Denver Zoo is now the new home of three Spotted Hyena cubs! Kelele (keh-LAY-lay), a male born on June 26, arrived from the Buffalo Zoo on July 31. On August 1, two unnamed females, born June 11, arrived from Kapi’yva Exotics, a private facility in Houston, Texas, that specializes in the propagation of rare and endangered species. The cubs must first pass a mandatory, month-long quarantine before visitors can see them.
The three cubs arrived at Denver Zoo through recommendations of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) Species Survival Plan (SSP), which ensures healthy populations and genetic diversity among zoo animals. The female cubs’ parents and Kelele’s mother are all from Africa, making their genetics extremely valuable to the North American population as they are unrelated to most other hyenas in U.S. zoos.
“These animals are critical to the survival of Spotted Hyenas in AZA-accredited zoos, and we have been working to bring more hyenas to Denver Zoo for at least two years,” says Denver Zoo’s Curator of Large Mammals, Hollie Colahan. “This is a great example of cooperation between an AZA zoo, a private facility, and Denver Zoo to support the SSP's goals for a sustainable population.”
Kelele, named after the Swahili word for “noisy,” was born to a mother that historically has not cared for her cubs. Zookeepers have been hand-rearing him and wanted to provide him with a clan with which to socialize. Arrangements were then made to have him join the two female cubs, which had already been scheduled to arrive at Denver Zoo. This is very similar to how hyena cubs grow up in the wild. A mother will place her cub with others of various ages in a communal den. The cubs will then only come out to nurse until they are older.
Long reviled and misrepresented, the Spotted Hyena is one of the most misunderstood mammals on the planet. They are commonly thought of as unintelligent scavengers. However, ongoing research has shown that Spotted Hyena are actually one of the most intelligent mammals in the world. Spotted Hyenas are also skilled hunters. Although they scavenge carcass remnants left behind by other carnivores, Spotted Hyenas’ cooperative hunting strategies have proven to be some of the most successful in the animal world, even more successful than lions!
Spotted Hyenas are the largest of the four species of hyena, with adults standing almost 3-feet-tall at the shoulder. They have yellowish-brown fur with irregular oval spots, a bushy tail along with large ears and eyes, and a short erectile mane on their neck. Their jaws are the most powerful in proportion to their size of any mammal.
They are sometimes called “laughing hyenas” due to the unusual “cackle” sound, which is unique to Spotted Hyena. This is just one of their many communication techniques, including whoops and yells and body postures.
Spotted Hyenas are mostly found in the grasslands of sub-Saharan Africa. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) classifies Spotted Hyenas as “least concern,” but their numbers are declining due to hunting, trapping and poisoning.
All three cubs arrived on flights accompanied by a Denver Zoo keeper and staff member.