The striped hyena – a true scavenger
Striped hyenas are true scavengers. They eat on carrion, usually of large ungulates. They compete more with jackals for food. Because of their ability to crack and fully digest bones – something that jackals cannot – they separate their niche.
They are the only extant hyena living outside of Africa, occurring in Arabian peninsula, Middle and Central Asia and the Indian subcontinent. However, they are absent from South Africa where the brown hyena occurs. Since both species are of similar size and diet, their competition would be to high for a overlapping regional range.
Striped hyenas also hunt on smaller ungulates, such as duikers, suni, Kirk’s dik-dik and even steinboks1. Hyraxes, hares, bats, rodents and small reptiles were also hunted 1.
Foraging and diet
The foraging behaviour of the striped hyena is not studied in every detail. Mostly they are described as scavengers feeding on carrion in a variable state of composition.1 However, they are also reported to kill domestic animals such as sheep1, horse2 and donkeys3, as well as smaller vertebrates4. In case of donkeys, it was observed that striped hyenas prefer the flesh around the anus and the hindquarters5, different then spotted hyenas focusing on loins of their prey first6.
Most studies on their diet are based on scat analyses. In the case of scat analyses, the droppings are collected and hairs, feathers and scales are classified. In this way, it remains open if the consumed animals are killed by the hyena as fresh prey, or if they were found as carrion.
In a study from 2010/2011 in Sariska Tiger Reserve, Western India, striped hyenas were mainly feeding on Nilgai and domestic cattle (49%) followed by sambar (17.14%), chital (16.19%) and vegetative matter (10.48%)7.
Striped hyenas in Nepal are mainly eating on wild boar, hares and Rhesus Macaque8. Domestic animals such as goats, sheep and dog and cow were also found in their scats8.
In Gir National Park and Sanctuary (GNPS), western India, 63.91% of the diet of striped hyena wild prey items were with 20.94% representation in scats the most important food resource, followed by domestic prey and 3.31% by birds9. Most scats contained hares (Lepus nigricollis), Sambar (Rusa unicolor), Buffalo (Bubalus arnee) and squirrels (Funambulu spalmarum)9. However, vegetable and insects contributed 9.92% and 1.93%, respectively9.
In the Serengeti, striped hyenas are reported to scavenge from lions and other predators mainly on buffalo, zebra, wild beast, kongoni, topi, Grant’s gazella, Thomson’s gazella,
Impala, and dikdik5. In the forested areas, they focus more on hunting on small animals such as hares, springhare, rodents, shrews, lizard, snake, tortoise (reptiles) and birds5.
Vegetables like the Balanites aegyptica fruit in Africa6 as well as the Zizyphus spp. In India9 are also part of their diet and in generally striped hyenas are recorded to have a more omnivorous diet then spotted hyenas4,5.
Although striped hyenas can fill the niche of spotted hyenas, they are much slower than them. Spotted hyenas could process a carcass of an eland within 100 hours10 but a study on striped hyenas show they required 912 hours11.
Human remains are also part of the scavenging behaviour, most likely coming from graves Horwitz and Smith 1988.
Today, the only Hyaenid species is present in Eurasia, is Hyaena hyaena. The species has a wide biogeographical range expanding from North and East Africa, the Middle East, the Caucasus, Central Asia and the Indian subcontinent 2,12.
Earliest striped hyaenas are found in the East African deposits of the Usno Formation and Shungura B10 deposits of the Omo Valley and Makapangskat both of age around 3.0 Ma 13,14. The species from then on also occurs in deposits in West Turkana and Olduvai 13,15,16. The species also spread into South Africa, where it is found in 1.7 Ma old deposits of sites of Kromdraai B and Swartkrans 17,18.
The species is described for several Pleistocene sites in Europe, like Hollabrunn 19, the Furninha Cave in Portugal 20 and Genista Caves in Gibraltar 21. However, some of the material was originally assigned to Hyaena hyaena prisca 19,20, which is considered to be Pliocrocuta perrieri by some authors 12,22.
However, the striped hyaena (Hyaena hyaena) is not recorded for the Pleistocene in Asia. Therefore, the Pachycrocuta brevirostris and Crocuta crocuta ultima were both found in numerous sites in Southeast Asia.
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