Hyena (Spotted)

Crocuta crocuta
Photo by: Chris Mills

Spotted hyena Crocuta crocuta, also known as the “laughing” hyena is the largest of three hyena species collectively called Kòriko or ìkokò in Yoruba. They have a broad head with dark eyes, a thick black muzzle, and large, pointed equally black ears. Their golden yellow, brown, or gray coat has black stripes on the body and legs. Males weigh about 56 to 75 kg while females are about 15 percent heavier. Body length is between 95 to 150 cm from head to tail, and shoulder height is about 75 to 85 cm. They have the strongest jaw of all mammals in proportion to their size. They are fast and can run for long distances without tiring inspite of their walking style which make them seem like they are limping uphill. The cause of this; their front leg, is longer than their hind leg. Spotted hyenas are about the most social carnivorous animal but their clans, reaching up to 80, are not cooperative.

Females have high level of testosterone and genitalia are almost indistinguishable from those of males. Mating is a challenge because of this, but the dominant estrous female lowers her head to signal she will not bite the male, and it is safe for him to mount her. Gestation period is for 90 to 110 days and some of the cubs live up to 25 years when in captivity. Nigerian spotted hyenas are on the verge of extinction.

In Yoruba Gelede dance, hyena mask appears only at dawn to signal the end of a successful ceremony. Hyena is associated with the last part of the dance because it is among other things, a scavenger, showing up to eat what bigger animals like leopard have left behind. Also because the jokes cracked by the masks have been such that even the hyena has come join them in laughing. It signifies the climax of the event and the most appropriate time to call it a day.