Former pet hyenas make home at zoo

CNJ staff photo: Liliana Castillo A contest to name the new hyenas at the Hillcrest Park Zoo starts today. At 10 months old, the hyenas are about one-third of the size of full-grown adults, zoo clerk Laura Shepler said.

By Sharna Johnson: CNJ staff writer

Timid and still adjusting to their new home, a pair of spotted hyenas at Hillcrest Park Zoo are an unusual addition to the park’s menagerie, according to zookeeper Mark Yanotti.

Yanotti said hyenas are relatively sparse in zoos and Hillcrest is excited to display the pair.

In 2005 there were only 123 spotted hyenas reported to be living in zoos, according to data from the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums.

“They were (raised) on the bottle. They’ve never been around other hyenas,” he said.

Yanotti said they were kept as pets before they were confiscated and taken to an animal park in Texas.

Hillcrest Park Zoo was considering a new animal to exhibit when a zookeeper came across an online ad for the hyenas.

Yanotti said the City Commission granted their request and the cubs were purchased for $9,500. “We rarely buy animals, most of them are donated,” he said.

The pair will be encouraged to breed, Yanotti said, and if successful, their cubs sold.

“We’re not going to count on it, (but) it would be nice to help generate some funding for the zoo through them,” he said.

The 10-month-olds arrived in early October and occupy a habitat near the entrance to the park.

Yanotti said hyenas are tough and capable hunters, but they’re also opportunists known for chasing off predators to steal their prey.

Though naturally hyenas live in female-dominated clan societies, the Clovis pair is still developing and the male has been the more assertive of the two, he said.

The female has been more reserved, according to Yanotti.

“He’s running things now, but that will change soon. “She will be top dog, she will put him in his place,” Yanotti said.

“I’m afraid he better enjoy it while he can.”

Name the hyenas

The new hyenas at Hillcrest Park Zoo do not have names. The zoo has teamed with the Clovis News Journal for a contest to name the cubs.

The resident with the winning submission will earn a one-year family membership to the zoo and a three-month subscription to the CNJ.

A three-person committee — two from the zoo and one from the newspaper — will select the winning entry.

Three ways to enter:



Mail: Hillcrest Park Zoo
P.O. Box 760
Clovis N.M. 88101

Deadline for submissions is Nov. 30, the winner will be announced Dec. 9.

Hyena trivia

Habitat — They range
throughout most of Africa south of the Sahara. They once lived in South Africa but were eliminated in much of that region. They prefer open country, even semi-desert, and are rarely found in forested areas.

Size — They have a body length of 22–66 inches and have a height of 28–37 inches at the shoulder. Adults weigh 120–189 pounds. Females are larger than males.

Lifespan — About 20 years in the wild and up to 41 years in captivity.

Reproduction — Males are
sexually mature at 3 years old, females later. Gestation lasts a little less than four months with one to four per pregnancy. Newborns are black and weigh about 3 pounds. Unlike most carnivores, hyenas are born with their eyes open, many of their teeth fully formed, and can even pull
themselves along the ground with their front paws.

Family — The spotted hyena lives in a clan, which can have as many as 80 individuals. A clan is under the leadership of a dominant (alpha) female.

Gender — Hyenas are often referred to as hermaphrodites because females have reproductive organs that appear very similar to male hyenas.

Laughing — A noisy animal, the hyena’s sound is often described as a cackle, or “laugh.” It has given rise to their nickname of “laughing hyenas.”