One of the most common questions I get about my research is, “Can you REALLY recognize all the different hyenas you study?” The answer is yes, but it takes a while to get good at individually identifying animals! There are several ways we tell our hyenas apart…
The first clues we use are a hyena’s body shape and coloration. Male hyenas look quite different from females; their bodies are smaller and skinnier. This lets us immediately determine whether a hyena is male or female. Coloration is also really helpful in being able to tell who's who! Hyenas’ color ranges from blonde to red to dark brown, and their spots can be anywhere from barely noticeable to extremely dark.
The second way we can recognize hyenas is by their spots. After a hyena develops its spots, the pattern never changes. Once we learn what a hyena’s spots look like, we can recognize it for the rest of its life!
Finally, hyenas often suffer ear injuries due to aggression from others. This damage can range from tiny slits in their ears to huge chunks of missing skin, and it lasts forever! We often use hyenas’ ear damage to help us tell different individuals apart.
The pictures above are of two different hyenas, ET (a female) and Alum (a male). Their body shapes, coloration, spot patterns, and ears all help us to tell them apart. Could you recognize these hyenas again?