Hyenas are fascinating and highly intelligent creatures from the carnivore suborder Feliformia which contains cats, civets, and mongooses. Essentially closer to cats than dogs, these creatures with fearsome jaws are unique creatures with problem-solving skills and complex social interactions. As they appear similar to dogs, some people ask, can hyenas be tamed?
Hyenas can be tamed if raised from puppyhood, but they will not be domesticated. Hyenas are wild creatures who have not adapted to human companionship like our dogs which evolved over 27,000 to 40,000 years. Hyenas still exhibit genetic tendencies that make them unpredictable.
One can tame most wild creatures if one encounters them in their younger years. However, problems arise when the animal matures and exhibits its prey drive and instincts. If you wish to have a hyena as a pet, here are some reasons why you should not tame a hyena.
Can I Tame a Hyena?
Although you can tame a hyena if you raise the animal from a pup, it is not a practical idea. Although hyenas may look like domesticated dogs, they are entirely different creatures with closer genetic links to the cat family. These are wild creatures with specialized needs and care.
One should instead ask, “Should hyenas be tamed?” and the answer would be a resounding “No!” Here are some reasons why taming a hyena is a bad idea.
Hyenas Have Specialized Feeding Needs
According to expert sources, a typical hyena needs around 3.8-4 kgs of meat every day. Their specialized digestive systems are primarily meat-based and unlike the domesticated dog.
Our domesticated dogs developed specialized digestive enzymes that allow them to digest typical human diets such as wheat and gluten. The hyena has no such adaptation, so commercial feeds would not provide adequate nutrition, nor would their meat-based digestive systems cope with such food.
A spotted hyena may consume up to 14.5kg of meat in one sitting, also an adaptation. Unlike lions who compete for food through fighting, hyenas use eating speed to compete when hunting in packs.
The logistics and cost of feeding a tamed hyena are prohibitive, with an excess of 120kgs of raw meat per month. Prospective ”owners” of this wild creature would need to ensure a continuous meat supply.
Hyenas Have a Deadly Bite Force
Although many people believe that hyenas are primarily scavengers, they are also skilled hunters who often make their own kills. However, their jaws are adapted to make the most of discarded kills of other predators.
Hyenas have dual-purpose teeth that allow them to tear flesh and crush bone and their jaw muscles give them an exceptional bite force. Just under alligators, great whites, and polar bears, hyena bite forces measure in at an estimated 1,100 pounds per square inch.
Being wild creatures, a single bite from a hyena may have devastating consequences for their keepers. Hyenas in Malawi and Uganda have frequently preyed on humans over the years, as well as hyenas in parts of India and turkey.
Unlike our dogs which have undergone significant adaptive behavioral changes from their wild ancestors, even a tame hyena is fundamentally wild. These genetic-based behaviors make them unpredictable and potentially dangerous.
Hyenas and Scent Glands
Hyenas have quite an unpleasant odor likened to cheap soap, burning, or mulch. Hyenas have a large pouch of bare skin between the anal glands and above them. These glands produce a creamy secretion or ”hyena butter”, which they paste on grass and foliage as their chemical signature to other hyenas.
This pungent odor may be off-putting for those in close contact with their ”tame” hyena, which one would not encounter in domesticated dogs or cats. Scientists have found that it is a form of bacteria in the anal pouch that produces the scent and not the hyenas themselves.
Hyenas Need Extensive Space to Thrive
Studies on the behavior of spotted hyenas show that their intelligence rivals higher primates such as chimpanzees. Hyenas have complex social interactions and are capable of the same types of problem-solving as primates.
In the wild, hyenas have territories between 40 km² km to100 km². Taming a hyena would involve not only ample space but a reinforced security perimeter as these creatures are born problem solvers and escape easily from confinement.
Some studies report hyenas manipulating tools to achieve their ends, making them extremely difficult to keep confined. Hyena’sHyena’s owners” would not only need a large area to keep their hyenas ethically but would also need to ensure the perimeter was entirely secure and tamper-free.
Taming Hyena Pups Dooms them to a Life of Captivity
Once you have tamed a hyena pup, you are effectively dooming the creature to a life of captivity. Spotted hyenas bond deeply with their mothers, who are typically the matriarchs of their clan. Hyena pups have extended puppyhood of up to a year, and a half, allowing them to learn how to hunt, scavenge and avoid predation in the wild.
The strong social cohesion and complex social interactions ready the younger pups to become functioning adults in the wild. Depriving a hyena pup of this time in the wild will doom the poor creature to captivity as they will not survive in the wild.
Often people who take in young wild creatures do not understand the future consequences of their actions and the specialized care the animal requires as an adult.
There have often been cases when adult hyenas have been euthanized when the owners could no longer care for the creature. A simple release into the wild has many implications and maybe a death sentence to a tame hyena. Partially domesticated hyenas may also introduce pathogens to the wild that put other hyenas at risk.
Beyond the practicalities of space, security, and extensive feedings regimens, there remains the question of ethics. Deciding to tame a wild creature is capricious at best and dooms the animal to unnatural life. Hyenas need space to roam and society of their own kind to live their best life, and to deprive them of that life is not a decision to undertake lightly.