|“||"I'm surrounded by idiots."||”|
Male and female hyenas cannot be told apart at a distance, as there is no obvious difference in the sexes. Both males and females have tawny pelts, with slighter or significantly darker spots which litter their necks, backs, and limbs. Real hyenas are a sandy color with lighter undersides, leg insides, and feet, with dark brown spots and tail tips. The muzzle of a hyena is dark-colored, as are their ears, which are dish-like and significantly spaced apart. The hyena's power lies in its head and neck, and it has one of the nastiest bites in the animal kingdom, its teeth easily shearing through bone.
In the Real World
Spotted hyenas are one Africa's apex predators, a position they share and sometimes compete for with lions. They are found in the eastern reaches of the continent and are the largest and most well-known of the four hyena species, the other three being the striped hyena, the brown hyena, and the aardwolf. Though more similar in phenotype to canines, hyenas are actually more closely related to felines, thus more similar to the lions they compete with.
Hyenas band together in groups called clans, which are dominated by females. Even the lowest-ranking female has agency over the highest-ranking male. Clans are led by matriarchs and other high-ranking females (usually her daughters), who keep their position through bullying lower-ranked hyenas. These females often have more testosterone than their subordinates, not only making them more aggressive, but causing any children they have to be larger and more aggressive. Fathers of high-ranking female hyenas, however, are more likely to be spared the wrath of their daughters.
A clan forms when a dispersal hyena male migrates from his natal clan and meets a lone female hyena. If he is able to entice her, she allows him to sire children with her, and these children form the base of the clan. There is no agreed upon average regarding hyena group sizes. However, the largest clans of hyenas can have as many as 80 individuals.
Hyenas are non-seasonal breeders, and females prefer younger, docile males to older, aggressive ones. They gestate a little over three months; 110 days on average. Because of the oddness and uniqueness of female hyena anatomy, many new hyena mothers die birthing their first cubs. Hyena children, particularly females, are known to commit siblicide early in their lives, especially if a litter of cubs is one gender instead of a mix of male and female. Male cubs grow faster to achieve reproductive dominance; females eliminate rivals for social dominance.
Hyenas are incredibly intelligent creatures, their intellect on par with creatures such as chimpanzees. They are capable enough to solve somewhat complex problems and puzzles and do so with greater cooperation than chimpanzees do.
Lions and hyenas occupy the same ecological niche: apex predators. Therefore, they are in competition with each other over matters of food and territory space. A common belief is that hyenas steal kills from lions, but this is only true occasionally. Lions, as the larger and stronger predators, often run hyenas off their kills, forcing hyenas to wait patiently at a distance to clean up anything the lions miss or cannot access, such as bone marrow.
Hyenas are bolder at night and will much more eagerly take on a group of lionesses, particularly if they outnumber them four to one. Even males, generally avoided at all cost, are on the table if they outnumber the lionesses five to one. Hyenas will mob lions who enter their territories and seem to have a built-in aversion to them. Even hyenas who have never seen or interacted with lions react fearfully to the scent of one.
Lions are not the only species hyenas harass. Cheetahs are easily run off their kills, though leopards may put up a fight. Hyenas also follow around cape dogs, some of the most successful hunters on the plains, to steal their kills. The only flesh hyenas eat with reluctance is that of wolves. They will readily eat their own kind before feasting on wolves.
Hyenas are best known for the wide variety of sounds they make, in particular their laughs and the whooping sound they make that no other animal does. The whoop is spontaneous and has no context, done in groups anywhere between six and fifteen times. They make several laughs, including a giggle, loud grunt-laugh, and soft grunt-laugh. All laughs are signs of doling out or receiving aggression.
The average lifespan of a hyena in the wild is 12 years, though in captivity, they can live to be 25.
In the Universe
The hyenas are first mentioned when Mufasa is showing Simba the Pride Lands. Zazu learns from a mole that hyenas are in the Pride Lands and he quickly relays the message to Mufasa, who rushes off to deal with them.
The hyenas are first seen in the Elephant Graveyard. Simba and Nala wander into their territory and the hyena trio climbs out of an elephant skull and surrounds the two cubs. They immediately recognize Zazu as "Mufasa's little stooge," and later find out that Simba is the future Lion King. Under Scar's orders, they chase the cubs in an attempt to kill them, but are frightened off by Mufasa.
They are later seen in a different part of the graveyard, in which most of the terrain is littered with geysers. They complain about lions, but are rebuked by Scar, who appears on a ledge above them. Although disappointed in their failure to kill Simba, he gives them a leg of meat; this either shows that the graveyard is barren or the hyenas are poor hunters. Scar then goes on to sing "Be Prepared," in which more hyenas join the trio and they pledge their allegiance to Scar.
Later on, Banzai, Ed, and Shenzi help Scar carry out his plan to kill Mufasa by triggering the wildebeest stampede. Immediately after Scar tells Simba to run away and never return, he commands the hyenas to kill the young cub. But Simba eludes the clumsy hyenas by jumping into a thorn hedge in which they can't follow. They agree that Simba "was as good as dead out there anyway," and that if he came back, they'd kill him. It is assumed they lie to Scar about Simba's death, as Scar later announces his nephew's death to the lionesses.
When Scar is accepting rule as king, he tells the lionesses of "a new era, in which lion and hyena come together in a great and glorious future." The hyenas swarm Pride Rock and reinforce Scar's corruption of the pride.
Years into Scar's reign, they complain about a lack of food in the Pride Lands, but Scar ignores them. Unconcerned by their hunger, he rebukes them sharply and does not allow them to complain nor compare his tyrannical reign to Mufasa's.
When Simba returns to overthrow Scar, the hyenas join the fight against the Pridelanders. The main enemies of the hyenas in the battle are the lionesses, Rafiki, and Timon and Pumbaa. Shenzi and Banzai are ruthlessly beaten up by Pumbaa for calling him a "pig," and Zazu is initially freed from his bone trap.
Simba eventually corners Scar on the edge of Pride Rock, and the hyenas overhear the helpless king telling Simba that the hyenas were the enemy and that the invasion was their fault and their idea. When Scar is thrown of the cliff, they furiously turn against their master and give in to their hunger. Together, with the aid of the other hyenas, they corner Scar against the rock face and close in around him. Scar tries to explain himself, but the hyenas refuse to listen and their shadows are seen leaping on him and devouring him amongst the flames of a relentless fire.
Although it has been confirmed they survived the fire, it is unknown what happens to them after this; dialogue between Nuka and Vitani in the second movie suggest that after Scar's death, the hyenas left the Elephant Graveyard.
In the spin-off TV series, the hyenas have a much larger role, serving as one of the main antagonists. There are four episodes centering on Shenzi, Banzai, and Ed, showing what they did after killing Scar and running away from the Pride Lands. The three hyenas also appear in three Timon and Pumbaa-centered episodes, which are "Doubt of Africa," "Once Upon a Timon," and "Space Ham."
Besides the trio, other hyenas are seen throughout the series, with some of them resembling Shenzi, some of them resembling Ed, and others resembling Banzai. Those hyenas notably appear in "Don't Wake the Neighbear," "No-Good Samaritan," and "Guru-Some."
"Yeesh. This place is even creepier since the hyenas ran off."
In the direct-to-video sequel, The Lion King II: Simba's Pride, the hyenas are briefly mentioned by Nuka as he and his sister, Vitani, arrive at the Elephant Graveyard to collect fire. Nuka comments that the graveyard was even creepier since the hyenas ran off, suggesting that the clan may have dispersed or fled completely after Scar's death.
"I see carnivores."
In The Lion King 1½, the hyenas have a much larger role, despite being considered minor characters in the original film.
The meerkats in Timon's colony are constantly on the lookout for hyenas, their most common predator. One day, when Timon is on duty, the hyena trio catches him daydreaming. They infiltrate his colony, but fail to catch any meerkats. The incident drives Timon to leave the colony and find where he truly belongs.
When Timon and Pumbaa are in the Elephant Graveyard, they overhear Zazu telling Mufasa that the hyenas were after the cubs. The hyenas' shadows are later seen in "Be Prepared."
The hyenas make an appearance again during the film's climax at Pride Rock. Timon and Pumbaa distract anonymous hyenas with a Hula Dance and a chase instigates where it is revealed they scared those hyenas away when Pumbaa gassed them. Timon and Pumbaa try to stray the hyenas' attention from Scar so Simba can have a chance at the fight. The two make an insulting joke about the hyenas and another chase instigates. Eventually, Timon and Pumbaa are cornered. They try many different distractions to keep the hyenas occupied and Timon even proposes to Shenzi as a desperate move to buy time for his mother and Uncle Max to dig a tunnel beneath the hyenas. When the trap tunnel initially fails, the hyenas close in on Pumbaa, Uncle Max, and Ma. But Timon bravely jumps in and completes the tunnel, causing the hyenas to fall through the ground and roll to the bottom of Pride Rock in time to confront Scar. After this, however, they are not seen in the film again.
Hyenas are the main antagonists in The Lion Guard: Return of the Roar and its 2016 inspired television series The Lion Guard. These hyenas are led by Janja and reside in The Outlands. They fight against the Lion Guard, led by Simba's son, Kion. However, a young hyena named Jasiri proves different from the rest when she helps Kion navigate the Outlands.
A group of hyenas attempts to elect a witch doctor for their clan. Their first choice fails to lead them, though their second leader helps them with their timed hunts.
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