VOICES Voices Icon Ideas and Insight From Explorers


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.”