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Best Places to See Hyena in Africa

The hot spots to be able to find these fascinating creatures in all their different forms around Africa



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Published on

23 Feb 2024

Updated on

27 Feb 2024

Hyena blog

With their unique appearance and infamous laugh, hyenas are one of Africa's most fascinating carnivores to observe on safari. Despite being often misaligned (thanks Disney!) hyenas are vital components of the ecosystem and play a crucial role in maintaining balance within the food chain.

Africa is home to three distinct true hyena species: the spotted hyena, brown hyena, and striped hyena.

Spotted hyena scanning

The spotted hyena is the largest, most common and wide-ranging species. They live in large, complex matriarchal clans of up to 80 members strong which cooperate to bring down impressive prey like wildebeest, with the species actually being a very strong hunter rather than sole scavenger. Spotted hyenas are highly adaptable, occupying savanna, woodland and forest habitats. They are as at home in Kenya and Tanzania as they are in South Africa and Zambia Their infamous "laughing" can be heard for miles and marks the soundtrack to many memorable African nights.

In contrast, the striped hyena is far more solitary and dwells primarily in drier areas of northern and eastern Africa closer to fringes of the Sahara Desert. They rarely congregate in groups over two or three. Striped hyenas rely more on foraging and earn their name from the horizontal black stripes along their legs.

Striped Hyena Kenya
Striped hyena

Lastly, the shy brown hyena resides exclusively in southern Africa, especially the Kalahari region in Botswana and the deserts of Namibia. They form small clans, communicate via eerie whooping calls at night and scavenge well-hidden carcasses other predators leave behind. Weighing up to 45 kilos, brown hyenas feature distinct shaggy dark brown coats and vertical striped legs.

So, while often lumped under one moniker, Africa's hyena species exhibit wonderful uniqueness in their social structuring, vocalizations, hunting adaptations and favoured habitats - adding enriching biodiversity across Africa!

Getting a glimpse of any of these animals in the wild is a memorable experience. In this post, we detail the prime hyena viewing hotspots across Africa. Whether you’re looking to photograph these misunderstood creatures or simply want to watch them interact within their unique family dynamics, use this guide to plan an incredible hyena safari adventure.

Tuli Safari Lodge Hyena
Spotted Hyena

Masai Mara - Africa’s Premier Spot for Spotted Hyenas

With impressive spotted hyena populations far exceeding any other protected wilderness area, Kenya’s fabulous Masai Mara Game Reserve rightfully earns recognition as the greatest place on Earth to regularly observe these massively captivating predators, thriving close to vehicles and exhibiting brilliant natural behaviours in their habitat.

This protected game reserve forms the northern section of the Serengeti-Mara ecosystem, home to Africa's highest density of lions...and plentiful hyenas feasting on their leftovers. Out on daily game drives, sightings occur reliably for one of Africa’s most resilient pack hunter species. During an early morning game drive, sighting a dozen spotted hyenas heading back to their dens after a night of hunting is common in the Mara.

Hyenas and lion masai mara kenya
Hyena face off with a lion

The Mara ecosystem supports enormous hyena clan densities as abundant resident herd populations guarantee the spotted hyenas’ crucial prey base stays well fed year-round. Towering giraffe carcasses draw intense feeding frenzies from Mara hyena clans aggressively defending meal tickets. Even lion prides seem wary intervening in hyena squabbles clinging around recent kill sites. The area's gentle landscape dotted with distinctive flat-topped acacia trees allows safari-goers phenomenal visibility into the spotted hyenas complex hierarchical society structure and communal living display while back dropped by picturesque endless savannah grassland vistas.

For the best chance of observing these predators up close on a kill, visit the Mara in July-October during the annual Great Migration. Stay in one of the lodges within the park such as charming Governor's Camp to be serenaded at night by the hyena’s laugh.

Spotted hyena kenya
Two spotted hyena

Serengeti National Park – Epic Gatherings Amidst Famous Migration

Bordering the Masai Mara to the south, Tanzania's legendary Serengeti National Park contains equally exceptional hyena sightings across its sprawling, wildlife-rich landscape. The iconic annual Great Migration of wildebeest and zebra makes this rugged landscape covering over 5,700 square miles of protected woodlands and grassland the greatest stage on Earth to witness Africa’s top carnivore predators, like the spotted hyena, following walking buffets speeding through park territories. As over 1.5 million wildebeest and zebra travel in clockwise fashion between the Mara and Serengeti, spotted hyena clans trail in pursuit, hunting stragglers separated from safety of giant thundering herds marching across open plains towards fresh grazing.

Hyenas on kill Masai mara
Spotted hyena on a kill

Guides frequently locate spotted hyenas lounging around at dens during daylight hours for visitors to observe. For prime hyena action on the hunt, visit from May to July during calving season.

The Serengeti is also one of the best places to see the reclusive striped hyena. A rare sighting anywhere, these nocturnal scavengers still maintain a solid distribution in Northern Tanzania. Despite this, any viewing is subject to luck and are normally chance encounters with an individual foraging at night, or local dens may give them away and boost your chances of a glimpse of one of these beautiful creatures.

Striped Hyena East Africa
Striped Hyena

Kruger National Park – High Density Scavenging Specialists

In South Africa, the enormous Kruger National Park contains the country’s greatest density of wild hyenas and reliability for sightings. All three hyena species roam Kruger, with spotted hyenas encountered most frequently. Hundreds of residents spotted hyenas live in clans peppered throughout the park. Kruger’s spotted hyenas display especially distinctive behaviour such as pack hunting tactics used to secure large prey like zebra and wildebeest. Guests on night drives can also listen to their eerie giggles, growls and whoops echoing through the darkness after a successful group hunt concludes. May to August mating season promises thrilling hunt spectacles observed from safari vehicles in Kruger National Park.

Hyena Sabi Sands South Africa
Spotted hyena

Kruger’s spotted hyena populations flourish as they benefit from their scavenging ability as they efficiently locate fresh kills faster than competitors, enabling them dominate lion leftovers. They prove crucial in keeping herbivore numbers balanced and keeping the savannah clean by removing any trace of kills with their powerful jaws and strong stomach acid.

For best results finding active hyenas, focus your search locations along the Sabie River while staying at Lion Sands River lodge. Check with your safari guide for recent sightings around fresh lion kills which are hyena hotspots. Late August to October is ideal for viewing new cubs at den sites. Though spotted hyenas reign supreme, keep an eye out for the elusive brown hyena within the south.

Hyena with pups
Spotted hyena with cubs outside den

Zambia’s South Luangwa National Park – Walking With Hyenas

A worthwhile alternative destination certain to produce superb sightings lies several hundred miles north up the rift valley in Zambia’s internationally-acclaimed South Luangwa National Park ecosystem. Cantered along the meandering Luangwa River, this remote bushveld environment dotted with groves of ancient ebony trees holds Zambia’s largest spotted hyena strongholds thriving amidst dense prey populations, from sprightly impala to massive Cape buffalo and elephants.

Hyena and Cub Botswana
Spotted hyena and cub

The park allows exciting opportunities to track local hyena clans by foot on guided walking trails, getting pulse racing close-up experiences walking near curious hyenas with the safety of an expert bush guide and armed scout. Stay at Kaingo Camp for the amazing opportunity to experience these animals up close and personal. Nightdrives frequently reveal entire hyena families emerging at den sites housing new cubs.

For adventurous safari travellers seeking iconic African predators from all angles, Zambia’s Luangwa Valley promises magic!

Spotted hyena okavanga botswana
Spotted hyena

Etosha National Park - Namibia’s Prime Brown Hyena Destination

Across different regions of Africa, the three hyena species each occupy favoured habitats and protected parks best suited for observations. In Namibia’s phenomenal Etosha National Park, dry, arid terrain concentrated around watering holes scattering the pan’s rim makes this the country’s best site for seeing the far rarer, shy, brown hyena daring to emerge briefly from the shadows. As a primarily nocturnal, solitary creature it is even less studied than spotted hyenas, with reliable sightings requiring great fortune.

Etosha’s climate and food web excluding dominant lions and spotted hyenas enables sizable brown hyena clans up to a dozen individuals to exist comparatively undisturbed. The sparse terrain forces hyenas to abandon traditional dens, instead using dried riverbeds and caves for shelter. This increased visibility in the landscape means great visual access for tourists. The national park contains one-quarter of Namibia’s entire hyena population within its boundaries.

Brown hyena drinking south africa
Brown hyena takes a drink

Stay at Hobatere Lodge to maximise your chances of seeing these unique creatures with the opportunity of night drives. These dedicated night drives should reveal dark, shaggy-furred profiles cautiously approaching watering holes for drinking alongside antelope, jackals and bat eared foxes. Their distinctive spooky chattering whoops may follow your safari vehicle sometimes for hours. Just be prepared to stay out late to maximize your odds of spotting Etosha’s mysterious brown hyena inhabitants!

Brown hyena walking
Brown hyena

Kalahari’s Vast Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park

Stretching across South Africa and Botswana’s arid Kalahari sandveld lies the Kgalagadi Transfrontier conservation region. This colossal desert ecosystem centred on the fossilised Auob and Nossob riverbeds, contains the planet’s largest protected brown hyena population.

Brown hyena lying botswana
Brown hyena at rest

Recent surveys have found up to 2,000 individuals within the park, spanning over 38,000 square kilometres. Although shy like elsewhere, the Kalahari brown hyena’s sheer numbers and willingness to occupy den sites dug into the river banks ensures adventurous safari explorers have greater chances of seeing whole clans emerge at night than anywhere else globally. The desert-adapted hyena perfectly suits the marginal environment too harsh for lions to dominate, and scavenges on carcasses left by other predators as well as finding smaller items such as rodents and insects to make up the rest of its diet.

Spend your time searching for this nocturnal desert dweller while staying at Xaus Lodge, the beautiful views and stunning accommodation make a trip to this part of the world worth it whether you manage to find a brown hyena or not.

Brown hyena walking in desert
Brown hyena


After exploring Africa's premier national parks and game reserves sheltering sizable spotted, brown, and striped hyena populations, one realizes just how phenomenally diverse and adaptive these intelligent apex predators have become across habitats spanning lush savannahs to harsh deserts.

While the spotted hyena undisputedly reigns as Africa’s most successful hunter species defying even prides of lions over kills, the continent still harbours enormously crucial yet underappreciated hyena biodiversity.

Spotted hyena with kill
Spotted hyena with a kill

For witnessing these social hunters up close, make haste towards Kenya’s fabulous Masai Mara or Tanzania’s wildlife wonderland Serengeti National Park during peak migration season from July through October and down to the Kruger throughout the year. The river systems and open grasslands promises sightings galore of spotted hyena clans hollering into the night air. Descend southwest to Namibia’s desert, Botswana’s Kalahari region and protected wilderness spaces like Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, which shelter some of Earth’s largest shy brown hyena strongholds as they forage the fossilised riverbeds. And for the exceptionally fortunate safari explorer, a glimpse of a striped hyena in Tanzania will make the searching well worth it.

Striped hyena
Striped hyena

Pack your binoculars and camera to capture these mesmerizing creatures up close on morning and night-time game drives. Seeing hyenas interact provides a window into appreciating the species’ intelligence, social bonds and role in maintaining ecosystem balance and may make you consider your initial view on them! Use this guide to plan an unforgettable African safari guaranteed to produce electrifying hyena sightings across breath-taking landscapes.

Brown hyena drinks Nambia
Brown hyena takes a drink

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  • Ali


    Africa Specialist

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