Hyenas variety in Vandalur Zoo is a predator and not scavenger

Chennai: In this week’s Zoo Tales featuring Arignar Anna Zoological Park a.k.a. Vandalur zoo, we will see about the spotted hyena, the most carnivorous member of the Hyaenidae family.

Zoo veterinarian Pa Kalaignan said unlike its brown and striped cousins, the spotted hyena is a predator, not a scavenger.

Here at Vandalur zoo, there are around five spotted hyenas at present and three of them were recently brought in from the Mysuru Zoo. “A vast enclosure is provided to these animals so that they can roam freely. Considering their intelligent nature, more protection has been given to their cages,” he said.

The spotted hyena is an active pack hunter of medium- to large-sized ungulates, which it catches by wearing them down in long chases and dismembering them in a canid-like manner.

Talking about the nature of the animals, another veterinarian, Boon Allwin, said although spotted hyenas act aggressively toward each other when feeding, they compete with each other mostly through speed of eating, rather than by fighting as lions do.

“When feeding on an intact carcass, spotted hyenas will first consume the meat around the loins and anal region, then open the abdominal cavity and pull out the soft organs. Once the stomach, its wall and contents are consumed, the hyenas will eat the lungs, abdominal and leg muscles. Once the muscles have been eaten, the carcass is disassembled and the hyenas carry off pieces to eat in peace,” he said.

They have relatively short torsos and are fairly massive and wolf-like in build, but have lower hind quarters, high withers and their backs slope noticeably downward toward their rump. The forelegs are high, while the hind legs are very short and their necks are thick and short. Hyenas mark their territories using their anal glands.

Vocal differences
The spotted hyena is very vocal, producing a number of different sounds consisting of whoops, grunts, groans, lows, giggles, yells, growls, laughs and whines. The striped hyena is comparatively silent, its vocalisations being limited to a chattering laugh and howling.

Mating methods
Mating between hyenas involves a number of short copulations with brief intervals. Spotted hyena cubs are born almost fully developed, with their eyes open and erupting incisors and canines, though lacking adult markings. In contrast, striped hyena cubs are born with adult markings, closed eyes and small ears. Hyenas do not regurgitate food for their young and male spotted hyenas play no part in raising their cubs, though male striped hyenas do.

For next week’s Zoo Tales series, we will be bringing to our readers the adoption programme in the zoo and how people can contribute in maintaining the zoo premises.

Balasubramani Muniyandi