Hyenas Laughing Again in New York

The hyena’s cackle can curdle the blood when it is heard in the African wilderness. It is the sound of one of the continent’s most efficient hunters. Even lions have been observed to flee in terror when faced by a pack of determined hyenas.

Now the hyena’s “laugh” may be heard in New York–at least in the neighborhood of the Bronx Zoo.


Photo by Julie Larsen Maher © WCS

“More than 30 years have passed since hyenas have been part of the Bronx Zoo,” said Jim Breheny, director of the Bronx Zoo and Senior Vice President of the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Living Institutions. (WCS operates the Bronx Zoo.) “We are pleased to have hyena back at the zoo so that our visitors can get a glimpse of these amazing creatures and learn more about their importance to the ecosystem.”

Two spotted hyenas recently joined the lions, gazelles, zebras and other wildlife in the zoo’s African Plains exhibit.

The hyenas are male and female siblings born in March 2008, at the Denver Zoo. The female’s name is Kubwa (Swahili for “big” because her head is bigger than the male’s) and the male is Kidogo (Swahili for “small,” since he has the smaller head). Kubwa weighs approximately 91 lbs. and Kidogo is 75 lbs.

“Most people associate the hyena with its raucous vocalizations that earned it the nickname ‘laughing hyena,’ WCS said in a statement. “However, it is no laughing matter for the hyena’s prey in the wild, as spotted hyenas are serious hunters. These predators are the largest members of the hyena family and live in sub-Saharan Africa on savannahs and open woodlands.”

While spotted hyena are not considered endangered, their habitat is under increased pressure from human incursion, WCS added. “There has been a great decrease in the hyena population of western Africa. The Wildlife Conservation Society has a strong presence in Africa, including Southern Sudan where hyenas roam in the wild.”

Changing Planet

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More than forty years in U.S., UK, and South African media gives David Max Braun global perspective and experience across multiple storytelling platforms. His coverage of science, nature, politics, and technology has been published/broadcast by the BBC, CNN, NPR, AP, UPI, National Geographic, TechWeb, De Telegraaf, Travel World, and Argus South African Newspapers. He has published two books and won several journalism awards. In his 22-year career at National Geographic he was VP and editor in chief of National Geographic Digital Media, and the founding editor of the National Geographic Society blog, hosting a global discussion on issues resonating with the Society's mission and initiatives. He also directed the Society side of the Fulbright-National Geographic Digital Storytelling Fellowship, awarded to Americans seeking the opportunity to spend nine months abroad, engaging local communities and sharing stories from the field with a global audience. A regular expert on National Geographic Expeditions, David also lectures on storytelling for impact. He has 120,000 followers on social media: Facebook  Twitter  LinkedIn