One of Africa's most evocative sounds has to be the long whoop of a hyena in the dead of night. It is spine chilling and adds to the Hyenas' reputation as a harbinger of evil.
Many of the misconceptions surrounding hyenas were laid to rest in studies done in Botswana. Considered by most people to be skulking scavengers due to a reputation brought on by misunderstandings of their behaviour, and their generally nocturnal wanderings, hyenas have been found to be of the most successful hunters amongst the top predators. In fact hyenas are known to kill more than lions do, and it is the lions that are the bigger scavengers in many cases.
The animosity between hyenas and lions was not fully understood until the groundbreaking documentary 'Eternal Enemies' was filmed in Savuti. It tells of the bitter feud between these two top predators.
Although hyenas are top predators in their own right they still scavenge a great deal. Including in this scavenging is the stealing of kills from other predators. A family of 5 cheetahs in Savuti eventually moved out of the area due to the constant harassment by hyenas. The hyenas would follow the cheetahs on a hunt and when a kill was made the hyenas would move in and steal the kill.
Hyenas have a strict matriarchal clan system where one female is in control with other females at various social levels below her. An interesting fact is that the young take on the social standing of the mother. If the mother dies the young loses its social standing.
A clan that I was monitoring at Nxabega in the Okavango Delta was involved in a skirmish with lions and the matriarch was killed. Her cub, which was almost 10 months old, was set upon by the others and eventually it moved away and took up residence under the main building of the lodge where it became an attraction - although somewhat of a nuisance.