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A clever carnivore

In popular culture, hyenas are characterized as cowardly, villainous scavengers, but that’s far from the truth. Hyenas can hold their own—in fact, most of their diet is the result of their own hunting prowess. When they aren’t hunting, they are known to drive leopards and lionesses off from their kills.

The ABQ BioPark Zoo’s male hyena, Dubu, demonstrates that great hyena hunting expertise by occasionally catching hawks in his yard.

Dubu was born at the University of California at Berkeley’s research colony in 2003—this is where Disney animators observed hyena behavior in preparation for The Lion King. He came to Albuquerque in 2004. Smilla, a female born at Sunset Zoo in Manhattan, Kan., joined Dubu in early 2016. Although both Dubu and Smilla had no prior experience with the opposite sex (Dubu grew up with his brother and Smilla grew up with her sister), they were introduced slowly and now are together. 

In hyena societies, even the lowest ranking female outranks the highest male, so Smilla is the boss. 

Hyenas are typically shy around humans and Dubu is suspicious of newcomers. But once a zookeeper earns his trust, they’re tight. He can even differentiate between keepers and enjoys human company. Smilla, on the other hand, is more outgoing. Zookeepers said she likes interacting with keepers through the fence and loves attention. 

Spotted hyenas are very intelligent. In fact, one study found that the animal outperforms chimpanzees when it comes to cooperative problem solving. Dubu has demonstrated his problem-solving skills by using his brain power to figure out how to snatch a quail from a tree—first, he stands on a nearby rock or log and then he strategizes the best way to tug it down.

Hyena keepers make sure to keep Smilla and Dubu busy with enrichment activities. Hidden food items in the hyena habitat encourage the two to use their sense of smell and work for their food.

Other enrichment activities include food/scents hidden inside cardboard boxes and hard plastic items in their yard.

Dubu and Smilla exercise their strong jaws each afternoon with a bone and Dubu also enjoys chewing on logs or branches.    

Did you know?

  • Although that characteristic “whoop” vocalization may sound demonic, it's actually a greeting. The "laughing" vocalization is used to communicate excitement.
  • Spotted hyenas are highly social, living in clans of up to 80 individuals. Their societies are also highly complex.
  • Many people mistake hyenas for canines, but they are actually more closely related to cats, mongoose and fossa.