We Bet You Didn’t Know Hyenas Have a Matriarchal Social Hierarchy

Aug 3, 2020

Most people tend to think of hyenas as sly, deceptive creatures. After all, we have Disney to thank for that. Once The Lion King was released, almost everyone began looking at hyenas as a kind of creature to be despised: they aren’t very pretty or very majestic, they laugh and cackle like raving madmen, and they “steal food.” They sound like wretched animals—but are they really?

What if we told you that there’s much to admire about these nasty-looking creatures?

Not Like Other Animals

a lone hyena walks the wilderness

It’s immediately obvious, once you look at hyenas, that they are unlike any other animal species out there. They look like dogs, but they act like cats. Their laugh is nothing like any other animal sounds—because it’s almost human. 

They are one of Africa’s predominant, pervasive, and prominent apex predators. They are very protective of their young. And if they’re really hungry, a pack of them can clean all the meat on a zebra’s body in merely 30 minutes. In Africa, you’ll find them everywhere: in swamps, deserts, plains, and forests.

And in their hunting capacity, they rival all the big cats. They’re just as ferocious—and just as feline.

Gender Benders: Smashing the Patriarchy

The jungle is almost entirely patriarchal. Large males vie for territory and females, kill (and sometimes even eat) cubs, fight nasty battles during heat. It would seem—at first—that Nature is unfairly prejudiced towards one sex.

That is, until you look at how hyenas do it.

In a hyena hierarchy, the world is run by alpha females. Across Sub-Saharan Africa, hyenas live in massive “clans” amounting to great numbers. Part of their strength comes from these numbers. Oh, and the females are bigger than the males. 

In a hyena clan, the highest-ranking male ranks lower than the lowest-ranking female. When they’ve made a hunt, the alpha females and their cubs eat first—leaving the males for the last itsy-bitsy morsels. 

It Sucks to be a Male Hyena

Looks like hyenas are better feminists than humans will ever be—because no other animal species reverses gender roles quite as well as these laughing ladies. While the majestic lion idly sleeps and lets lionesses do all the work, hyenas follow a different trajectory. 

All cubs are born into a competitive clan. They jostle for power, and the sisters usually do better than the brothers. Most males leave their clans. Later, they join other clans and are instantly placed at the bottom of the hierarchy. 

It is the sisters who stay in their clans and rise to power—and actually inherit their mothers’ ranks. Power flows from female to female in a hyena clan—Wonder Woman much?

It’s safe to say that when it comes to the ultimate femme fatale in fauna, hyenas give black widows some serious competition. 

See Hyenas in a Different Light

“…Cowardly, skulking lowlifes…devourer of the dead….sad yowler….” Ernest Hemingway wrote of them. Theodore Roosevelt—a famed animal lover—famously hated hyenas. You won’t even find hyenas in that many zoos—the public eye doesn’t particularly like them. They are seldom used as logos—unlike alligators and pandas. 

In truth, these are social, sophisticated, and intelligent animals roaming Sub-Saharan Africa. They bend gender roles and live zero waste—literally stripping everything off a carcass and scavenging. They’re quite the activist, if you ask us.

And if you were to take a premier African safari, courtesy of Ikamela Safaris, you might see some of these ferocious females on your game watching trip—so call us today!


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