Hyenas Kill Two, Injure Six

Tram2/Creative Commons

Two children killed in hyena attack

"A pack of hyenas has attacked a family in Kenya, killing two children and injuring six others.

A 10-year-old boy mauled in the attack last week has been airlifted to a hospital in Nairobi for specialised treatment"

Kenya is home to three different species of hyena. The brown hyena has been implicated in only one attack on a human that I know of. The striped hyena is an occasional predator of human children. This case, however, looks like the work of the far more dangerous spotted hyena, a significant predator of humans. There have been other, similar cases of spotted hyenas attacking entire families and even refugee encampments to take several victims at once. Sometimes this species stages a prolonged attack, even in the face of armed opposition. The injured boy sustained serious facial damage. That, too, is a trademark of the spotted hyena, which sometimes uses its powerful jaws to remove face, limbs, or genitals and eat them, not necessarily as part of further predation. 

Related Posts: 
Cannibal Attack in Perspective (including choice quotes about facial injuries caused by spotted hyenas)
Hyenas Maul 17
What Eats People, Part 15: Spotted Hyenas
Spotted Hyena Attack

Thanks to Dee for the tip.


  1. The spotted hyena's "creep factor" is, I think, due in a large proportion to its superficial resemblance to a dog. Even to those of us who know perfectly well that hyenas are really their own family--well, speaking for myself--a hyena looks like an 8-year-old kid's rendition of a mean dog, suddenly given life. Together with the eerie laughter and whooping, the fact that hyenas genuinely see humans as food and evidently missed the memo about how all animals are supposed to be afraid of man, and their habit of "sampling" instead of having the common decency to kill you outright like a big cat, this goes a long way to ensure that they will never be voted Most Popular Animal of the Month.

    On the other hand--not that I think hyenas make appropriate housepets, that's one even I would never test out!--records show that both spotted and striped hyenas can be tamed easily if taken as cubs; so far as I know there are fewer horror stories of them "turning"--i.e., being themselves--in captivity as compared to wolves and cats. The attacks by zoo animals cited in Deadly Kingdom are the only ones I've heard of. One wonders if things had gone a little differently 40 or 50,000 years back, we might all have hyenas snoring at our feet instead of dogs!

  2. Maybe there's a reporting bias. In North America, a dog badly hurting a person is a news story. In Africa, where animals harming people is not seen as an inversion of the natural order, perhaps an attack by a pet isn't so newsworthy? I don't know. I have seen pictures of pet spotted hyenas in heavy muzzles and harnesses. If those are typical, it makes me suspect the owners are being realistic about the how tame the hyena really is. (On the other hand, I've also seen photos of spotties playing with children. . . )

    One important factor in the taming of wolves is the way they interact with each other as cubs--they imprint on den-mates and thereafter show at least some loyalty to them, much as humans usually remain loyal to their sibs. Young hyenas are far more competitive, even to the point of killing each other.

  3. A possibility too is simply lack of opportunity--most of us have fantasized ourselves as the second Gunther Gebel-Williams and daydreamed about owning a wolf or big cat (granted, in these fantasies the animal is always more like Akela or Bagheera than a real, living wolf or leopard) but fewer people find hyenas attractive and want to keep them as pets, so the only people apt to find themselves dealing with these animals in Europe or America are qualified zoo personnel or researchers who respect the animal...and its capacity for mayhem.

  4. That's true. I've never heard of anybody wanting a pet hyena, but plenty want (and sometimes get) wolves or exotic cats as pets.

    1. I must be one of the few people in the world who thinks hyenas are actually cute animals.
      In the local zoo, they keep striped hyenas and they are adorable and very tame when little, but when adult they are just too umpredictable to be trusted; they seem as peaceful as any old family dog most of the time, and some visitors would actually try to pet them through the fence. I think I spent more time dealing with dumb visitors in front of the hyena cage than around any other exhibit, telling them to keep their hands out if they planned on using them ever again.
      I also tried to convince the bosses of moving the hyenas to a safer, better enclosure (a pit rather than a cage) but to date, they haven´t done so.

    2. I have to admit I don't find them very attractive, though the spotted ones seem even less attractive than the striped.

      I was interested in the case of the woman who was attacked by a spotted hyena while sleeping and at first thought she was seeing some sort of primate. She said its toes seemed somewhat prehensile. I suspect, for many of us Westerners at least, the hyena's creepiness has something to do with its failure to fit categories.

    3. Ooh yeah I remember that bit from Deadly Kingdom :>

      I think you may be right. Many people have told me that they think hyenas look like "unfinished" animals. When I tell people that hyenas have scored as high as primates in some intelligence tests, it doesn´t seem to improve their image much; if anything, makes them creepier to some.

      Speaking of hyenas, have you read The Life of Pi? The movie version is coming later this year. It has a spotted hyena as one of the "characters" as well as a Bengal tiger. One of my favorite recent books.

  5. Striped hyenas are actually very handsome animals, and I've always had kind of a soft spot for browns after reading Cry of the Kalahari when I was a kid. It's amazing to see how diverse the hyena family was in prehistoric times--they ranged from coon-size to the size of a lioness, all with different niches and specialties.

    1. Agreed. I am particularly curious about Chasmaporthetes, the "running hyena" that made it to North America. Also, some of the larger hyenas and hyena-like animals were just tremendous; Dinocrocuta has always and will always remind me of those wargs from the Lord of the Rings movie.

    2. My first exposure to hyenas was a Tarzan comic book my aunt gave me when I was a child. Tarzan and his friends are attacked by hyenadons, which the creators portrayed as giant spotted hyenas. (I believe they're actually not even related to hyenas.) Tarzan even does the Louis Leaky bit and wounds one hyenadon so its fellows will pause to eat it.

  6. As if to confirm our findings, my wife just told me one of her co-workers found the cover of Book of Deadly Animals disturbing because the hyena "looks like a human face plastered on a dog."

    I haven't read Life of Pi, though several people have recommended it to me. I hope to try it. . . some day. . .

  7. The hyaenodons were not only not related to the hyenas of today, they were part of a totally different line of carnivores--the creodonts, which on the phylogenetic scale are closer to the things our hyenas eat! According to reconstructions I've seen of these beasts, they make the spotted hyena look like Lassie. It must be the cryptozoologist in me, but I always have to speculate on what the world would be like if some of the old-timers had survived down to the present...(I actually have a novel in progress on that same theme.)


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