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Hunting the Spotted Hyena in Africa

Spotted Hyena with a bone

November 27, 2018 by John Martins

Hunting the Spotted Hyena in Africa

The spotted hyena (Crocuta crocuta) is a hyena species native to sub-Saharan Africa.  Its numbers are estimated between 27,000 and 47,000 throughout its widespread range.  The spotted hyena is distinguished by its vaguely bear-like build, rounded ears, shorter mane, highly-spotted pelt and its dual-purpose teeth.

The spotted hyena is a very social animal, existing in large groups and having a complex social relationship.  However, its social system is based more on competition than cooperation.  The access to kills and ability to mate depends on the male’s ability to dominate other male clan members.  Females only provide for their own cubs; males exhibit no parental care.  The female spotted hyena is larger than the male and is dominate.

The spotted hyena is the largest of the hyena species.  Adult shoulder height varies between 28 to 36 inches.  Serengeti females weigh 98 to 141 pounds, while males run from 90 to 121 pounds. Zambian hyenas tend to be larger by 12-15%.

The spotted hyena jaw differs in size from the striped hyena, being much larger.  For its size it has one of the strongest built skulls of any similar animal.  The teeth are more dual purpose than other scavenger hyenas, enabling the hyena to exert over 1100 pounds per inch pressure, which exceeds the leopard by 30-40%.  The jaws of the spotted hyena are more powerful than an Alaskan brown bear and can crack the long bones found in a giraffe’s leg.

The spotted hyena’s territory can range anywhere from less than 20 square miles in the Ngorongoro Crater in the Great Rift Valley in northern Tanzania to 620 miles in the Kalahari Desert.  Home ranges are defended through vocal displays, boundary patrols and scent marking of bushes and trees.   Hyenas travelling outside their boundary have sometimes exhibited body postures usually associated with fear especially in encounters with other hyenas.

Mature spotted hyena maleSpotted Hyena in the grass hunting

Unlike other large African carnivores, the spotted hyena does not prefer a particular prey.  The only animals they tend to avoid are the giraffe and Cape buffalo.  Spotted hyenas seem to prefer prey that doesn’t exceed 400 pounds.  They hunt by sight, smell and hearing.  During the day, they watch for vultures feeding on carrion.   Their superb hearing allows them to hear other predators feeding on prey as far as six miles away.  Large prey is eaten alive, while smaller animals are killed by being shaken in the mouth.  They can detect carrion from as far away as 2.5 miles downwind.  Sometimes they will track other predators to fresh kills.

Hyena packs can vary in size of up to 50 animals.  Though not as large as an American wolf, what they lack in size is more than made up for in aggressiveness.  Even small numbers of hyenas have been known to drive full-grown male lions off their prey.  In their matriarchal clan, all males are submissive to the females – even the females farthest down the pecking order. 

Spotted Hyena Hunt Link

Spotted hyenas are not scavengers by nature.  The will hunt their prey unless they can drive another predator off its kill.  Hyenas tend to be opportunistic hunters.  The pack will tend to hunt when their prey will be at its most vulnerable, such as during inclement weather, or at night.  When hyenas spot their prey, they target the young, weakest or most vulnerable.  They will work together to separate their prey from the rest of the herd, and then move in for the kill.   The hyena’s heart is large for its body size, which gives it excellent stamina and the ability to run their target into exhaustion.  In Kruger national Park, hyenas kill over 50% of their prey.  In the Kalahari, they account for 70-80% of their food needs through killing their prey.

Spotted Hyena Hunting

Only the Safari Club International record books include the spotted hyena.  The sum of their skull measurements makes up the total.  For entry in the record book, the spotted hyena must have a minimum 15-inch measurement.  The current record is 20-5/16 inch.

Spotted Hyena Hunting Information by Country

A spotted hyena can be hunted in most east African countries: 

South Africa – The spotted hyena can only be hunted with a TOPS (Threatened or Protected Species) hunting permit.  You must notify your outfitter that you wish to hunt a hyena, so that he can obtain the permit before you start your hunt.  The permit shows the area to be hunted and the duration of the hunt, along with the hunter’s personal information.  If the hunt is successful, you must sign the permit to get an export permit.  Be sure to double check all the information on the TOPS permit, as any errors can severely delay the exportation of your trophy.

It is illegal to hunt a TOPS animal without the permit in your immediate possession.  Don’t hunt the animal under the premise that if the hunt is successful, the permit can be acquired later.

A spotted hyena trophy fee can range from $1250 to $2950. 

It is illegal to hunt spotted hyenas if they are captive bred.  For a hyena to be considered fair game, it must have lived without human intervention for at least two years.  It is also illegal to hunt spotted hyenas, or any other large predators, for that matter, with a bow.  No handguns, no automatic weapons, no shotguns, air guns, or rimfire calibers of .22 can be used when hunting spotted hyenas.

Only leopards or hyenas may be hunted with lights.  Only physically disabled hunters can hunt predators from a motorized vehicle.  The animals must be hunted on foot or by horseback.  Large predators cannot be hunted by airplane.  No dogs can be used to hunt spotted hyenas.  Hyenas can be baited, but no scents or calls may be used.

Mozambique - The spotted hyena has a non-refundable license fee of $350 to $385.  Trophy fees run $1150 to $3500.

Namibia – Hunters can hunt either spotted hyena, or brown hyena.  US hunters cannot import brown hyena parts into the USA.  The spotted Hyena trophy fee ranges from $1200 to $3500.

Tanzania – A spotted hyena may be hunted on either a 16- or 21-day license.  The government trophy fee is $550.  Other charges, like anti-poaching or Community Development fees can raise the trophy fee significantly.

Zambia – The spotted hyena trophy fee will run from $600 to $1000.

Zimbabwe – Brown hyena can be hunted, but as in Namibia, no parts can be imported into the US.  The trophy fee is $1000, but a special permit costs $1500.  A trophy fee for the spotted hyena is $550 to $2500.

Uganda – The spotted hyena trophy fee is between $550 and $800

Ethiopia – The spotted hyena can be hunted in the highlands with a trophy fee near $200.

Cameroon – A savannah hunt will require a trophy fee of $400.

Hyena Population by Country (Wikipedia)

Botswana – 1,000-2,000. Botswana’s spotted hyena population is stable, and it is listed as a game animal.

Burkina Faso – 100-1,000. Burkina Faso’s hyenas are depleted due to hunting, poaching, and declining prey populations. 

Cameroon – 100-1,000.  Cameroon hyenas suffer from desertification and human population explosion.

Ethiopia – 1,000-2,000.  Ethiopia has a valuable stable population of spotted hyenas.  There is no bounty on them, even though they are considered vermin.  Outside of national parks they can be hunted for 5 Ethiopian Birr ($2.50 US).

Mozambique – Unknown.  However, they are still hunted.

Namibia – 2,000-3,000.  Namibian hyena populations are considered “lower risk”.

Senegal – 100-1,000.  Useful scavengers, they are afforded legal protection in national parks, but not tolerated elsewhere.

South Africa – Cape, 80-100; Transvaal, 50-100; Kruger, 1,300-3,900; Natal, 250-1,000.  Due to past depredations, spotted hyena populations are smaller than brown hyenas.  Transvaal’s spotted hyenas are not protected, nor do they have a bounty.  Natal’s spotted hyena numbers are increasing.

Tanzania – Serengeti, 7,200-7,700; Balance of country, 3,000-4,500.

Uganda – 100-1,000.  Tolerated and protected.

Zambia – 1,000-2,000.  Increasing in the Luangwa Valley, decreasing elsewhere.

Zimbabwe – 5,600.  Decreasing and not protected.

Hyena Hunting Methods

Many successful hyena hunts occur while hunting a different species.  The shot could be quick, so the hunter must be prepared to get off a good shot in a hurry if the opportunity presents itself.  The usual hunting methods are spotting from a safari truck, or on foot, then walking the spoor, and then completing the final stalk.  In some African wilderness areas, a hunter needs only to stake out a spot where the local butchers are throwing out the offal and bones from butchering an animal.  Depending on the area, setting up bait and using a blind could yield good results. 

Spotted Hyena Hunts Link

Firearms for Hunting Spotted Hyena in Africa

The best rifle caliber for hunting spotted hyenas is usually the rifle you have with you when hunting plains game.  However, to get into specifics, the minimum caliber for shooting a hyena should be a 7mm like a 7mm Remington Magnum, 7mm-08, or 7mm Winchester Short Magnum.

In the .30 calibers, the .308 is an excellent choice.  If the rifle will be used for larger plains game, then any of the .300 calibers like the .300 Winchester Magnum, .300 H&H, or the .300 Weatherby Magnum will do nicely.  Most larger calibers will be more than adequate.  If your safari includes eland, kudu, sable, or similar, you would be well served with a rifle in .375 caliber, of which there are many.

When it comes to scoping a rifle, the ubiquitous 4x9 power will be enough.  More important than magnification is light transmission properties, as your shots could be at the end of shooting light, or very early in the morning. 

Rather than discuss various brands of ammunition, I will categorically state that only premium grade ammunition should be used.  Even if you pay $80.00 for a box of Weatherby Select Plus .300 Weatherby Magnum 180-grain ammo, it will be about the cheapest expense of your safari.  There is nothing quite so depressing than to pull the trigger on a trophy animal, just to hear your rifle say “click”!

Average shooting distances for a hyena are between 60 to 80 yards.  Not to say that a shot might present itself out at 200 yards, but most likely you will be much closer.

Spotted hyenas can be hunted all year around in most countries, but the best times are late April to early November.

  • Spotted Hyena with a bone