenas make a lot of noise. Their whoops often sound like laughter with high pitched “giggling”. But every sound is a precise communication tool with each hyena having its own distinctive noises, much like we have different voices.

By recognizing the individual sounds, they use their voices to stay organized when they need to defend their territory and during group hunts. Their noises even indicate social status within a pack.


Cool Facts

  • Hyenas can hear and recognize each other’s laughter up to three miles away.
  • Some research indicates they are more intelligent than chimps making them very smart indeed!
  • Forming the largest social groups of any carnivores, clans can be over 100 members and are ruled by a female. Yea for the females (sorry guys)!
species of hyena

The four species of hyena. Diagram: Peppermint Narwhal


  • Hyenas and lions are fierce competitors. Often fighting over the same territory and prey, they are known to kill each other’s young.
  • With some of the most powerful jaws in the animal kingdom, they can bite through bone.
  • Of the four species, only the aardwolf  (what a cool name) is not a hunter and eats termites. And there seems to be some disagreement over whether there are 3 or 4 species. Hmmm.

Why Should We Care? 

First, they are really loyal animals and develop long term friendships (which we all need).  Second, much like vultures, another misunderstood animal, hyenas clean up the environment and prevent diseases by eating carcasses left behind by other animals. Disgusting but very cool!
And by hunting sick and weak animals, they help keep animal populations healthy. So what is not to love?

Hyenas are one of the most misunderstood animals

How Can We Help?

Learn more about them or donate to hyena research through the African Wildlife Foundation.

See if your local zoo has hyenas and visit to see them in action.

Post pictures and articles on social media to help dispel the many myths surrounding these incredible animals.


Learning more about hyenas might make you fall in love with them

Learn More

Learn more about these skilled hunters from the African Wildlife Foundation.
View more pictures at National Geographic.
Read The Hyena Scientist by Sy Montgomery rated 5 stars by Amazon.
Read a great article Interview: The Truth about Hyenas about one journalist’s personal encounter with a clan. Fascinating stuff!