What Do Hyenas Eat? Here’s What Hyena’s Prey on, a Guide


Hyenas are well known for their voracious appetites, but do you know what they eat? 

You might be wondering if they eat everything they encounter, even the hooves! Or if they are partial to kings of beasts such as lions and elephants! 

Well if you are curious, you’ve come to the right place!  In this helpful article, I’ll explain all things hyena and their preferred menu! 

Let’s start by looking at the short answer before we delve right into the details. 

Hyenas eat wildebeest, antelope, gemsbok, zebra, impala, and food left from other animals kills. They will also eat larger prey separated from their families, such as young hippos, lions, and elephants. They eat a variety of reptiles, birds, and insects and are the only carnivores to eat hides.

The Spotted Hyena is the largest of the hyena family and is usually the type of hyena that we see in movies and cartoons. 

Its scientific name is Crocuta crocuta. It is also often called the laughing hyena. But what’s on their daily menu?

Let’s find out. 

What do hyenas like to eat? 

Spotted hyenas like many other animals are carnivores. They will eat a wide variety of animals of all types by hunting on their own.

Larger hyena prey

Hyenas are also well known as scavengers and will often eat from the kills of other larger animals like lions. 

These skillful hunters will also take down both medium and large-sized:

  • Wildebeest
  • Antelope
  • Zebra 
  • Impala
  • Gazelles
  • Gemsbok
  • Giraffe
  • Elephants (baby/adolescent)
hyenas track wildebeest
hyenas track wildebeest, Photo by Matthew Essman

Smaller hyena prey

There is a variety of smaller animals that a hyena will predate.

  • Ground birds or bird eggs
  • Rabbits or hares they can catch, or easily dig out.
  • Warthogs
  • Monkeys
  • Foxes
  • Wild dogs
  • Springhare
  • Porcupines
  • Snakes when food is scarce
  • Lizards
  • Jackals
  • Fish
  • Termites and other insects

If food becomes very scarce, then as scavengers, it’s not uncommon for hyenas to eat items outside their regular, preferred diet. These can include garbage, dung from other animals, and even anthrax-infected corpses. Hyenas will also eat vegetables, but not generally vegetation such as grass.

One of the questions I get asked here at Ranger Planet quite often is do hyenas dine out on the king of the jungle

“hyenas also will hunt snakes as an addition to their
diet if their preferred food is scarce..” 

Read on to find out more!

Hyenas eat lions

Although hyenas tend to avoid adult male lions and only set their sights on the younger, and weaker members of the pride, they will eat lions. 

It is fairly rare that hyenas set out to hunt a lion but if they came across a lion alone, for example, hyenas would definitely hunt and eat it.

Find out if Lions eat Hyenas, and what else lions eat here.

Hyenas eat domestic animals 

We all know that hyenas are part of the wild kingdom, but you might be wondering if they ever venture into neighborhoods to find their next meal. 

It has been known for hyenas to venture into semi-urban and rural areas of human habitation in order to find food. This could include cats and dogs.

Following on, some budding rangers out there might also be wondering if a hyena has the power to hunt and eat elephants?

Hyenas would eat wild dogs

Hyenas and wild dogs are natural enemies.

Usually, wild dogs will not engage hyenas in a head-on fight to scare them off unless they have the sheer weight of numbers. The powerful jaws of a hyena, combined with its larger 3 times greater weight, can easily cripple a wild dog. A single hyena can take on 3 or 4 wild dogs to steal their prey.

However, wild dogs are more likely to flee from hyenas. Particularly if there is more than one. Often hyenas will steal any prey that has been taken down by a pack of wild dogs providing they can scare the wild dogs away.

Hyenas eat elephants 

As we saw earlier, hyenas hunt their prey by isolating animals from a herd. They will rarely try to bring down an adult bull elephant as they just don’t have the power, even in a pack, to tackle such a powerful and large creature. 

Hyenas living in sub-Saharan Africa will also avoid very young elephants too as they are protected most fiercely by the herd. 

However, any juvenile, old or weak elephants separated from their families could be

Do hyenas eat each other? 

It seems as if for hyenas nothing is off the menu in terms of their daily diet! So I guess it’s unsurprising to discover that hyenas will eat each other. 

Many animals might be driven to scavenge meat, even that of their own kind, including hyenas, when food or specific nutrients are scarce.

So are you ready for this answer as to what hyenas eat? 

Do hyenas eat humans?

So although we would probably rather not know the answer to this! Hyenas are indeed capable of killing humans.

However, you’ll be pleased to find out that the type of hyena that may attack a human is extremely rare. They are the striped hyena.

These hyenas are listed as threatened by the International Union for Conservation of Nature

They are the smallest of the true hyenas and you can be safe in the knowledge the chances of being eaten by a hyena are extremely rare. 

However, packs of all kinds of hyenas scavenge on corpses and that would include any human remains. 

It’s interesting to discover that the tribal Maasai people of Kenya and Tanzania actually leave their dead to be consumed by hyenas.

Let’s discover a little more about how hyenas eat.

How do hyenas eat?

Hyenas have been known to hunt alone, but they most often hunt in a pack, isolating and chasing down a weak, old or infirm animal from a small group, or a large herd of prey. 

hyenas generally hunt in packs
hyenas generally hunt in packs

Hyenas have to eat quickly 

As the plains of the Savannah where many Hyenas live can often be desolate in terms of food sources, it’s important that hyenas eat very fast as the fastest hyena gets the most food and runs the last risk of having their food taken by lions before eating enough themselves.

So we know that hyenas eat all kinds of food from gazelles to snakes, but do they eat all of it? 

Do hyenas eat everything they kill? 

Many animals can be choosy about what parts of animals they eat whereas others eat all of their prey and some even go on to stock their own larder. 

This is usually a shallow water hole where other predators such as vultures and jackals are unable to steal them away, known as a cache.

Surplus or hen house killing 

We know that hyenas practically invented excessive killing (which is known as surplus killing or henhouse syndrome) which is a pretty common behavior in some animals. It essentially means they kill more than they can eat in one sitting.

This term was coined by a biologist from Holland called Hans Kruuk after he studied the eating habits of African spotted hyenas. 

But it’s worth knowing that they also consume the entirety of their prey. This includes bones and carrion…

Hyenas eat almost all of a carcass 

Hyenas are one of the few animals that can eat every part of a carcass, including the bones. Their powerful jaws and evolved digestive system mean they can crunch through bone and extract the most nutrition from the bones of their prey. But bones only account for a small portion of a hyenas diet.

However, hyenas are not great fans of fur, hair, hooves, or horns and will generally leave those for other scavengers.

They are the only carnivores that can use their powerful teeth and jaws to eat animal hides.

This might explain why they are associated with greed. 

Hyenas have the ability to detect carrion (rotten meat from a carcass) from up to 4 kilometers away. 

“Hyenas are one of the very few animals that can eat
every part of a carcass, including the bones.”

Here’s a qwuick summary table of the prey and food that Hyenas will eat. There are likely variations on some animals, and other types of food, but this is the most complete guide you will find.

Large Hyena PreySmaller Hyena PreyOther Hyena Food
WildebeestGround birdsTermites
AntelopeRabbits or haresOther insects
ZebraharesGarbage
ImpalaWarthogsVegetables
GazelleMonkeysBird eggs
GemsbokFoxes
GiraffeWild dogs
Elephants (baby/adolescent)Porcupines
Lizards
Jackals
Fish
Rodents

And to finish on…

I hope you enjoyed my article on hyenas and the types of food they eat. 

Who knew they eat insects! 

If you are a fan of animals and their diets don’t forget to check out my other helpful articles. Here are some related articles you might like…

What Do Lions Eat

Which Animals Eat a Wolf? or What Do Wolves Eat?

What Eats a Rabbit?

Do lions Live in the Jungle?

What eats a bear

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