Most of us were probably first introduced to the hyena from the classic Disney movie, The Lion King. Who could forget the goofy spotted hyena trio, Shenzi, Banzai, and Ed who served as Scar’s followers? Although this was an animated movie created for entertaining people of all ages, there are actually some striking similarities between the spotted hyena trio in the movie and the new spotted hyena trio at the Oakland Zoo.
First off, this new trio of spotted hyenas came to us through the Berkeley Hyena Center, where a team of UC Berkeley researchers were studying a large colony. The Oakland Zoo’s Director of Animal Care, Conservation, and Research heard about this research program possibly facing funding cuts and jumped on the opportunity to make the Zoo a permanent home for these spotted hyenas.
Like the trio of hyenas in The Lion King, the Zoo’s is also made up of one female and two males and happens to be the same species of hyena (there are four different species). This is fitting considering spotted hyenas are matriarchal, meaning females dominate the group and are also larger in size than males. Our female hyena is named Harley and the males are Tusker and Ozzie. One might look at the hyena and instantly compare it to man’s best friend, the canine. However, hyenas are actually more closely related to the cat (Felidae) family than the dog (Canidae) family. Also contrary to popular belief, hyenas do not just scavenge or steal their food from other predators, but in fact, are decent hunters themselves and often have larger predators, such as the lion, stealing prey from them. Unlike the movie in which the hyenas communicate and serve a lion, Scar, the two species are actually opponents in the wild. These animals have really strong jaws that are actually able to crush through bone. As far as that unique hyena laugh goes, it is used when the animal is anxious or uncomfortable. Last, but not least, the spotted hyena is a crepuscular animal which means they are most active during dusk or dawn and spend a lot of their day sleeping.
The spotted hyena is a very unique animal and Zoo staffers, visitors, and media outlets have greatly enjoyed watching these new additions thus far. So gather the kids and come on down to the Oakland Zoo and visit Harley, Tusker, and Ozzie in the African Village.