The striped hyena (Hyaena hyaena) is a species of Hyaena native to North and East Africa, the Middle East, the Caucasus, Central Asia and the Indian subcontinent. It is listed by the IUCN as near-threatened, as the global population is estimated to be under 10,000 mature individuals which continues to experience deliberate and incidental persecution along with a decrease in its prey base such that it may come close to meeting a continuing decline of 10% over the next three generations.
It is the smallest of the true hyenas and retains many primitive viverrid characteristics lost in larger species, having a smaller and less specialised skull. Though primarily a scavenger, large specimens have been known to kill their own prey, and attacks on humans have occurred on rare instances. The striped hyena is a monogamous animal, with both males and females assisting one another in raising their cubs. A nocturnal animal, the striped hyena typically only emerges in complete darkness, and is quick to return to its lair before sunrise. Though it has a habit of feigning death when attacked, it has also been known to stand its ground against larger predators such as leopards in disputes over food.
The striped hyena features prominently in Middle Eastern and Asian folklore. In some areas, its body parts are considered magical, and are used as charms or talismans. It is mentioned in the Hebrew Bible, where it is referred to as tzebua or zevoa, though the species is absent in some Bible translations into English.
The striped hyena has a fairly massive, but short torso set on long legs. The hind legs are significantly shorter than the forelimbs, thus causing the back to slope downwards. The legs are relatively thin and weak, with the forelegs being bent at the carpal region. The neck is thick, long and largely immobile, while the head is heavy and massive with a shortened facial region. The eyes are small, while the sharply pointed ears are very large, broad and set high on the head. Like all hyenas, the striped hyena has bulky pads on its paws, as well as blunt but powerful claws. The tail is short and the terminal hairs do not descend below the calcaneal tendon. The striped hyena lacks the enlarged clitoris and false scrotal sack noted in the female genitalia of the spotted hyena. The female has 3 pairs of teats. Adult weight can range from 22 to 55 kg (49 to 121 lb), averaging at about 35 kg (77 lb). Body length can range from 85 to 130 cm (33 to 51 in), not counting a tail of 25 to 40 cm (9.8 to 15.7 in), and shoulder height is between 60–80 cm (24–31 in). The male has a large pouch of naked skin located at the anal opening. Large anal glands open into it from above the anus. Several sebaceous glands are present between the openings of the anal glands and above them. The anus can be everted up to a length of 5 cm, and is everted during social interaction and mating. When attacked, the striped hyena everts its rectum and sprays a pungent smelling liquid from its anal glands. Its eyesight is acute, though its senses of smell and hearing are weak.
The skull is entirely typical of the genus, having a very high sagittal crest, a shortened facial region and an inflated frontal bone. The skull of the striped hyena differs from that of the brown and spotted hyena by its smaller size and slightly less massive build. It is nonetheless still powerfully structured and well adapted to anchoring exceptionally strong jaw muscles which give it enough bite-force to splinter a camel's thigh bone. Although the dentition is overall smaller than that of the spotted hyena, the upper molar of the striped hyena is far larger.