1902 Encyclopedia > Hyaena

Hyaena




HYAENA (Hycenidce), a family of digitigrade carnivorous mammals, approaching the Felidce or cats in the character of the dentition, while resembling the Viverridce or civets in the possession of a glandular pouch beneath the anus, and therefore usually classed as a transition group between these two families. It comprises a single genus (LTycena), and three species, which resemble each other and differ from all other carnivores in having both pairs of feet with four toes each. They are further characterized by the greater length of their fore legs as compared with those behind, by their well-developed although non-retractile claws, by their prickly cat-like tongue, and by the enormous strength of their jaws and teeth, which enables them to break open the hardest bones, and to retain what they have seized with the most unrelaxing grip.
The Striped Hyaena (Ilycena striata) is the most widely distributed and best known form, being found throughout India, Persia, Asia Minor, and the northern half of Africa, while, if the strand wolf (Ilycena villosa)oi the Cape colonists is only a variety of this species, as many naturalists suppose, its range will be thereby extended to the southern extremity of the African continent. It resembles a wolf in size, and is of a greyish-brown colour, marked with indistinct longi-tudinal stripes of a darker hue, while the legs are trans-versely striped as in the zebra. The hairs on its body are long, especially on the ridge of the neck and back, where they form a distinct mane, which is continued along the tail. The hyaena is nocturnal in its habits, preferring by day the gloom of caves and ruins, or of the burrows which it occasionally forms, but coming forth at sunset to make night hideous with its unearthly howling, which, when the

animal is excited, changes into what has been compared to demoniac laughter, and hence the name of " laughing hyaena," by which it is also known. The food of those creatures consists chiefly of carrion, and they thus perform a highly useful service in hot countries by devouring the remains of dead animals which might otherwise pollute the air. So ravenous,

however, are they that even the bodies of the buried dead are not safe from their attacks, their power-ful claws enabling them to gain access to the newly interred bodies in the Eastern cemeteries, which they are said habit-ually to frequent. They also feed on the flesh of animals, which they hunt in packs. When driven by hunger they have thus been frequently known to enter villages by night and to carry off such domestic animals as they might chance to find. Bruce, the African traveller, states that everywhere in Abyssinia they were a plague. " Gondar," he says, " was full of them from the time it turned dark till the dawn. In short, the hyaena was the plague of our lives, the terror of our night walks, the destruction of our mules and asses, which above all others are his favourite food." Although, in proportion to its size, possessing probably the most powerful teeth and jaws in the whole mammalian series, the pusillanimity of the hyaena is such as to prevent its attacking animals greatly inferior to itself in strength. The

Arab, for this reason, holds it in contempt; and, when he condescends to hunt the hyaena, he does not waste his ammunition upon it, but runs it down with dogs. It has usually been regarded as untameable; this, however, is not the case, for when properly treated in captivity, it has been known to exhibit the greatest docility and attachment to its keepers; and Colonel Sykes states that in certain dis-tricts of Central India where those creatures abound they are as susceptible of domestication as ordinary dogs.
The Spotted Hyaena (Hycena crocuta) takes the place of the, striped species in the southern half of the African continent, to which it is confined. It resembles the other in size, but differs from it considerably in appearance, the stripes of the one being replaced by dark brown spots on a yellowish ground in the other, while in the " tiger-wolf," as this species is called at the Cape, the mane is much less distinct. According to Schweinfurth, who met with it in the heart of Africa, it is a much more powerful and savage animal than the northern form. Although averse to hunt-ing living prey, it takes to the chase when carrion is not to be had, and the same traveller was on one occasion startled by a spotted hyaena which darted past him, like lightning, in pursuit of an antelope. At the Cape it was formerly very common, and occasionally committed great havoc among the cattle, while it did not hesitate to enter the Kaffre dwellings at night and carry off the child sleeping by

its mother's side. By persistent trapping and shooting, its numbers have now been considerably reduced, with the result, however, of making it, like the hippopotamus of the same regions, exceedingly wary, so that it is not readily caught in any trap with which it has had an opportunity of becoming acquainted. Like the northern species, the
Arab, for this reason, holds it in contempt; and, when he condescends to hunt the hyaena, he does not waste his ammunition upon it, but runs it down with dogs. It has usually been regarded as untameable; this, however, is not the case, for when properly treated in captivity, it has been known to exhibit the greatest docility and attachment to its keepers; and Colonel Sykes states that in certain dis-tricts of Central India where those creatures abound they are as susceptible of domestication as ordinary dogs.
The Spotted Hyaena (Hycena crocuta) takes the place of the, striped species in the southern half of the African continent, to which it is confined. It resembles the other in size, but differs from it considerably in appearance, the stripes of the one being replaced by dark brown spots on a yellowish ground in the other, while in the " tiger-wolf," as this species is called at the Cape, the mane is much less distinct. According to Schweinfurth, who met with it in the heart of Africa, it is a much more powerful and savage animal than the northern form. Although averse to hunt-ing living prey, it takes to the chase when carrion is not to be had, and the same traveller was on one occasion startled by a spotted hyaena which darted past him, like lightning, in pursuit of an antelope. At the Cape it was formerly very common, and occasionally committed great havoc among the cattle, while it did not hesitate to enter the Kaffre dwellings at night and carry off the child sleeping by spotted hyaena has been tamed, and has occasionally been trained to take the place of the dog. Its skin ex-hibits a considerable variety of colour and marking, and Schweinfurth found many skins in use among the Niam-niams of Central Africa, in the form of aprons. The brown hyaena (Hycena rufa) is also a native of South Africa.
Although hyaenas are now confined to the warmer regions of the Old World, their fossil remains show that they had a much more northerly range during Tertiary times. Abund-ant remains of a larger species than any now living have been found in the caves of England, France, and Germany. This species, known as the cave hyaena (Hycena spelcea), is supposed to have been most nearly allied to the spotted hyaena of South Africa, but does not appear to have extended farther south than the middle of Europe. Remains which have been doubtfully identified as belonging to the striped species have also been found in the south of France, and others in Sicily and Algeria, undoubtedly belonging to the spotted form of South Africa, which must thus have had a much more northerly extension in Tertiary times. No remains of the hyaena are known to occur in the New World.










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