The spotted hyaena most frequently competes with the lion for kills (Kruuk 1972a, Schaller 1972a, Bearder 1977, Eaton 1979). Dominance relations between the spotted hyaena and competing species are not absolute but depend on the numerical presence of both parties. For instance, lions usually displace spotted hyaenas at kills. However, if hyaena group size is large and the ratio of the number of spotted hyaenas to the number of female and subadult lions exceeds four, hyaenas are often able to displace lions from kills unless a male lion is present (Cooper 1991). A single spotted hyaena usually dominates a cheetah, leopard (but not always), striped hyaena, brown hyaena, any species of jackal, and an African wild dog (but not a pack) (Kruuk 1972a, Eaton 1979, Mills 1990).

The proportion of diet that the spotted hyaena scavenges from kills of other predators, or loses to other predators, varies substantially between ecosystems. When spotted hyaenas outnumbered lions ten to one in the Ngorongoro Crater, lions usually scavenged from kills made by spotted hyaenas (Kruuk 1972a; Honer et al 2002; 2005). In the Serengeti and in Timbavati, where lion and spotted hyaena numbers are much more even, both species scavenge approximately the same proportion of their diet from each other’s kills (Kruuk 1972a, Schaller 1972a, Bearder 1975). In the Kruger National Park spotted hyaenas scavenge far more from lions than vice versa (Mills and Biggs 1993). The ability of spotted hyaenas to scavenge from lions may also vary over time as the relative numbers of the two species change (Honer et al 2002; 2005).

A spotted hyaena scavenges from an adult elephant that has died of other causes.
Lion-hyena interaction photographed by Brittany Gunther. Note the fourth hyena under the lion’s belly!

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