Spotted hyaenas are the most abundant large carnivore in Africa. Since the late 1990s, confirmed records of C. crocuta have come from Tanzania, Kenya, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Congo, Sudan, Central African Republic, Cameroon, Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, Mali, Senegal, and Sierra Leone. Although spotted hyaenas occur throughout sub-Saharan Africa, their density varies widely among different habitats; they have been extirpated from many parts of South Africa, but high densities occur in the Serengeti ecosystem, including Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania, and in the Aberdare Mountains of Kenya.

Spotted hyaenas occur throughout most of sub-Saharan Africa in a suprisingly diverse array of habitat types. The figure below shows four of the habitat types in which spotted hyaenas occur: the open grassland of the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania (top left), the forests of Aberdares National Park in Kenya (top right), the Namib desert in Namibia (bottom left) and the Okavango Delta of Botswana (bottom right).

The spotted hyaena also inhabits semi-desert habitat, swamp and marshy areas, open woodland, dense dry woodland, and montane forest up to 4,000 m altitude (Kruuk 1972a). It is absent from or occurs in only very low densities in tropical rainforests and along coasts (e.g. Namibia). In west Africa, preferred habitats include the Guinea and Sudan savannahs. It does not occur in the belt of dense forest along the coast (Happold 1973). In the Namib Desert, it is found in riverine growth along seasonal rivers, the subdesertic pro-Namib and the adjoining inland plateau (Coetzee 1969). In prime habitat, densities of the spotted hyaena are higher than those of other large carnivores, including those of both the striped hyaena and brown hyaena. In desert and semi-desert regions, however, the brown hyaena and striped hyaena can occur at higher densities than the spotted hyaena (Mills 1990).

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